During my childhood, my parents would often allow my siblings and I to each choose a video to rent either on Friday or Saturday night. My mother would make one of our favorite meals (homemade pizza, burritos, spaghetti, etc.), and we would spend Friday and/or Saturday nights watching the movies we had rented. To this day, it is one of my coziest memories. What would happen periodically when watching those movies, however, illustrates the point I am about to make.
As most children do, we loved horror films, and our parents would allow us to rent them. We watched so many I wouldn’t even be able to account for all of them. There were exceptions, though; my parents had a very low tolerance for four-letter words, and a strict no-nudity policy. A movie would instantly be turned off if any nude body parts were shown. “Dirty” words usually were tolerated a bit more, but not by much. The first time the F-word or something similar was uttered, my father would groan. The second time, he would complain audibly, usually stating “One more time and it goes off.” The third time, he would hit the stop button on the remote. This time we would groan that it “wasn’t fair” and usually insist that our friends all got to watch the movie. This was never a tactic that worked. To this day, there are a lot of 80’s movies of which I have only seen about fifteen minutes.
I don’t blame my parents. They are a product of their time and did an excellent job raising us. I don’t blame parents even up to today for preferring wholesome programs for their children or wanting to shelter them from the evils of the world. However, I do question if we go to extremes when it comes to sexuality and body image issues.
Notice that my parents, as is the case with many parents past and present in our culture, had no problem at all with the concept of slasher movies. Murdering people in the most gruesome ways possible? Lots of blood and gore? No problem. But show a boob? We can’t have that! How many shows are there on network television that involve gruesome crime scenes and bloody murders? Now—how many are there that are willing to show someone’s backside or a woman’s breasts (we won’t even address showing frontal nudity)? None.
I’m not saying that the major networks should jump on the gratuitous sex bandwagon; I’m just illustrating a point. The United States, in a condition which contrasts sharply with Europe, seems perfectly OK with all types of violence, but we remain puritanical about our bodies and sex. We have created a culture of shame that is several years in the making, and—I believe—has created an environment where pedophiles like Jerry Sandusky can thrive for years without being caught.
I don’t have children, and I don’t want to come off as some know-it-all who tells anyone how to raise their kids, but I want to ask parents a question: Have you talked to your kids about sex? Have you talked to them about their bodies? How did the discussions usually go? Are you frank and open? Or are any questions met with embarrassment and/or shame? Think about it.
The words “penis” and “vagina” are no more “naughty” than the words “arm” and “foot.” They are natural parts of our anatomy. There is nothing inherently sinful or naughty about them. Beginning at puberty, bodies go through changes, and people develop natural urges. There is nothing naughty or shameful about these urges either. I believe it is vitally important for kids to be able to ask questions, to come to trusted parents or authority figures, and discuss any questions they have about their bodies and what may be happening to them.
When we teach our children that their bodies are inherently dirty, that certain parts are “naughty” and not to be discussed, we create a dangerous sense of shame and secrecy. The Jerry Sandusky’s of the world are then able to exploit that, banking on the fact that the child will never say anything about something that is wrong and inappropriate. How many of Sandusky’s victims likely felt that what went on was so shameful that they felt unable to tell anyone?
To me, there is plenty on TV and in the media that is trashy other than the occasional butt or boob. Beating up hookers on Grand Theft Auto is much worse than hearing the “f” word uttered in anger on TV. Reality TV in general (Jersey Shore, any of the Real Housewives, Big Brother, etc. etc.) shows behavior much more trashy and vile than seeing someone step out of the shower or a couple nude together in bed.
We need some priorities. Explicit violence and sex are of course inappropriate for kids. The other end of the spectrum, however—complete embarrassment and avoidance of any discussion of our bodies and sexuality—teaches kids that there is something wrong with them and their bodies. Get over being embarrassed. We cannot afford as a culture to put kids in a situation where they feel such shame about themselves.
Talk to them when you can, or they won’t talk to you when it counts.