As the mother of an eleven year old and a five year old, I was eager to read Stan and Brenna’s Jones’ award winning book How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex. My husband and I both grew up in homes where sexual development and sexuality were mentioned very little and with much hesitancy. While abstinence was discussed in our church youth groups, that message was a mere trickle compared to the barrage of information we received from our public school sex education, cable television and our peers.
We were determined as parents to have very open and honest conversations with our sons about sexuality and purity, and we knew that in order to reduce the inherent awkwardness we would need to begin at a young age. But how much was too much for their little minds? I wanted to stay ahead of the curve, but I also didn’t want to scar them for life. How and When answers those concerns and more. Not only do I feel better equipped having read the book, I’m excited about the opportunity I have to shape their understanding of a gift God has for them that the world has gotten very confused.
How & When to Tell Your Kids About Sex is built around 12 core principles of Christian Sex Education, which the authors fully develop over 17 chapters. Below, I’ve noted some of the key themes of the book that stood out to me, most of which were also part of the 12 core principles.
1. Christian sex education is not a one-time talk or a series of talks that take place at certain key points. Rather, it is an ongoing discussion that happens whenever teachable moments happen, when parents take the initiative to ask questions and when children come to us with questions.
2. Our message should be positive, not negative. “We attempt to convince our kids not to have sex, to protect them from sexually transmitted diseases and sexual promiscuity. While this is important, don’t we also want to give them something profoundly positive? Our most important goal should be to equip and empower our children to enter adulthood capable of living godly, wholesome and fulfilled lives as Christian men and women, Christian husbands and wives.”
3. Parents should be the primary sex educators. We have let our own discomfort about discussing sexuality prevent us from being open with our kids, assuming that they know where we morally stand. We’ve also allowed the public school system take the lead in formal sex education. The authors argue that our silence about sex teaches that we don’t want to talk about sex, we are uncomfortable talking about sex and we are not a good source of information about sex.
4. Sex education should start early because first messages are the most potent. The authors argue that because, “it is far more powerful to form a child’s view of sexuality from scratch than it is to correct the distortions the child will pick up in the world, parents must lay a foundation and do so when our influence is greatest and our children’s trust in us is highest.”
5. Close parent/child relationships are key to sexual education. Several studies were cited that showed that teens with close relationships with their parents were more likely to remain abstinent until marriage. According to the authors, a close relationship with a parent keeps children from looking for affection and affirmation from other people. This need for positive affirmation is especially important during puberty, when “your child has a fragile sense of self.” Avoid unnecessary battles and let love cover and multitude of sins. Especially praise your kids when they ask questions about sexuality or relationships.
6. Sex education is about character development. Again, the authors really stretched my understanding of sex education when they made the point that sex education was really part of character development. They spent a good amount of time going over the building blocks of character development and practical ways parents can utilize these building blocks in the arena of teaching abstinence until marriage.
7. Inoculating our children. It’s important to expose our children to what the prevailing cultural opinion is about sex, so they will be prepared to respond and counter-argue. Otherwise, we send them out in a war on culture virtually defenseless.
Practical Advice and Sample Dialogues
How & When to Tell Your Kids About Sex does just what the title promises. It instructs parents on what to share with their child about sexuality and physical development, beginning from infancy all the way through puberty. From correctly naming body parts for your curious toddler to having frank discussions with a pre-pubescent 10-year-olds, and everything in between, the book offers wonderful sample dialogues that I know parents will appreciate. The authors back up their suggestions with biblical doctrine and solid research, as well as their own personal experiences as parents.
Personal Likes and Dislikes
What I liked most about How & When To Tell Your Kids About Sex was the extremely practical advice it offered, as well as the sample dialogues. I think this book would be helpful to parents with children of all ages. Whether you have gotten off to a great start with sex education or are looking to get on the right track, this book will serve you well.
Some personal dislikes I had about the book involve scope and layout. A parent picking up a “How and When” book might find that this book offers much more information than they bargained for. The authors go into great detail in some areas, making this book a long and not-so-easy read. For example, the explanation of character development and the theology of sexuality took me in deep waters. In addition, there were some repetition of points across the chapters that made a long read even longer.
I think most parents would also expect a “How and When” book to be organized in order by child’s age. This book is organized by core principles, with age-specific information interspersed within the chapters.
I would have hoped the authors would have given more specific guidelines in their chapter covering inappropriate physical touch while dating. Instead, they encouraged parents to come up with their own personal limitations and share those with their teenagers. As a starting point, why would you not begin with “touching sexual organs are clearly off limits. Taking off clothes are clearly off limits. Putting your hands under clothing is off limits”? (In the sample discussion offered, several of these limitations are given by the parent in the scenario.)
My biggest concerns with the book centered around its thoughts on contraception education and the morality of masturbation. The authors concluded that you should teach your children about contraception because you can give your kids information about sex and you can encourage them not to have sex, but you can not prevent them from having sex. If they choose to have sex and do not use contraception, the consequences can be extreme.
I understand the argument, but in reading the sample dialogue offered I couldn’t help but think how I would have responded as a teenager. I would have ultimately viewed this warning as “my parents expect me to have sex” and it would have been so easy to add that to society’s teaching that “everyone has sex before they get married.” I’m just not as convinced as the authors are that this is the way Christian parents should go.
While I realize there is great debate in the Christian community on the issue of masturbation, I disagree with the authors’ opinion that it is not much of an issue with God. Masturbation is rooted in lust and while difficult to fight, like all sin we struggle with in our fleshly nature, there is a way of escape. Let’s encourage people to make an effort to strive for purity rather than give in to lust.
While I had major concerns with these two areas, this would not prevent me from recommending this book to a friend. Overall, I found it to be very informative and it has already shaped my approach to sex education as a parent.