Having “The Talk” With Kids: When, Why, and How Not to Make it Awkward
About the Guest
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Beth RobinsonBeth Robinson, Ed.D, is a licensed professional counselor and approved supervisor for licensed professional counselors. She is also a certified school counselor and has a teaching certificate; she is a frequent expert witness in legal proceedings involving sexual abuse. Dr. Robinson and her family live in Lubbock, Texas.
Latayne ScottLatayne C. Scott is an award-winning veteran of the Christian publishing industry and has written more than two dozen books. She has a PhD in biblical studies and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Need to have “the talk” with kids—but clueless where to start? Drs. Beth Robinson & Latayne Scott offer tips to vitally shape your kids’ worldview…without making everything weird.
Having “The Talk” With Kids: When, Why, and How Not to Make it Awkward
Beth: We have G-rated the Bible. You know, we teach in our primary grades Genesis; but we take out all the sinful stuff. We really need to go back—when our kids are 10,11,12, hitting middle school—and we need to do: “Genesis, the Rest of the Story”; because how much sexuality is there in Genesis?
Ann: So much.
Beth: So much, but we just remove that from the stories.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So I don’t even know if I know the answer to this question, and I should after
41 years of marriage, but when was/do you remember the first time somebody taught you about sexuality?
Ann: I don’t think anyone did. Well, let me say: I think it’s peers; I think it was pornography; I think I was exposed to a lot of different things, but I don’t think there was a conversation.
What about you?
Dave: Marty Jordan—
Dave: —one of my best friends. I mean, think about that—I’m probably 12—11/12 years old—I was over at his house. Mom never talked about it; Dad wasn’t there.
Ann: I always pretended I knew stuff; and I was like, “I wonder what the answer is to that.”
Dave: I remember I was traumatized by what he told me; like, “That can’t be true! That is the most ridiculous thing.” So as I was walking out of his house, I literally looked at his mom and said, “Is that true?!” She just shook her head, [Laughter] because she heard the conversation. [Laughter]
You think about it now, as parents, and the world we live in: “How do our kids find out about this?”
Ann: Okay, listeners, I’m pretty passionate: “We have got to be intentional about this area; because if we are not, the culture is teaching our kids every single day. If we don’t instruct our kids—biblically, and truthfully, and honestly—the culture will feed them so many lies and so much misinformation.
Dave: We’ve got two doctors in the studio today, two women who really devoted [their] lives in many ways to helping, not just parents, but anyone talk to their teen about sexuality.
Welcome to the studio—we’ve got Dr. Latayne and Dr. Beth with us today—welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Latayne & Beth: Thank you.
Dave: You’ve written a book called Talking with Teens about Sexuality.
Dr. Beth, you are a college professor; you’re a clinical psychologist?
Beth: I’m actually a licensed professional counselor, but I am also a college professor at Lubbock Christian University.
Dave: Yes; so you deal with this all the time, because you’ve got college kids sitting in your classroom every day.
Dave: Do you guys talk about this topic?
Beth: Sure! I mean, I teach at my general psychology class; we actually have a course on it in our psychology program called Gender and Sexuality. But where else are the kids going to hear it from? I mean, the fallacy has been—I listened to you guys talk about “Did anybody talk to you about it?”—the truth is that, if we go poll a young generation of much younger parents, and say the same thing, their answer is still the same. I’ve been working in this field for 30 years; and nobody, as far as parents are concerned, are teaching their children any differently than they were taught. We’re abdicating our instruction to the internet; it’s what’s happened.
Ann: Yes, kids are googling now.
Beth: Yes; they’re googling and they’re not getting a biblical perspective; and they also have decided that, as parents, we don’t have any idea about it; period.
Ann: And Latayne, let me add, too—you’re an author; you’ve written multiple books and coauthored multiple books—but how did this coalition come to be?
Latayne: My children, who are now adults, both went to Lubbock Christian University; and they were students of Dr. Beth. They would talk about: “Dr. Beth this…” and
“Dr. Beth that,” and “Her classes were fun”; and they learned so much. We had opportunity to meet, I think at some social function at Lubbock Christian; and we kind of hit it off.
