My husband priest loves Bill Cosby and has been devastated by the recent news surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct. However, as with any heavily covered news story, the allegations create an opportunity to parent and discuss the issue at home.
Whenever you discuss sexuality with children it should be done within the concept of age appropriateness. I have mentioned before that I encourage parents to call sexual organs by their clinical and proper names when dealing with their children. I have also mentioned that children under the age of eight years old should not necessarily be watching the news enough to have questions about heavier issues.
There needs to be time in a child’s life when they are allowed to be a child without the burdens put upon them by harshness of the news. That said, when dealing with children from the ages of birth to around eight years of age, parents should focus on appropriate naming of body parts, stranger danger, appropriate and inappropriate touching, and what to do when someone is inappropriate with them.
These talks should happen in short fifteen- to twenty-minute sessions. I have found the car to be an excellent place to have them. There should also be focused conversations without the television or other distractions where books are used to help name the body parts of people of different sexes. One of my favorite books is It’s Perfectly Normal by Michael Emberley (Anv. New edition; Candlewick, 2014). This book is rated for children ten and up; however, I started using parts of this book with my own child around the age of seven. The book can be used to explain gender differences and physical sex differences to children.
Books like these give anatomically correct pictures to use with children to show them the sameness of people. I used It’s Perfectly Normal to show my son that all men’s penises become erect and, therefore, it was perfectly normal if his did this from time to time, too.
Throughout the years, the book acted as a starting point for sexuality discussions with my son. It fully illustrates the conception and birthing process and even covers the normality of gay and lesbian couplings.
Family Coven Virtues
I have written previously about setting up and parenting to Family Coven Virtues. In my family coven, we would say that we are tolerant of all persons who love. We respected our son’s right to masturbate in his own space and not in front of the television (age appropriate about birth to five years). We would use our discernment in knowing when someone was appropriate or inappropriately touching us. If someone made us uncomfortable, then that touching was inappropriate for us.
As the child grows in age toward tween and teenage years, discussions around sexuality can expand and still tie into the family coven virtues. Respect is necessary when you begin to have sexual contact with others. It takes courage to turn down someone if you don’t want to have sexual contact. Sexual contact is best done in devoted relationships where clear sexual boundaries have been agreed upon. You demonstrate trustworthiness, reverence, efficiency, respect, and helpfulness when you use condoms during sexual intercourse.
The Bill Cosby Story
When dealing with tweens and teenagers, the family can watch a story on the news together about Bill Cosby and the allegations against him. There are several aspects that parents can focus the discussion around.
Rape Is Often Perpetrated by Someone You Know
Rape is most often perpetrated against women by men they know. Men who are raped, similarly, are most often raped by other men they know. Making sure children know this regardless of gender is an important first step to parenting around a story like the Bill Cosby allegations.
Familiar or Date Rape Often Happens When Drugs and/or Alcohol Are Involved
The second take-away from the Bill Cosby story is that drugs and alcohol often play a significant part in familiar or date rapes. For boys, this means that to show respect for girls they are dating, they should only offer them closed drink bottles or encourage them to make their own drinks if possible. It also means that boys should tell their friends who are girls that if they ever feel weird after drinking a drink, they can call upon them to help get them to safety. Boys should also have a plan if they should drink something and then feel strange, a system within their peer group or carte blanche to call a parent or uncle or aunt to rescue them should they get into trouble.
“It is just a sad fact that if you’re a girl, then you have to be aware of certain things,” my sixteen-year-old son explained to me.
Girls should be taught the invariable rules of drinking.
- Do not accept already opened bottles of wine, beer, water or other drinks, especially sweet drinks from anyone you aren’t 100% sure you are safe with.
- You are only 100% safe with most other girls and your female relatives.
- Do not leave any drink unattended. Take drinks with you to the bathroom and never allow the drink to leave your line of sight.
- If you order a drink at a bar, accept that drink directly from the bartender or waitress only.
- Consider nail polish like Undercover Colors to help warn you if your drink has been spiked by date rape drugs.
