“Mom, what’s pornography?”
The question was posed frankly by my 10-year-old while my kids and I were about the business of dinner clean-up—rinsing dishes, popping plastic containers of leftovers closed. He’s an avid reader, and he’d spotted the term on the back of a Christian book. I swallowed. I wiped the counter again.
Mentally, I went back to my mental catalogue of What I Believe About My Children’s Worldview on Hairy, Awkward Topics. I want:
1) my children to feel the freedom, and trust, to ask me questions. I want to open the gates for candid conversation, not close them.
2) to be the one to help them build their worldviews on these topics—built around Scripture.
3) worldviews for topics we so frequently encounter in life to be built on more than one-time conversations. They need to be applied to various circumstances.
And I believe:
4) kids pick up on subtle reactions and responses to a topic when they construct their worldview.5) I am building bridges with my kids now for them to talk with me about anything. Those bridges need to be well-established before the insecurity, awkwardness, and even shame of various circumstances set in.
So, I took a deep breath. “That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked it. You know how we’ve talked about sex, how it’s such a powerful ‘glue’ between two people, and how it feels good and very intimate to them?…”
After I eked out those first sentences, somehow I muddled my way through a kid-level definition—and an open caution of pornography’s power. Hopefully he’ll even have a practical response, knowing he can and should “bounce” his eyes from those images if/when he encounters a revealing billboard or steamy magazine ad. And I recommended he talk to his dad.
My own parents were committed to answering whatever questions we asked as clearly as they could and as biblically as they could. Trust me, one of my sisters—who eventually became a nurse—gave them a real run for their money with all her questions about sex. No honest, loving question was off-limits. My parents saw answering kids’ questions, to the highest extent that age permitted, as a chance to talk about Scripture as we “walked by the way,” so to speak. They spoke specifically and intimately to us about so many topics.
When I first brought my now-husband-then-boyfriend home, one of the most remarkable elements to our household for him was actually the dinner table. “You talk about that at dinner?!” he said with a little bit of awe—in a good way, it seemed. My parents discussed things that they themselves were walking through, at work or in life, and their thought processes. We learned alongside them; probably an abbreviated version, and not in a gossipy or insensitive way, but in a way that outlined what discernment looked like; the way wisdom interplayed in their decisions. We even made suggestions. Our conversation was intimate—far deeper than the weather.
Conversation is so often when we apply and learn to navigate worldview, Scripture, and morality. Some of the best parents I know aren’t necessarily those who withhold and protect their kids from information. Instead, they take their child’s hand and show them how to navigate difficulty—like training wheels for life circumstances.
Reality is, these conversations secure trust. They create authenticity. They pave the way for future conversations that may need to happen. They say, “We’ve got a relationship established here. You can talk to me about anything. I’ll always tell you the truth.” Talking to our children, in many ways, protects them.
Our kids will learn somewhere—whether we’re there when they need the information… or not. Typically, when kids find themselves in a new situation, they’re looking for similar situations that will indicate where they should turn. Maybe they’re thinking, I remember watching/listening to something like this. Or maybe they’re thinking, I don’t remember my parents dealing with this. So they’re left to their remaining tools: their own know-how, the advice of friends, or other information. Maybe they’ll wing it.
Lately I was heartbroken by the story of a friend whose parents left discussions about sex to her fifth grade sex ed class. And when she was 15, her boyfriend—two years older—uh, volunteered to show her the rest. When he became forceful with her, she didn’t feel like she could speak to her parents about it. They didn’t talk about that kind of stuff.
Speaking with our kids candidly does more than help them know what to do. It gradually gives our kids responsibility—while we’re there to help them deal with it—and thus, builds confidence. Our kids have less of a likelihood to be swayed by peers or lies in the midst of their decisions, and more likely to know how the Word applies to every situation—and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
And that’s true no matter what our kids face… or what they ask.