But one time, she was talking about where she was going in her ministry; and I was talking about what I was doing in terms of where we hoped to end up. I said, “Beth, the stories that you tell about working, especially with abused children/working with children with sexual issues,”—I said—“those things need to be preserved, because this wealth of information and insight”—because she has such great insights, I said—“needs to be preserved.”
I said, “You have stories to tell that people need to know.” I just had read a book by Sam Chan, who is an author—and it’s about evangelism in the 21st century—he says that people learn through stories, and that’s the way they’re learning today. I said, “Beth, why don’t we write a book about protecting children from sexual predators?—because you know all the signs; you know all the ins and outs; you know how the criminal mind works.” Because I don’t know if you know this, but Dr. Beth is often an expert witness in court trials with children that have been abused. She knows, forensically, how to talk about it.
I said, “We could tell these stories to engage the mind of parents, who are generations behind us, and let them see scenarios that they can identify with that their child is having this problem, or has been approached by someone, or something else.” I said, “I think that would be a very helpful book.” So that’s how we got started writing that first book.
Beth: My response to that was: “I don’t have time for this right now.” [Laughter]
Latayne: I said, “You be the brains; I’ll be the brawn.” [Laughter]
Dave: So here’s the question we started with; so you say, early in the book, “Most parents are one and done.”
Dave: If they have a conversation, it’s one little conversation and never talked about again. So talk about that; because there’s a lot of parents listening, and we’re like, “How do I do this?”
Ann: “I had ‘the talk,’”—that’s what they’ll say—“I had ‘the talk,’” “Did you have ‘the talk’?” But you’re saying it needs to be a lot more than one talk.
Beth: Oh, it needs to be much more than one talk; and it needs to be much more than one weekend. In fact, if you want to start talking to your kids about sexuality—you know, you’re starting the conversations from the time they’re born; and you don’t even realize it—because when you teach them body parts, you’re starting the conversation. When you won’t identify private parts with language that they can use,—
Ann: —with correct terminology even?
Beth: —even correct terminology—I’m not saying that correct terminology right now, because we don’t know the age of our listeners. But when you can’t even do that, and you turn red, you know your kids have already gotten a message about sexuality.
In fact, every kid, by age five, needs to know what sexual safety is. Probably the first time I really recognized this need is I was called out to a congregation, where young couples had been involved in group get-togethers at night/group meetings on Sunday nights, and they would bring their kids. They would let all their kids play together without adult supervision.
Well, there was a child in that group, who was eight or nine at the time, who acted out sexually on the younger children/children who were two or three years old in this congregation. I went out and worked with the leaders in that congregation. I worked with—there were a dozen families—met with each of the families, kind of met with the kids, worked through kind of what sorts of issues might exist or could exist; and helped the leadership figure out how to deal with the family, who had the child, who was offending against other children.
What came out of that is—I went back, six months later—I said to the individuals that had had their children affected by this/I said, “What would you have liked to have seen that would have been helpful to you in the process?” I was thinking about the process after the abuse occurred; and they said, “We wish there had been a book or something we could have used to have taught our children sexual safety.”
I went back to Lubbock, at the time, and created a coloring book called “God Made Me,” which teaches sexual safety in a very non-threatening way that Christian parents can teach their children before age five. It talks about: “God made me,” and how special we are; and He made the sun and the moon and the stars. It’s very non-threatening; because by age five kids, need to know that. And see, if we’ve had those conversations by age five, our conversations get more in depth as they get older.
Ann: So even in that coloring book, could you explain like: “What was in the coloring book that would help parents and children to know what was safe?”
Beth: The main thing the coloring book did is it kind of made it safe to talk about private parts. All that we did in the coloring book was identify private parts as the parts of your body covered by a swimming suit; and then told kids that, if somebody touches them there, that they need to always tell their parents. If telling their parents doesn’t make it stop, then you tell other trusted adults: a nurse, a school teacher, a police officer. And that it’s always okay to say, “No.”
Ann: Because most sexual abuse happens with people that our kids know; is that not true?
Beth: Ninety percent of offenders are people that we have invited into our inner circles; they will be trusted friends and family members.
