Conclusion of SEXPLOITATION: HELPING KIDS DEVELOP HEALTHY SEXUALITY IN A PORN-DRIVEN WORLD by Cindy Pierce

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

—Socrates, 470/469–399 BC

Even a couple millennia ago, elders as revered as Socrates were worrying about the poor manners and morals of the young. Socrates, people! Adults’ observations of kids have not changed. The context in which kids grow up, however, changes radically with each generation. Parents and educators must give kids increasing independence and responsibilities while at the same time providing guidance and advice along the way. It’s a dicey balance. The parenting adventure is filled with conflict, delight, overstepping of bounds, recalibration, missed cues, getting off track, realignment, connection, miscommunication, and rebooting. The relationship between parent and child is ever changing, and requires an open heart and a willingness to invest in what matters.

The digital age has made teenage life much more complicated. Many interactions kids have are not visible to parents as the kids grow into teenagers, as devices have changed the ways kids interact and therefore have changed their relationships. In order to convince our kids to look for a healthy balance between screen time and live time, we need to make a conscious effort to model and discuss that balance. Even if we are overwhelmed by the expanse of influences and exposure our kids are experiencing, we need to stay involved by having conversations about what they are consuming. This is not to say we have to know everything they engage in and everyone they connect with, but we need to stay informed about their lives and continue talking about our values, even if they resist. We have to fully embrace our role as our kids’ primary sexuality educators to help them make sense of the cultural messages they are bombarded with. Talking to kids early and often about bodies, relationships, sexuality, friendships, and alcohol and drugs is an investment in readying our kids for the long term. It is tricky to maintain awareness of the future and stay present with the day-to-day interactions with our kids, especially when the path is not smooth. Don’t aim for smooth. Embrace the random effortless moments and keep having conversations despite the rough patches.

Parents who try to dodge the tough stuff in an attempt to “enjoy them while they are here” may miss the deeper connections that develop when these conversations are woven in and around the fun parts. I believe connecting with kids requires keeping expectations manageable and grooving through the daily routines, ready to soak up the morsels of wonder that wash up on occasion. Loving our children is easy, but liking them every day can be a challenge. Sometimes I feel like my only feature is that I have keys to a car that will get them where they need to go. Instead of bossing them into showing gratitude and noticing all I have sacrificed to get them to lacrosse practice, I drive on, listen, and try to appreciate the beauty of the sky while they bicker about the injustices of who got the front seat or smelly farts.

Making memories with our kids means we have to be open to being redirected. I used to anticipate “family joy” with giddiness as we embarked on a hike, outing, vacation, or dinner out together as a family. It wasn’t too far into our parenting journey that I learned how expectations, hopes, and agendas can turn special time together into a slog. A day of skiing together or a visit to a cool place could implode over nothing. It was so disappointing to leave a restaurant with a snarky kid (or two or three) and salty parents. By the time kids were trying to brush their teeth around our one family sink, way past their bedtimes, they were shopping for opportunities to blame, cry, and take up the most psychic space, all of them jacked up on carbs from a dinner of bread and pasta. One of them would end up hurt and collapsed in a puddle on the floor of the bathroom over almost nothing. Bruce and I would play rock, paper, scissors to see who would help encourage the puddle kid to get in bed rather than sleep on the dirty bath mat. We always played two out of three. We would make big statements that we were never going out for dinner ever again because it always ended in fighting and irritation. We would forget and get fired up for a family hike to a favorite spot. Somewhere along the trail, one or all would end up dropping anchor for one reason or another, and the vibe would be off the rails even though it didn’t need to be.

After lots of repetition and watching patterns emerge, we started to secretly find humor in these inevitable scenes and stopped engaging with the anchor dropper or the puddle kid by focusing on the kid who was pointing out the beautiful sky or noticing the small bug struggling to makes its way. We developed the ability to stay present and keep moving. Not engaging as much meant anchors dropped less and kid puddles got back up more often because no one wants to miss the fun stuff. It is human nature to want to connect, but we all have our own way of connecting. When we slow down and pay attention, we will find the circuits to make connections more often. Over time, we don’t remember the bickering and the tears as much as the sky and the bugs.

I decided that planning family joy is impossible. Family joy sneaks around and lurks, popping up in random ten-minute windows. If we stayed receptive to the unexpected conversation, observation, question, or silence together, we would find the joy. Sometimes it happens on an outing, but it is more likely that family joy shows up in the middle of mundane moments such as cleaning up after dinner. You can’t wait for it, expect it, or force it, but when it slips in to shine on your family, you want the presence of mind to bask in it before someone steps on his sister’s snack and all hell breaks loose in the backseat. I used to dream of a bigger bathroom with two sinks. Luckily, it never happened, because that one sink shared by five people gives us so many opportunities to wrangle for space, cooperate, and practice patience, and to get to the other side of juicy battles over toothpaste—and still love each other. These situations are training for our kids and the relationships they will have throughout their lives. In this time, when devices distance us from one another, we need to create more opportunities to connect. Find one sink, and gather up.

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