Take-Away for BoysWhen I asked my sixteen-year-old about what he thought about the Bill Cosby story and what was the most important point, he said, “Don’t rape. I mean, how hard is that really?”
When I asked him further about how he is sure when a girl really wants to have sex with him, he said, “Mom, if I am going to have sex, she has to take it and stick it in. I am not going to do that.”
Although it might seem a bit extreme to give the physical act of penetration over to your partner, it is one way that boys can be sure they aren’t violating a girl. This, of course, doesn’t mean she might not have regrets about the activity later; however, if the first time with a new partner always requires this act, it can help a boy feel better about the sexual experiences he does have.
I also took time to ask my son about what he thought about the gang rapes that have been reported at frat houses throughout the US. I asked him what he would do if he found this activity happening at a frat party he was at.
“Call the police. It is the only right thing to do,” he said.
“Of course, what this really means is we all need to look out for each other,” my son elaborated. “I mean, there are plenty of men who have been raped because there was too much alcohol going around. So we just have to watch out for each other. If we see someone really looking bad at a rowdy party, we should take them home and see them to safety. If we all did that, it would really help a lot.”
Below are some of the things boys should be mindful of according to my sixteen-year-old.
- Never give your date an opened bottle of any drink.
- Always let a bartender or your date fix their drinks.
- Always carry a condom.
- Do not have sex when you are wasted or impaired by drink or drugs.
- Communicate thoroughly before you have sex with anyone.
- Let penetration be overseen by your partner.
- Don’t be alone with someone you don’t want to have sex with.
- Interfere if you see someone who is impaired and in what could be a dangerous situation.
- Call the police if you observe illegal or questionable activities at a party when it comes to rape.
Take-Away for Girls
Although it is obviously unfair that the situation for boys and girls is so different, I wanted to give parents some guidelines to start giving to tweens and teenagers who are girls. Even though the following suggestions are true for girls, boys wouldn’t go wrong observing them either.
Group Date for a First Date
Even if you have known a boy or girl for some time, the first date is often safer when done with a larger group. Invite some girlfriends and have the boy or girl invite some of their friends. There is safety in numbers. Even if the date goes well, don’t spend any time alone with the date the first time.
Make Up Your Mind About Sex BEFORE the Date
Be clear in your own mind about whether or not sex will be something you would be willing to do before you go out with anyone. Being clear in your own mind will allow you to be prepared with condoms and lube if necessary, and will allow you to stand your ground and make good decisions during the course of the date itself.
Never Meet a Dater in a Private Place for the First Three to Four Dates
There is nothing wrong with meeting at a restaurant, coffee shop, or the movies when you begin to date someone. This allows you the ability to leave and to do so in relative safety.
Always Employ the Buddy System
When you first start dating, curfew is as much about the buddy system as it is about having a curfew. Girls and boys should tell someone whom they are going out with and the anticipated time for the date to end. Daters should get into a habit of calling a friend or relative when dates are over to verify they are home and safe. When college life begins, having a friend on campus you check in with is a great way to ensure your safety. This could be a college roommate or another friend.
Have An Escape Plan
Boys and girls should have some plan to get out of dates that have turned awkward or have taken a strange turn. Some girls and boys do not feel like they can simply end the date and having a signal to text a friend to call and get them out of bad situations is an excellent way to stay safe and can be part of the buddy system.
Public Places Are Your Friend
If you find yourself in a situation where you are fearful of your date or at a party where you are fearful of who you are around, lock yourself into a bathroom or any room with a good lock and execute your escape plan. Never be afraid to call the police. If it is an option, go find yourself at the most public place available and solicit help or call the police.
As I was wrapping up my discussion with my son, I left the room, heading back to my office. He called me back, saying, “But it all comes down to this, Mom: don’t rape.”
When parents use horrific stories like the Bill Cosby allegations to jump start conversations around sexuality and personal conduct and responsibility, we move our entire society toward a place where it becomes that simple.