Ann: I mean, I have sexual abuse in my background; and that’s exactly where it happened. It was all the parents were together; all the kids were playing; and things were happening, because parents never checked in. They just didn’t think about it, but I think we really need to think about that as parents.
Dave: And so part of me is thinking you’re [Ann] like one of those little girls. You just said your mom and dad never talked to you about it, so who did you talk to?
Ann: No one.
Dave: Yes; and that’s pretty common?
Beth: Very common. I found, in my first couple of years of being a professor at Lubbock Christian University, that I had a lot of students—we didn’t have a counseling center back then—but I had a lot of students, who would walk into my office because I was a Psychology professor, and would reveal abuse. And to be honest, they were revealing abuse that occurred in churches, primarily, where it was ministers and youth ministers. They got far enough away from home that they finally talked; although, there’s a good percentage that don’t ever talk about it.
Ann: What other kind of confusion is happening today in our culture that kids are facing that we, as parents, like: “How could you coach parents today as kids are dealing with sexual confusion?”—because there’s a lot going on.
Latayne: I think one big issue that I think parents confuse, and to be honest with you, this book was a learning adventure for me, as an author, learning from Dr. Beth that there’s a difference between gender and sex. I think a lot of confusion that’s going on with kids these days is they don’t define those two things specifically as they should: “When they start talking about being transgender, does that mean that you’re homosexual?” or “What’s the difference between how you view yourself and how you act on your sexual impulses?”—those are two completely different things.
Ann: What’s that look like? How do we have those discussions, as parents?
Beth: Those conversations come to us every day, if we’re looking for them, as parents.
Dave: What does that mean? [Laughter]
Ann: Help us to look for them.
Beth: That means your kids are having interactions with friends at school; they’re seeing things on TV; getting information on their tablets—all those things. Honestly, if a parent would take a notebook, and just jot down all the things that they see or hear from their children, or see in their environment that has sexual meaning to it or could explain relationships, that’s where the education begins; and we’re just not open to it. And so our kids believe it.
Ann: I think we’re scared, and we don’t know what to say. We don’t even know some of the terminology today, because it’s changing so much. So you’re giving—I feel like you’re helping us/you’re coaching us, as parents—giving us tools and language to know how we talk to our kids.
Dave: Well, my question is: “How?” Coach-up a parent even just to have a conversation about—let’s say they’re not five years old; they’re getting older—and you want to talk more about the way sexuality works in a marriage and relationships, that kind of thing. Again, most parents are afraid to do it—like you said, there’s the “one and done”—“I had ‘the talk.’” Who knows what—
Ann: —like at ten or eleven, they’re saying they’ve talked/they’ve had their one talk.
Dave: But your book/you’re saying there needs to be a conversation that is ongoing—probably daily—so what does that look like?
Beth: I think the easiest way to access it for me is—your kids, even if they’re watching what you think is a G-rated Disney show in this day and time, there’s issues there about gender and sexuality all the time—and you just open it up. I mean, if you’re there watching it, and you see something, the easiest thing to do is to say, “What does that mean?” “What do you think that means?”
Ann: And you both have done this; you’re both moms. Beth, you’re single; but you have fostered how many children?
Beth: Fifteen; ten boys. [Laughter]
Ann: So you’ve done this.
Beth: I did a terrible job of it. [Laughter] No, I’m the first to confess. My children are in their 40s now. My husband took our son out to have “the talk”; right? And they came back in like 15 minutes with McDonald’s®. I said, “Did you have the talk?” He said, “Well, I had this book I was going to show Ryan; and he said, ‘Oh yes, my buddy and I saw that book over at somebody else’s house; and we went through it.’” Dan asked him, “Do you have any questions?” He said, “No.” They said, “Let’s go get burgers.” [Laughter]
Ann: I think that’s really difficult. [Laughter]
Dave: That is pretty common.
Beth: That was it.
With my daughter, she was so traumatized by me mentioning menstruation that all she did was sit and look wide-eyed at me. I [said], “Kara, this is going to happen to your body. It’s normal; it’s going to be okay”; you know and all of this. I got through, and she hasn’t said a word. I said, “Do you have any questions?” She just shook her head and that was it; you know? I tried to open up conversations with her, but she was like deer in the headlights, like, “Don’t even mention that to me.”
