Recently, I chaperoned my daughter’s elementary school field trip to the art museum in town. On the permission slip to the event, there was a disclaimer about nude sculptures and paintings in the museum and a warning of the possible dreadful opportunity for the fourth grade children to see such pieces of art. Then, upon arriving at school for art guide duty, all the parent volunteers were taken into a private room for “a talk”. We were told to walk a little ahead of the children in the museum and to make sure there weren’t nudes in the room we were entering. We were also told not to stop at these pieces and to be careful not to talk about them.
I was horrified.
Sad to say, I kept my loud and very clear opinions to myself. As a newer family to this school, and I wasn’t feeling sure of the environment. I didn’t understand what was really happening in that meeting. Actually, I thought during the ten minute discussion that it might be a joke. Hide art? Don’t talk about art? Be ashamed of the art? What message was the school trying to send?
I believe the opportunity to teach this lesson on the human body should not be lost, even on a school field trip. Instead of veering in a different direction during the museum visit, I answered the questions my group of assigned kids asked. I talked to them about sculpture and art, telling them the body was to be celebrated and art is done with love and respect. I didn’t go overboard explaining things, as I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the school completely, but I let the kids lead the way.
A few days later, I spent the day with two lovely mom friends talking about screen time and all the life challenges that come with it. Unlike the school administrators, my forward thinking friends don’t want to ignore taboo subjects. “Have you taught your children about pornography yet?” one mother asked me without hesitation. Instantly, I felt a rock in my stomach. “No,” I muttered. Then my brilliant friend began to tell me about the discussions with her kids, the wonderful questions they were asking, and how she felt it was changing their views of intimate pictures on screens.
I wanted to run home immediately and talk to my kids about pornography.
I wanted to share until they rolled their eyes and understood the difference between beautiful pieces of art in a museum verses the escalating images on screens that create disrespect and shame. In that moment, I wanted to fold my kids into the knowledge that they can love their bodies and celebrate them without belittling one another.
I know this is a scary topic for many parents; I had a few challenging moments before beginning the discussion myself. I wasn’t sure how to start, but I knew it was important to make the effort. It could even change my children’s perspective on sexuality and body image. I needed them to know right away that pornography is not like art in the museum. Instead, pornography sexually stimulates the viewer using explicit images. There is little respect in it.
With all of us piled in the living room, I began my pornography discussion. “Soooo…” I dragged out the word, trying desperately to find the next words. “Do you know what pornography means?” My kids looked at me like I was insane. I pushed on and I found myself still struggling for the right words.
It was an awkward situation.
I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t making their bodies something scary or something to be ashamed of, but I also wanted them to understand the harmful images that are out in the world. Although I have taught them about sex, seeing it on a personal screen, such as a tablet or phone, can often be degrading and violent, and could potentially create serious issues such as sexual dysfunction, commitment issues, addiction and more later in life. I needed them to understand the different forms of sexuality coming to them and to judge them from a healthy perspective. I needed them to know when to turn off a device to protect themselves from harmful images.
I decided right then that this wasn’t going to be a one-time conversation; we would need to delve deeper each time we talked. I decided that since this conversation was just the beginning, it didn’t have to be perfect. I started again with the following statement: “Your bodies are beautiful and YOURS. What you see, what you experience, and what you put inside your brain is also YOURS. You want to protect it. You shouldn’t view images that make you feel funny or frightened. We have to respect one another and that includes seeing other people’s private sexual acts. Pornography is different from the beautiful paintings and sculptures in the museums.”
All three of my kids were still looking at me like I was crazy. They were completely embarrassed and saw this as another sex talk. I don’t blame them. At 9, 11, and 13, I would have been mortified to discuss this with my mother. I remember that feeling, so I relented and let it rest.
I will continue to talk about porn with my kids.
I can’t let them go out into the world unprepared for the constant barrage of images without the tools to decipher them. They need to understand the difference between a piece of art and something with nefarious intentions. They also need to know that their body is precious, and it is theirs to do what they chose, and they need the power of information to do so.