While once it may have seemed possible to shelter our children from inappropriate exposure to sexuality, today it seems to be an impossible goal. While some families have been successful in insulating their children from the Internet, movies, and other harmful aspects of secular culture, many families have not been as successful. And, even those parents have made every effort to appropriately safeguard their children may find themselves unhappily surprised at what they have been exposed to by their friends. In addition, outdoor secular media such as billboards, bus ads and newspaper covers portray disturbingly graphic images that force us to confront the fact that our children are being exposed to ideas and ways of life we may consider to be harmful to their souls and their mental health.
According to the Torah, a single young man is forbidden to have sexual thoughts, and married individuals must limit their expression of sexuality to within the confine of their marriage, in keeping with a detailed moral and legal code. As our children grow and enter into adolescence, we have a responsibility to help them in this task of assuming their religious responsibilities towards sexual morality under the onslaught of the secular world’s infectious immorality and their own revved up glandular system. It is for this reason that we cannot be passive and allow our children to learn about sexuality from non-Torah images and ideas. Rather, we must find a way to inoculate them by appropriately and respectfully exposing them to Torah ideas about sexuality and modesty, so that the first images and concepts that fill their developing minds are proper ones.
Furthermore, as we become more and more aware of the existence of sexual predators in our midst, and the terrible damage that survivors of sexual abuse experience, it is even more important that we maintain an ongoing dialogue with our children about sexuality. If children do not possess clear knowledge and age-appropriate understanding of the parts of their body and how they can be used or misused, it will be difficult for them to protect themselves against those who seek to abuse them. The times in which we live necessitates our having these types of discussions with our children from the earliest age.
In addition, we know that predators are able to escape detection because children are too often ashamed to tell the adults in their lives what has happened to them. Researchers have tried to understand what holds back children from disclosing abuse, and have found that even very young children feel a sense of shame over what has happened and are reluctant to reach out to an adult for help and guidance. We perpetuate that shame when are silent in regards to sexuality. Instead of our children understanding that they can talk to us about anything, they may be learning that sexuality is a shameful topic and be unable to ask questions at a time when they need to.
Speaking to our children about sexuality is a psychological and hashkafically challenging task. Our tradition expects us to behave and even think with exceeding modesty. That is one of the reasons many parents find it difficult to speak to their children about these matters. Also, there are adults who have may have not fully resolved their own questions about these issues and therefore feel at a loss when speaking to their children. Unfortunately, this avoidance is dangerous because it leaves children emotionally vulnerable at a time when they most need our help. Many adolescents feel confused and guilty about their sexual feelings and can be led astray because of either oppressive guilt, or on the flipside, lack of proper and balanced behavior as modeled by significant adults in their life.
In today’s busy times, parents may be tempted to abdicate their role as moral guides and models for their children. But, if we want to give our children the parenting they need to grow into full and healthy menschen, we will need to get involved in all areas of their chinuch, including taking the time to check what they are reading, what they are watching, even what they are thinking and discuss it with them. Teaching children about proper sexual attitudes and behavior is a part of chinuch as well.
(To be continued)