Guided Living: Make the Most of Every Opportunity
One of my favorite things to do is watch Law and Order with my 12-year-old daughter. It’s kind of a family tradition, and something I used to do with my mother. We enjoy the “Who done it?” as well as the bad guy getting justice in the end.
Recently, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Emmy and I were getting our armchair detective fix in. The episode ended up being about child pornography. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say they caught the bad guys and justice was served. A happy ending given our current state of affairs in this country.
But in the midst of the episode my daughter turned to me and asked, “What’s pornography?”
My immediate thought was, “Your mother will answer that better given the context of you becoming a young woman. Because if you have any more questions you’ll be more comfortable asking her than you would me.” So I said, “You should have a conversation with your mother about that.” She said “Okay,” and we finished the episode. I forgot about it. She didn’t.
Fast forward about three weeks later. We finished watching a movie on family movie night, and we’re laughing and sharing stories. In the middle of sharing stories my daughter says, “I Googled pornography.” Her mother and I were stunned, and paused our laughter. I said, “Why did you do that?” She responded, “Well, I asked you and you wouldn’t tell me.” I immediately felt ashamed. I huffed back, “Well I didn’t know you were going to go and Google it! I told you to speak with your mother!” She calmly responded, “I know, I just figured I would find out on my own.” My wife chimed in, “What did you find out?” To which Emerson rolled her eyes in disgust, “Nothing worth talking about now. It was nasty.”
I tried to keep my composure. “In the future will you please not Google stuff like that, particularly about sex. I want you to ask us and talk to us about that.”
Her response brought the lesson home for me. “I didn’t know it was about sex, Dad. I found that out later.”
Over the next couple of weeks we had a few conversations on the topic, each becoming more painful for my daughter as she tried to escape what she had seen. Equally horrifying for her was the notion of having sex talks with her parents. And as I said before, she wasn’t the only one who learned something. So I’d like to share three take-aways I’ve pulled from my embarrassing dad moment.
Make the Most of Every Opportunity
Remember the old adage about assuming? I came away from the conversation between Emmy and myself assuming she was going to talk to her mother. Never in a million years did I think she would go and Google the word pornography. It sounds crazy thinking this now, but I assumed she would do what I asked, and I assumed her mother had a better answer and a better way of approaching the subject with a young woman. Turns out that the only for sure thing that day was me whiffing on a prime opportunity to talk with my kid.
As parents we have a variety of reasons for missing out on such an opportunity.I don’t have enough time. I’m tired right now. I don’t think I have what it takes. Someone else could do it better.The list seems endless. But whatever it is you’re telling yourself, remember this story. I might not have been the best person, and I definitely would have approached the conversation different than my wife because we’re two different people, but in that moment, I was theONLYperson. Had I known at the time my options were so limited I would have never dismissed Emmy’s question. I would have hit pause and had the 2-minute conversation. Because whenever you bring up sex with a pre-teen or teenager the conversation is a guaranteed 2 minutes or less.
So I made a promise to myself, and I hope it encourages you to do the same. If any of my kids ever ask me a question, no matter the topic, I’m going to pause what I’m doing and answer it to the best of my ability in that moment. If I don’t know, I’m going to tell them, and we can Google it together. But I’m not going to pass it off, no matter the reasoning or justification I give myself. Because I’m going to approach it with the thought, it’ll be me or it’ll be someone or something else.
Don’t Shame Your Kids for Being Curious
The real irony in all of this is my daughter was doing what I’d told her to do a million times. Figure it out. In fact, I cringe at the hundreds of times I’ve hastily said that to them now. I don’t like to be the kind of parent that does projects for their kids or solves every problem for them. I want them to develop a healthy sense of self-autonomy and independence. So I will often encourage them to “Google it”. And I’ll follow it up with a good ol’ dad preaching lesson on laziness, grit, and determination. And there’s about a thousand other instances where I wish my daughter had actually taken what I said to heart. Just so happens the one time I really don’t want her to Google it, she sits down and puts my words into practice.
The lesson for me was not to quit encouraging my kids to practice figuring it out on their own. The lesson is much more existential in nature. Autonomy breeds independence, and when young people begin to step out on their own, away from the comfort and security of their parents, they are going to make mistakes. As parents this is really scary. I don’t want my daughter to learn about the evil nature of humanity. I take great joy in seeing her happy and full of life. But as our children mature they will come face to face with the degradation of the world in which we live. And as parents we should grieve this. I believe God has given us the emotion of sadness for this very reason. To handle loss. In this case, the loss of innocence. The loss of safety and security. It’s a painful thing to watch our children come to this realization on their own. But we must never hinder it. Or prolong it. We cannot shelter our children forever. They must grow up. Not just physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. And growing up means seeing the world as it truly is, warts and all. It also means making mistakes along the way.
If I had shamed my daughter, I would make another mistake. I would be telling her the world is too dangerous for her to understand on her own. That she’s not strong enough or smart enough to enter into it. That she doesn’t have what it takes. And that mentality will only serve to crush her and ruin her faith in me as a father who wants her to succeed. I think God allows us to see evil in the world for the same reason. So we’ll have faith in Him and His plan for our lives.
Build a Culture of Sharing into Your Family
All in all. Even though I made a mistake sending Emmy to her mother. I’m taking confidence in the fact my daughter told me what she found, and that she was confident enough in herself and our relationship to have a good sense of humor about it. We’ve had a couple of conversations since she told us about the infamous Internet search. She’s been open and honest about the fact that she does not want to view it again nor does she care to continue conversing about it with her parents. So as she’s rolling her eyes and telling me, “Ugh, Dad, no I never want to talk about this again.” I casually mention, “I understand, but in the future if you have any questions about sex, your mother and I want a chance to answer them first.” She nods her head and says, “Okay.” And I say a prayer and thank God for such a smart, vibrant, and classy daughter.
It also reminds me of a good decision my wife and I made a long time ago. When they were toddlers, we began praying every night as a family. These family prayers often turned into times of sharing about our days. Early on we called them “Pow-Wows”. A term I got from being a camp counselor. Everyone would share one Pow and one Wow from their day. As they’ve gotten older the term has faded, but the relationships of sharing and listening are as strong as ever. I’ll call out over the house speaker, “Prayer time!” And Fortnite gets put on hold, and texting with friends gets paused. Everyone piles in our bed and we share. And we always end in prayer. It’s this family practice that built within my daughter that it was okay to share with us what she’d discovered. And I’m so proud and thankful we took the time, energy, and discipline to install it into our family routine.
Chances are your middle schooler and high schooler has already been introduced to unhealthy views of sex and sexuality. Just riding on the bus one day will accomplish this. It happened when you were their age, and it’s happening now. So don’t be shocked or overwhelmed. Instead, take your emotional energies and use them. Use them to prepare your children for the onslaught of oversexualized modern-day ideas. If you don’t, someone else will.