Over the past few weeks we have been focusing on how necessary it is, especially today, that parents take an active role in teaching their children the Torah’s view on sexuality and modesty. We have pointed out how important it is that first images to fill a child’s mind in regards to these concepts be appropriate ones.
We have discussed how pervasive the secular culture is, how much it has affected our children and how we can no longer afford to be naïve about the existence of sexual predators in our midst. We reminded you that if children do not possess clear knowledge and an age-appropriate understanding of the parts of their body and how they can be used or misused, they would not be able to protect themselves from those who seek to abuse them.
There is a school of thought that exposing children and adolescents to sexual ideas will arouse in them a yetzer hara. We referenced a halachic ruling from the Ezer Mekodesh (Shulchan Aruch, E.H. 23:3) that makes it clear it is permitted for even a young man to study the sections of the Torah that relate to sexuality.
How and When to Discuss Sexuality with Children:
Knowing that a true understanding of sexuality is essential for the fulfillment of numerous halachic obligations, the question then is at what age should children be taught about sexuality, and how?
The Torah consists of concrete intellectual knowledge as well as ethical and psychological development. For example, one can study all the laws of property rights, theft and commerce but in his practice of business be utterly unethical. As it states in Mishna Avos (3:13), “People whose intelligence exceeds their character are compared to a tree whose branches are larger than its roots.” The end result of course, is that such a tree will fall.
Educating our children about sexuality is not a one-time task, nor is it simply an acquisition of facts. Rather, it is principally an emotional and ethical educative process, and something that must be done in a number of different ways over a child’s lifetime. Yes, a child needs facts, but at the same time, facts can be overrated. A child is really looking for guidance and emotional security. By the way, this same observation is true for most children’s questions. Though they are hungry for facts, a perceptive parent should be able to read between the lines and speak to the emotional need behind the question.
For example, should a child ask, “How much money does Daddy make?” some parents will get flustered and weigh whether they should share personal details with their child or not. But really, that is missing the point. No matter how strenuously the child may press for a need to know this fact, clearly the question is an emotional one. The child is probably worried about how the family manages its finances or some other concern. Otherwise, there is no reason for the child to be asking this question. Not every question actually requires a literal answer, although it certainly deserves a response. The same can be said for questions about sexuality. It is important that the parents understand what the child is asking, and what fears and anxieties are motivating the question. Many a parent, attempting to be modern and psychologically astute, has answered questions about sexuality with an emotionally detached or detailed lecture. Chances are, the child understood very little and certainly learned nothing of the emotional education healthy sexuality requires. What does a tedious lecture have to do with the act of love that holds people together and builds families? Absolutely nothing!
When teaching children about sexual matters, it is important to be direct and clear because it is so easy for them to misunderstand. In addition, the usage of euphemisms and other indirect methods of discussing sexuality can possibly reinforce an unhealthy degree of shame. Such shame, if excessive, could be one causative factor (among many) that could lead a child into an emotional state where he is not able to be comfortable enough with sexuality, thus impeding his functioning and causing confusion and distress later on in life when he must become actively sexual as a newly married adult.
(To be continued)