by Shannon Ethridge
We’ve been seeing more of Bristol Palin in the media lately now that she’s had her baby, and I hope parents realize what incredibly valuable “teachable moments” Bristol ushers onto our doorsteps. Let’s not ignore them. I asked my own 17-year old daughter, Erin, “What do you think of Bristol’s situation?” She admitted, “Babies are great, but there’s no way I’m ready for one. I want to finish college first, and be married, and be financially stable.” Me too, Erin. Me too.
I think that’s what every caring parent wants for their kids, and in this sex-saturated world, it’s more important than ever to instill sexual values and a healthy confidence in our children, especially our daughters. So, don’t sweep the headline news under the rug and hope your kids haven’t noticed how popular teen pregnancy and premarital sex have become. They’ve noticed. The media has made it impossible not to notice. Let’s thank Bristol for the precious gift of a powerful (teachable) moment, wish her the best, and focus on preparing our own children to avoid making similar mistakes.
Healthy sexuality education isn’t a one-time plumbing lesson or an awkward “talk” you force on children before they go out on their first date. It’s ongoing character education. And we as parents are endowed with the responsibility of instilling sexual values in our daughters at each stage of their developmental years, teaching them that female sexuality isn’t an embarrassing taboo but an enriching treasure that can – and should – be addressed openly.
Perhaps you’re wondering: What would sexual confidence look like in a child? They’re not even sexually active! A young female doesn’t have to be sexually active to develop all of the characteristics of a sexually confident woman. To paint a picture of what this looks like, let’s look at seven ways we can instill a healthy sexual confidence in our daughters throughout their developmental years.
1. Confidence in Her Sexual Vocabulary (ages 2+)
From the earliest stages of development, children need to have words with which they can communicate their sexual questions. Parents often use terms like “wee-wee” or “privates,” but why? Children will only have to unlearn those terms and learn the proper names later on. Besides, using baby terms instills a sense that there’s something inappropriate about talking about our genitals, as if they are dirty or nasty, and they’re not. Giving her a proper sexual vocabulary at this early age will give her the confidence to communicate with you when questions arise.
2. Confidence in Her Sexual Boundaries (ages 4+)
Your daughter must be aware of her right to say ‘no’ to anything another person may try to get her to do – not just with strangers, but with any person at all. Teach her that no one should be allowed to touch her anywhere that a modest bathing suit would cover, nor should she be required to touch anyone, and that if someone suggests she do anything like this, she must let you know so that you can protect her and help her to protect herself.
3. Confidence in Her Sexual Curiosity (ages 6+)
By the time our children start school, they hear all kinds of wild stories about sexual matters. Tell your children frequently, “You can ask me anything, and you can use whatever words you need to use in order to ask it!” But don’t wait for their questions. Be pro-active. Being the first one to talk about certain sexual issues with her will establish you as the “sexpert,” and that will draw her home with her curiosities rather than to her peers or the Internet.
4. Confidence in Her Beauty & Body Image (ages 8+)
Show her by example what it means to love and respect her own body, whether she’s a size 6 or 16. Enjoy healthy food and show her how fun exercise can be. Neither criticize nor compare yourself to other women in her presence. When you help her feel good about her body now, you’ll set the stage for her to feel good about her body as an adult as well.
5. Confidence in Her Sexual Health (ages 12+)
Sexual health is a matter that women can’t take lightly, including your daughter. I’m shocked at how many girls get their periods but have never received instruction from their mothers about proper feminine hygiene. I’m also shocked by how many teen girls are sexually active but tell me they’ve never had a gynecological visit. How many adult women struggle with infertility because of the STD they contracted years before? Mom, before your daughter graduates elementary school she needs to be prepared for the changes taking place in her body. Before she graduates high school (and prior if she becomes sexually active), escort her to your OB/GYN. Help her establish a good relationship with the doctor she’ll need to visit every twelve months for the rest of her life. Teach her how to do breast self-exams. Teach her how to be a sexually healthy woman.
6. Confidence in Her Sexual Abilities (ages 14+)
What most often leads teens to experiment with premature, unsafe sexual relationships? They think they must “practice” to become a good lover; assure her: that’s not the case. Instead, she needs to practice sexual self-control so that all of her sexual power can be unleashed in her husband’s direction someday. I know from experience that nothing robs a married woman of sexual confidence like guilt over a promiscuous past, so let’s teach our daughters all that our mothers failed to teach us – that sex is great, but it’s also worth the wait.
7. Confidence in Her Baton-Passing Skills (ages 16+)
I often ask adults if their parents were their primary source of sex education. Less than 5% of adults respond positively to that question. How will your children answer that question someday? Will they know how to have healthy conversations with their own children because of the example you set? Don’t be shy. It doesn’t have to be awkward. Model the skill of talking openly and honestly with your children about these sensitive topics so they’ll have confidence doing the same with your grandchildren.
Remember, the goal isn’t just for our daughters to keep their panties on. The goal is to raise sexually responsible women (which is more about common sense than condom use). And ultimately, it’s about preparing them to become sexually confident wives who know how to keep the home fires burning. This is the best gift we can give our children, and our country. Stable marriages equate to stable families, and stable families equate to a stable society.
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This is a guest post from Shannon Ethridge. Shannon holds a master’s degree in counseling and human relations from Liberty University. She is an internationally sought-after conference speaker and million-copy best-selling author of numerous books including the Every Woman’s Battle series, the female corollary to Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker’s Every Man’s Battle series. Learn more about her books and ministry at ShannonEthridge.com or the website for her newest book: SexuallyConfidentWife.com.