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Friday, March 26, 2021

How, When, and Why Should Parents Teach Children about Sexuality?

             Families, communities, and nations are stronger when parents arm their children against the effects of pornography. Parents should understand that it is no longer “if” children view pornography, but it is “when” they must deal with it. The prevalence of pornography and its availability increases every year, and every child with access to the internet may come in contact with it.

            I have been studying about sexuality and pornography for the past two weeks. I opened my lesson for week 12 and found it to be about pornography. A day or so later, I opened an email from the stake executive secretary with four links to articles about pornography. It seems that the adult session of stake conference this weekend will be about sexuality and pornography.

One of the links is to an article titled “How, When, and Why: Talking to Your Children about Sexuality” by Laura M. Padilla-Walker, a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University (BYU), and Meg O. Jankovich, a student in the BYU Marriage, Family, and Human Development master’s program. The point of the article is to help children to prepare for and enjoy sexuality in marriage. 

Padilla-Walker and Jankovich believe that parents should guide their children as they learn to control their God-given feelings. They wrote that the goal of parents and teachers “should be to help our children to be both sexually pure and prepared.”

The physical aspects of the law of chastity (for example, abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage) are central and important. However, abstinence is sometimes discussed more often than the emotional and spiritual aspects of the joy and beauty of sexual intimacy in marriage, as well as the peace that comes form living a life of virtue and purity both before and after marriage: “Intimate relations … are not merely a curiosity to be explored, an appetite to be satisfied, or a type of recreation or entertainment to be pursued selfishly. They are not a conquest to be achieved or simply an act to be performed. Rather, they are in mortality one of the ultimate expressions of our divine nature and potential and a way of strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife” (“We Believe in Being Chaste,” Ensign, May 2013, 42).

In order to help our children prepare to enjoy sexual intimacy in its beauty and wonder within marriage, we need to help them understand their sexual development and guide them as they work toward controlling their God-given feelings and emotions.

            Padilla-Walker and Jankovich say that it is “never too late” to teach children about sexuality. They discuss the how, when, and why parents can began talking with their children about sexuality.

1. How to Talk about Sexuality

One critical element of healthy parent-child conversations about sexuality is to promote a culture of openness….

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said: “As our children grow, they need information taught by parents more directly and plainly about what is and is not appropriate. Parents need to … talk to [their children] plainly about sex and the teachings of the gospel regarding chastity. Let this information come from parents in the home in an appropriate way” (“Like a Flame Unquenchable,” Ensign, May 1999, 86).

To foster open communication, you can:

·         Start when your children are young by calling body parts by their correct names….

·         Let your children know they can ask you any questions, and then try not to overreact or attach shame to their questions or confessions. Celebrate that they are talking to you, show them love and support, and do your best to keep lines of communication open.

·         Avoid using metaphors for sexuality. Children need information presented in a clear and honest way….

2. When to Talk about Sexuality

Most parents have a single conversation with their children about sexuality. But given the false messages youth are getting from the world today … children need more than one talk from their parents….

In speaking about potential exposure to pornography, Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President, said: “Earlier discussions are better, and children will come forward more readily when they know they are loved and nothing they say or do can change that love….

“Parents, we must start the conversation and not wait for children to come to us…. We want children to feel prepared and empowered, not scared. We want to talk with them and not at them” (“Addressing Pornography: Protect, Respond, and Heal,” Ensign, Oct. 2019, 25, 26).

To be more intentional, you can:

·         Have home evening lessons on topics related to sexuality and let your children teach as they feel ready. Topics might include puberty, body image, the positive aspects of sexuality, the dangers of pornography use, that it is normal to have sexual feelings, and more.

·         Help your children come up with specific strategies to resist temptation… sing a hymn, think of a scripture, pray, engage in physical exercise….

·         Teach children how to avoid sexual predators and to stay safe…. [To prevent fear about sexuality, do not teach about safety at the same time that you teach about sexual intimacy within marriage.]

3. Talk about the Why of Sexuality

Children often want to know why they are expected to do things. Why should they keep the law of chastity when some people around them do not? When they understand the reasons behind expectations, they are more likely to internalize shared gospel and family values. Youth who know why they are committing to keep the law of chastity find that this commitment “ceases to [be] a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Forget Me Not,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, 122).

If we want our children to keep God’s law of chastity, we need to give them reasons for why it is important to abide by this law. They must be taught that sexuality is given to us by Heavenly Father to be used under the conditions that He sets….

As you discuss sexual development with your child, consider these teachings:

·         Sexuality is an inherent part of each child of God … created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). …

·         Experiencing sexual feelings and sexual arousal is normal. Children don’t need to act on those feelings and sensations but instead can be mindful of them. This means noticing sexual feelings but not negatively judging them. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can help us make better choices that are in line with our values and goals, such as keeping the law of chastity.

·         Masturbation is often a child’s first experience with sexuality and is done in ignorance. Even young children are prone to self-touching, and how parents respond to these early behaviors can set the stage for how young people feel about themselves and their sexuality….

·         If children understand the why behind standards related to relationships and sexuality (including dating, modesty, chastity, etc.), they are more likely to see the wisdom in God’s laws and have the motivation to keep them. As you teach these standards, remember that it’s important to do so without imposing shame or fear.

Padilla-Walker and Jankovich reminded their readers that there is power in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When our youth stumble while learning to “understand and regulate their sexuality,” parents should react as they would when their toddler falls when learning to walk. “It is important for us to remember to promote growth instead of guilt and to teach children that Jesus Christ can bless them with grace and power and mercy to strengthen them and help them remain sexually pure and one day enjoy the blessings of sexual intimacy in marriage.” Parents can strengthen their families, communities, and nations by teaching and preparing their children about the proper use of sexuality.

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