Today is the first day of school. The sun is shining, bees are buzzing, birds are chirping, and the boys are starting middle and high school, respectively. There is change in the air, and, to a lesser extent, the waft of neighbors burning breakfast. It is 2017 in Suburbia, USA, and as long as we stay off of Twitter, everything is fine.
Everything is fine.
Nobody does awkward like parents.
However, with new schools there is new responsibility, and the aforementioned change that comes with it. Also, puberty.
It’s easy to think we, parents, don’t have to have “the talk” these days, what with the internet and prestige television, but that is not the case. Still, the influences of each are great, and I kind of figured our conversation might go something like this:
The Talk: A Play in One Act
Me: When two people . . .
Them: But it can be more, right?
M: Um, sure. When two or more people really care about each other . . .
T: But they can just be attracted to each other, right? They don’t have to spend the rest of their lives together, right?
M: Okay. When two or more people are sober and mutually attracted to each other, they may consensually engage in physical activity . . .
T: What if they’ve had a few drinks, but it’s still consensual?
M: Well, I don’t know that, wait, who is drinking what?
T: As long as they are in agreement, safe and take precautions, right? Precautions to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, right?
M: Yes, that’s . . .
I know what you’re thinking. What about that waiver I signed in 5th grade? The one allowing state funding to turn a bunch of prepubescent kids into contributing members of society?
Assuming your state funding is anything like ours, the experience was lacking. The elementary school sex education class is meant to be a companion piece, not the main course. Plus, the material is slightly outdated. The video my kids watched at school may be the only thing keeping VCR companies in business—The Straight Skinny on Sex (or something like that), from the makers of such hits as Hide Under Your Desk to Survive a Nuclear Holocaust, Choose Your Own Adventure: A Cafeteria Story, and funny enough, Sunset Boulevard.
Which means the onus is on us, the parents, where, if I remember the contract correctly, is how it is supposed to be. Nobody does awkward like parents.
When I was a kid we never had “the talk,” at least not in the traditional sense. There weren’t any birds or bees, but rather a book that I was told to read at my leisure and discuss as needed, which, obviously, was never. In fact, the closest we ever came to finishing that conversation was a few years later when my parents found a stash of inappropriate magazines under my bed, but with more yelling. All I learned from that experience was how to hide things better.
Years ago, when the boys were still in elementary school, we had, unexpectedly, needed to set our talk in motion, but it was reactionary and gossip-driven, not the professional wisdom that I planned to share in a moment of fatherhood brilliance. Then there was the school video. Then I bought a book.
We have cable. My work here is done.
But not really. Talking to kids about the wide world of sexuality, weird as it may seem at the time, is important. It normalizes normal things and provides the information that will become the cornerstone of later decisions. It isn’t all storks in the cabbage patch, but real facts that lead to real understanding, and yet it is bigger still. There are topics of gender identity, consent, communication, relationships, respect and a rainbow of labels that society likes to sew into our underpants. It can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, there is help. Welcome to AMAZE, creators of helpful videos for kids ages 10-14 that take “the awkward out of sex ed.” by providing “real info in fun, animated videos that give you all the answers you actually want to know about sex, your body and relationships.” AMAZE is a collaboration between three (3) expert organizations in the field of sex education: Advocates for Youth, Answer, and Youth Tech Health, respectively, created to help empower parents and ensure that they (we) are the primary sexuality educators of their kids, not the internet, not pop culture, and certainly not that kid on the playground that has a stash of inappropriate magazines under their bed. Basically, #MoreInfoLessWeird, now with hashtags!
And it is always ongoing.
This post was written in partnership with AMAZE.org, but all opinions are my own.