Learning about Puberty the Hard Way?
Is your young son or daughter learning about puberty the hard way? By the hard way, I mean without a lot of guidance from you? Lots of kids get their early information about sexuality from unintended sources. Unintended by parents, that is. The movie "Sleepless in Seattle" poked fun at this in a scene where a widower (Sam) talks to his nine year old son (Jonah) about dad starting to date again. Jonah has been at his friend Jessica's house. Jonah: If you get a new wife, I guess you'll get to have sex with her, huh? Sam: I certainly hope so. Jonah: Will she scratch up your back? Sam: What?! Jonah: In the movies, women are always scratching up the men's back and screaming and stuff when they're having sex. Sam: How do you know all this? Jonah: Jessica's got cable. Sam: Oh. The racy content on TV snuck up on a lot of people. Before cable, we were used to having the Federal Communications Commission regulate what was broadcast over the airwaves and available to anyone with a television and an antenna. When people got cable TV, many didn't realize "cable" wasn't regulated in the same way by the government. The idea was, if you paid to have content come into your house on a wire, the government wasn't going to tell you what you could and couldn't choose to watch. The fact that the cable companies routinely offered more explicit content than broadcast TV slipped by most folks, especially because cable companies tended to show racy material late at night. Kids often watched these shows when parents weren't aware of it. Gradually, less censorship on cable influenced broadcast TV to loosen its standards. Today, it's common to see televised content that would have caused our parents to spit coffee (or a cocktail) out their noses. Through what they see in movies, on TV, and over the Internet, most kids today learn about sexuality a lot sooner than their parents did. But what are they learning? It's still a common plot device to have two people meet and wind up in bed before a show is over. How often do you see these people talking about condoms or other forms of birth control? How often do they talk about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases? The majority of shows are entertainment and not designed to teach kids about the real world consequences of fictional characters' actions. How soon should you talk to your child about sex? I saw a good answer in a WebMD online article by Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her response: "Younger than you think." She described a family dinner at which her husband asked her 6 year old son what he wanted to do when he grew up. He answered that he didn't want to work, he just wanted to be a dad. Then he continued, "But I'm not sure I want to do that either, because then you have to pee in your wife." Yes, Dr. Weston used this as a teachable moment. There's no one right age to start explaining to your child what it means to become an adult. But the older a child gets, the more misinformation and false assumptions are likely to result in negative consequences. I've read of experts saying to not get ahead of yourself. To listen to a child's questions and make sure you understand what he or she is asking. Then give just as much information as they need at that stage of development. When my wife was growing up, she had an adult neighbor whose daughter came to her one day and asked what the word "virgin" meant. The mother launched into an explanation about sex and reproduction, only to have her daughter look confused and say, "Oh...but why does my sweater say: 100 virgin wool?" Figuring out what to say and when to say it can be a particular challenge for parents of a child with Asperger Syndrome. Asperger kids often have difficulty asking for information. You may need to get out in front of the situation by asking them careful questions at different ages to gauge how much your child comprehends. The experts also counsel that "the talk" should not be one conversation. It should be a series of dialogues that provide more details and insights as your child is ready to understand them. Because children with Asperger Syndrome can be worldly in some ways and naive in others, it may take some extra effort to figure out what they "know" vs. what they understand. It's never too early and it's never too late to start sharing the information your child needs. There are plenty of excellent age-appropriate materials available that can help you broach the subject. In a high-technology, too-much-information society, the path to sexual maturity can be a rocky one for children. Making sure they have the right guidance and counsel can be a handrail that provides firm footing for them, and peace of mind for you. ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the author of the DVD, "The Puberty Video for Boys with Asperger Syndrome (and Autism Spectrum Disorder - Level 1)." You can find more articles and information on his website: coultervideo.com.
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