Ann: Yes; oh, good; so Beth, I’m glad you’re here to help all of us. [Laughter]
Beth: I’m the wrong one. [Laughter] Okay; so putting kids on the spot, and asking them if they have questions, it’s not going to work. [Laughter]
Ann: I think we all just failed.
Latayne: —or deer in the headlights, either one.
Beth: But see, it’s not nearly as confrontational to use information, like a television show/a TikTok video. I mean, kids don’t know how sexually suggestive a lot of the dancing is on TikTok. You can watch that, and say, “Okay, I’m just kind of wondering what you think about when you see this? Because this is what I think other people think about…”
Ann: Or cheer teams at the football games; you’re right. You’re thinking: Disney movies, things going on…
Beth: Yes; and so I think the issue is we think we have to have a whole lot of knowledge. We don’t; we have to know how to have a conversation with our kids.
Ann: So you’re saying ask the question: “What do you think of this?”
Beth: Yes; I’m going to say, in regards to sexuality, about five percent of it is us giving a response and ninety-five percent of it is asking questions. So if we think we have to know everything, and know how to lecture about it, and know how to talk about all the body parts, and STDs, and all that—the kids get that in biology—and they forget it; it doesn’t apply. Because that’s the other thing that happens a whole lot is we give kids clinical biology information. That doesn’t mean a thing to them, when they’re in a situation with a peer, and about to have sex; because that doesn’t look like the biology book at all.
So there are lots of ways to have the conversation, but it begins with questions. Think about how this interview would go if you came in here and kind of gave me a little five-minute lecture and said, “Do you have any questions now?” [Laughter]
Latayne: “Well, Miss; I’m done.”
Beth: Okay; that’s kind of what we want to do about sex education. So to me, I’m like, “You guys quit making this so hard. Just ask them.”
Dave: You know what I’m thinking of, as a dad—and I know a lot of our listeners are parents; they may be thinking the same way—I’ve always thought, and we wrote about it in our parenting book, No Perfect Parents; it’s like you need to be teaching spiritual truths, along the way—Deuteronomy 6—when you sit at the table, when you lie down; it’s just every-day conversation.
I think, often, we don’t think about that sexuality with our kids; we’re thinking: “I’m going to talk about God along the way. I want to use the Bible. I want to have moments during every day”; and that’s sort of the goal. We often keep the sexual conversation, like, “Well, that’s sort of off limits; I’m not going to go there.” You’re saying, “No; that’s a daily conversation too. Use what you’re watching/use what you’re reading; don’t run away from it.”
I would say to a dad or a mom listening, right now: “Have the courage to ask a simple question,”—like you just said Beth—“What do you think about that?”
Beth: I am going to go back to what you said about the Deuteronomy passage; okay? We have G-rated the Bible. I have often said—and I hope somebody has done this or will take me up on this—you know, we teach in our primary grades Genesis; but we take out all the sinful stuff; so all those people in Genesis, apparently, were perfect. We really need to go back—when our kids are 10, 11, 12, hitting middle school—and we need to do: “Genesis, the Rest of the Story”; because how much sexuality is there in Genesis?
Ann: So much.
Beth: So much, but we just remove that from the stories.
Ann: I remember being in the car with our kids, and I was listening to the Bible on tape in the day. I came to Genesis, where it says the men went to Lot and said, “Bring the men out to us so that we can have sexual relations with them.” Our kids are like five/seven, and I turned it off real quick—“Ahhh; ahhh,”—[Laughter]—but you’re saying, “That’s an opportunity.”
Beth: I’m saying, “That’s an opportunity.” I mean, you want to pick it in an age-appropriate way; but it is an opportunity.
Ann: “Don’t skip over them at the age-appropriate time.”
Dave: Part of me is thinking: “A five-year-old; that would be probably the appropriate thing to turn it off.”
Latayne: I agree; at five, I would have turned it off too.
