Monday, November 12, 2007

A new twist on parent/child communication about sex

Court TV caught up with me late Friday to ask what I thought about a court case where a mother pleaded guilty for talking about sex with her 11 and 15 year old.

According to the reporter, the mom answered her son's question about oral sex with detailed information about her own sexual history and showed them one of her sex toys. Her 11 year old complained about it to a counselor, and she was arrested.

Court TV wanted to know what I thought and if I thought it would send a chilling message to parents about talking to children about sex.

Now, I don't know much more about this case then what I've told you here, but it sounds more like unwise parenting practice than it does a crime. (It is possible this was part of a pattern of abusive behaviors; I just don't know that.) I don't think it's a good idea ever for parents to share their personal sexual practices with their children, even when they ask things like "Mom, do you and Dad ever...?" And it is of course both immoral and illegal to expose your children to sexually explicit materials and behaviors.

But, I don't think the state should get involved in monitoring parent child communication. How often I hear parents saying hateful or mean things to their children -- "stop being so stupid", "if you don't stop that right now, I'm going to smack you" come to mind. Labeling your child instead of labeling their behaviors. Or how about those parents who teach their children to hate and despise people who are different than their are? Surely those do more damage in the long run than providing too much information about sex.

What do you think? Should showing teenage children a personally used vibrator be a crime? Unwise for sure, but criminal?


Lizard Eater said...

Unwise ... but really, which is potentially more harmful: to give too much information, or the more common mistake -- to not give enough?
(Or any!)

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people have poor boundaries when it comes to communicating about sexuality. No way that should be a crime though.

I also think you should follow up, find out the particulars of this situation, and let us know. What exactly was her son's question about oral sex? Why did the eleven year old complain and what did she complain about? Was she arrested for possession of a vibrator?

Seems like a potentially spirited discussion.

Anonymous said...

I read this last night and really had to think it through some. If the facts are only what you have here, then, of course, there is no crime. Lack of common sense, yes, crime, no.

Still, I find myself wondering what else is going on there. What other boundaries have been crossed? This is troubling in so many ways. I probably err on the side of too little, though when I taught my daughters to use the word 'vagina' rather than 'privates' some people I knew took me to task for teaching too much. Is this a case of relativity--what else may she have talked with them about that makes this fair to share? Poor judgment (really, really poor judgment)? Criminal? Just not sure I feel I have enough info to say. Though, I wouldn't let my kids join a sleepover at that house.

Anonymous said...

Surely in most cases it is far more damaging to have your mother arrested and taken away by the state than to have her describe a few sexual activities in answer to your own question.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole thing is slightly scary. Of course, just from the bare-bones facts here, it sounds like the mother said and did something very inappropriate, that she definitely did not use good judgment. But I am also nervous about the threat of arrest for parents who handle the very difficult topic of sexuality with their children badly. I know I find it very difficult to talk about sexuality with my children, but I do it anyway, because like the commentor above, I think that my children need more information rather than less, though at appropriate ages. I would never show my children a sex toy of any kind or disclose specifics of our sexual practices, but I can definitely see a parent who was trying to be open and honest with their (older) kids screwing up and saying or doing the wrong thing, yet still be in good faith.

I am of course 100% against child sexual abuse and premature sexual activity. However, I think we need to be careful when we are criminalizing what might just be bad parenting. Bad parenting is bad, but the response should be education and support, not criminal charges.

Of course, if there is more to the story and it was a truly abusive situation, that is completely different. Sexual abuse should be prosecuted wherever and by whomever it occurs.

I have to remember that the purpose of Court TV is to shock and entertain (and I'm a lawyer myself, so this is not to say that legal news is not worthwhile), not necessarily to inform, and this case does make a very intriguing headline.

Anonymous said...

My comment, just like everyone else's, is only based on the small amount of information given.

That being said, I don't think what the mother did was blatantly inappropriate. I would concede that showing her children her vibrator crossed a line, but I would much rather have the children's questions answered than have them get answers from their friends or just plain guessing. And besides, who better to hear the story from than your own parents?

I really do not believe in too much information. The more open parents are with their children, the more open the children will be with their parents. If parents feel they need to hide things from their kids, then they will get the same treatment back. That, to me, is worse than showing one's children a sex toy.

Anonymous said...

When I was a young boy between the ages of the two children mentioned I began to ask ‘awkward’ questions about sexuality. Mom’s response was to buy, read then loan me the book “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex”. We now find the contents quite dated and somewhat biased but at the time (early 70’s) there were few choices. The Masters and Johnson report was still 10 years in the future and likely would not have provided the type of info I needed. After I read it Mom made it clear that I could ask questions. I believe that she would have tried to answer any question as honestly as possible and I still appreciate that 30+ years later.

So, if she made the same choices today would she be arrested for providing the book to a minor or for her willingness to be honest about the topic? I’m sure that if she had sex toys (also limited availability back then) I would have known about it as I was a nosey little ... kid. I would have looked, would have found and, if the opportunity presented itself, would have found a way to ask about such things. – knowing I could expect and honest answer. I was encouraged to ask good questions and, when I can, I still do. Dad was the (very) uptight one so we carefully did not involve him in the conversations. Thanks Mom!

Anonymous said...

((Here's the story)) "Alleged explicit sex discussion gets mom probation"