This article is adapted from a transcript of CityRadio’s interview with Dr. Robi Sonderegger and used with permission. For more of CityRadio’s programs, do log on to www.cityradio.sg.
Dr Robi Sonderegger is a Clinical Psychologist renowned for his trauma rehabilitation, mental/emotional health, new-habit-formation, and parenting programs.
A common question that parents ask is: “How do I actually tell my children about the birds and the bees? How do I tell them about sex and all of the things that they may be experiencing in the future?”
It is often said that if a child has not had the sex talk with their parents by the age of 8, then chances are, somebody else will have spoken to him about it by the age of 10—usually a friend at school or via the Internet.
Now, we might think that 8 is a very young age; is it a safe conversation to have as it might evoke more questions than what we have answers for. If we were to be completely honest, many parents might say, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this topic with my child.”
Well, mums and dads, comfortable or not, it is our responsibility. Don’t leave this responsibility to your child’s school friend, don’t leave it up to the Internet, and don’t leave it up to even the school. It is not sex education in a classroom that promotes the greatest answers to the questions that a child has, rather it is the life experiences of mum and dad that are communicated in love, and through wisdom, that can best prepare a child for their future.
Why do we call it the birds and the bees? What are we actually saying? Well, girls are commonly and colloquially referred to as chicks or birds, and boys, when you look and study the nature of bees, they head out to impregnate the queen and they will fight literally to the death to be able to have their chance to have sex with the queen. Once they do, they actually die. And so, the nature of a man is that we’ll do whatever it takes in order to experience this because of the hormone known as testosterone, that we have. Now, it’s commonly known that males have testosterone and females have estrogen as the primary sex hormones. But it’s also true that females have testosterone as well, just not as in greater quantity. And so, because testosterone is the sex hormone—the hormone that gives us sex drive or libido—it is classically explained as the reason why guys like and want sex more often than women.
So, we need wisdom to deal with the topic. How do we get wisdom? The Bible says that if you ask God for it, He will give it to you abundantly. We also get wisdom through life experiences and sometimes, the negative life experiences teach the best lessons. Not always best, because those lessons sometimes have consequences on our future. So as parents, we want to safe guard our children so that they don’t make the same mistakes we did.
When it comes to sitting down with your child, there’s also this question: “Who should be doing it? The mother or the father? Or both?” There is no one size fits all model. We are typically inclined to say that the dads should sit down with your boys, and mums, sit down with your girls. Explain to them in a manner which is safe, where the child does not feel uncomfortable because the parent of the opposite sex is talking to them about things which they might consider to be private. Now oftentimes, we might think: “They’ve got a better relationship.” The boy has a closer relationship with his mum and the daughter is often daddy’s little princess. It might be true in the younger years but there comes a time where a transition is made, which we call the gender crossover effect. This is when boys start to look to their dad as their primary role model for their future. They look to dad to learn how to be a man, how to problem-solve, be it through aggression or through wisdom, through quitting or through a calm and collected understanding of circumstances. Your child is watching you because that is how they learn best.
So when you sit down and engage with them in a healthy discussion, know the reason why you are doing this. It is not just to impart information for information sake, but to prepare them, to warn them of the dangers that may lay ahead, for the traps that are out there that may ensnare them. We want to inform them of best practice and how to engage in a loving relationship so that it is sustained over the long term. We want to guide them, we want to instruct them, we want to educate them and we want to protect them; but most of all, we want to love them.
We want to make sure that our children are not taken advantage of and we want to make sure that they know who they are. Our girls need to have a thorough understanding that they are not just an object that is to be used for sex. Our boys need to understand that there is a multi-billion dollar industry out there called the porn industry that wants to lure them onto the Internet or into buying videos so as to maintain the economic advantage that the industry has. But in reality, it is a trap and it can lead to marriages disintegrating as a result of pornography exposure.
So there are traps out there. And if a child understands that there are traps, he or she will not want to be trapped. Instead, they will want to be informed. If you really do not know what to say, get your child to do the teaching for you. Just ask them questions such as, “Why do you think that people kiss one another?” “Why do you think people will leave their mother and their father and join with another and be married for the rest of their life?” “What is the purpose?” Just get your child to enter with you into an open, transparent and safe dialogue. Moms and dads, this is not a one-time conversation. “Oh we had the chat and we talked about the birds and the bees and thank God it’s all over now!” No, this is not a one-time chat, this is a lifetime conversation of open transparency where we get to be our children’s safe place to fall in a non-judgemental environment. One where we get to communicate, “I love you, you are worth celebrating and you are worth protecting.”