Beth: You know, a lot of parents think that we do sex education when our kids are teenagers; I’m going to tell you that we’re way too late at 12 and 13; that’s 9, 10, 11, 12 conversations now.
Dave: Yes; and obviously, our ministry, FamilyLife, is all about helping families do this. We have a resource called Passport2Purity®—it’s been around for decades—that is a tool for parents to use, because we know this is not easy for us as parents. It’s like: “Here, we’ll give you a tool.” Often, when somebody hands me a tool, I’m like, “I can do that.” So I tell our listeners: go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and get Passport2Purity and walk through; because basically, we walk you through a conversation that you have with your kids.
But what Beth and Latayne are saying: “Don’t let that be the end of the conversation.” That’s just one conversation of thousands probably. Honestly—and I’m not saying we did it even really well—I remember my oldest son—CJ’s 35 [now]; he said “Dad you had this conversation with me when I was too young.” I started with son number-one—like I want to be ahead of the game, and so maybe now/maybe I was too young—I think he was two-and-a-half—no; I’m kidding—[Laughter]—I think he was eight or nine.
Ann: He was eight.
Dave: But anyway, looking back, I do remember that one of our friends—we had three sons; all married now with grandkids—one of our friends of our sons said, one day in our kitchen, “Hey, I know the way to raise kids that will be virgins when they get married: talk about sex every day in the kitchen.” We’re like, “What?!” He goes, “Every time I was at your house, there was some conversation that was sort of natural in this home about sexuality,” and “You have three sons that got married as virgins; at least, that’s what they told us.”
I’m not saying we did it right, but there were conversations that were just a normal part of life. Even though, for me, it was still like, “I can preach about this; it’s harder to talk about this in my kitchen”; but it needed to be done.
Ann: I think it’s because it affected me so much—this sexual abuse really had a toll on me—I realized, “We need to talk, biblically, how this is a good plan that God has and why He has put any restrictions on it is because of His love for us.”
But you both even talk about, often, that we talk so much about what you shouldn’t do; we don’t talk about the great plan that God has for us. I think that’s really an important part to cover as well.
If you have school-aged kids, they’re hearing this constantly; so if you haven’t talked about it before, maybe have a conversation: “Guys, I know stuff is happening at school that you can be confused about—you’re hearing on TV; you’re seeing it on social media of sexuality—we haven’t talked about it that much, but I want this to be a place where you can ask questions. Maybe we need to ask you questions, because there’s a lot going on now that hasn’t been going on in the past in terminology; maybe you can help us.” Just open the door/open the door for those discussions.
Bob: I think all of us, as parents, are understanding that we’re going have to be more proactive and have more intentional conversations with our children about sexuality, probably at an age that feels premature for us; but the reality is our kids are hearing about this at school, on the playground, in social media, even in cartoons today. As parents, we have to have a strategy.
That’s what Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking about today with Beth Robinson and Latayne Scott. They have written a book called Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc.—all of it. The book is available for purchase; you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for more information; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The title of the book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality. Order online, or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And some of you are going to want to add to your New Year’s resolution list a getaway with your preteen for a Passport2Purity weekend together, a couple of days, where you can getaway and utilize this FamilyLife resource designed to help you engage with your preteen around the themes we’ve talked about today. There’s information about Passport2Purity on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com as well, so check that out.
Now, we want to take just a minute and say a quick word of “Thank you,” to all of you who, over the last few weeks, have responded to our yearend matching-gift opportunity. We’ve heard from many of you in the weeks leading up to Christmas and in the last week of the year—many of you who really were voting for FamilyLife—you were saying: “This ministry is a ministry that needs to continue,” “It’s a ministry that’s helping our family,” “It’s a ministry that’s making a difference in our lives. We want to see it, not only continue, but expand.” We just want you to know how grateful we are for your support of FamilyLife Today/your partnership with us, here in this ministry, and say, “Thanks, again, for rallying at yearend to support the ongoing work of this ministry.”
And we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about the revolution that’s happening inside a teenager’s body and brain at puberty, and how as parents, we need to be alert to that and be ready for it, know how to help them navigate that. Dave and Ann Wilson continue with Beth Robinson and Latayne Scott tomorrow. We hope you can be here for that as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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