People regularly ask me how to start conversations about healthy sexuality with their kids. I know it can seem daunting, but sometimes it’s as easy as just engaging with the culture around you. Some of us grew up in homes where there was a concerted effort to keep questionable things out of our environment. I am thankful for the ways my parents sheltered me from things that could have harmed me, but I also see how my kids are having to wrestle with more of that kind of content than I did at their age. I am realizing I can’t necessarily keep all negative content away from them (and I don’t even think I should), but I need to give them tools to exercise an age-appropriate level of discernment.
It can be confusing to figure out how to thoughtfully engage with content we find objectionable. There are absolutely times to turn the channel, turn the station, or shut the screen. In the “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” book series, the first step you teach kids when they run into something inappropriate is to turn. Turn your eyes, turn away, turn it off. I want my kids to know when they see something that makes them uncomfortable, they need to turn, but what about when they don’t understand what they’re seeing or they aren’t sure if it’s appropriate or not?
In our home, this happens most often around music. The kids hear songs on the bus or on the radio or from a friend’s phone and will then be singing them around the house. So what do we do when that song is something questionable?
I have found it best to include my kids in the decision making about what is appropriate entertainment. This is not always easy and can be super awkward. I’m going to do my best to give you a transcript of how this went down the other night so you can see what I do. I’m not saying these answers are 100% how I would recommend everybody address these issues, but I know sometimes just getting an idea of how someone else handles something can be helpful. (This conversation was with three of my kids ages 10, 8 and 7.)
Child: Mom, why don’t you like that “Animals” song?
Me: I think it talks about women in a really disrespectful way. In fact, I think it goes beyond being disrespectful. When I hear the way he talks about hunting down a woman, it makes me feel a little afraid.
Child: What is that song even about?
Me: He’s singing about how a woman said she didn’t want to be with him anymore and he doesn’t believe her. Even if she tries to get away from him, he still thinks she wants to be with him and he’s going to find her. He thinks she’s lying about not wanting to be together, so he’s going to do what he wants to her. He’s comparing what he would do to her to what animals do. An animal doesn’t have any conscience and doesn’t have to worry about how other animals feel or what they want. That is not a way to talk about a woman and it makes me a little afraid when I hear a man talk about a woman that way.
Child: Why would somebody even write that? Shouldn’t he go to jail if he did that?
Me: If he really did DO those things, then he should go to jail. If he hunted down a woman who said she didn’t want to be with him and he treated her like an animal, that’s something you would go to jail for. But I don’t know that he actually did those things, he just wrote a song about it.
Child: Why would he write a song like that? Why would anybody want to listen to it?
Me: That’s more complicated, but I think sometimes people interpret that kind of aggressiveness as passionate when it’s in a song. But when people behave that way in real life, there are real consequences. Because of that, it isn’t a song I want to sing along with. I don’t want to give it any space my brain because the idea he’s singing about makes me really sad and angry. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be singing along with that either.
Child: I don’t want to. That’s not right. What about the “My House” song? Is that one okay?
Me: I don’t know all the words to that one, but we can look them up and you can help me decide.
(we read the lyrics together and talk about them line by line)
Me: What do you think about this one?
Child: There are some things that kids shouldn’t do in here. They talk about drinking and spending the night. But you and Dad can do that stuff!
Me: Right! All those things would be okay for married adults to do, so I don’t have a big problem with this song. It might not be appropriate for kids, but nothing in it is against what the Bible teaches if the people involved were married grown-ups. Could Dad and I sing this song together at home on a night we’re going to stay in? We could! So I’m not offended by this song. There are lots of songs that sing about grown-up things, but we need to be really listening to the words to see if they are things that it’s okay for grown-ups to do or if they are saying you should do things that are harmful to yourself and other people.
The same way I promise to answer my kids honestly when they ask questions about sex, I promise to answer them honestly when they ask questions about uncomfortable themes in media. We regularly look up song lyrics so I can help them decide if something is appropriate. If they want to try a new video game, we look up the reviews on Common Sense Media and read them together. We will watch people play the game on Youtube and talk about potential pros and cons. We read movie reviews together and talk about questionable content when it unexpectedly comes up in something I approved.
If I want my kids to understand healthy sexuality, I need to be unashamed about answering their questions and bold about engaging with the culture around them. It’s not enough to just run away from wrong ideas about sex and how men and women should relate, we need to counter those ideas with right thinking and an honest assessment about how those ideas make us feel. We need to be engaging our kids in a dialogue and also listening to their consciences on these issues. There have been a few times where a song I thought was totally innocent (or over their head) got the “Mom, that seems inappropriate” comment. I want to be supportive when they express their own feelings about content that seems questionable to them and I know they feel safe to do that because we are regularly talking about these things.