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The Answer Blog

Archive for November, 2011

You Want Me to Say WHAT? Talking About Sex With Your Kids

November 30, 2011

If you’re a parent, you know well that you have many jobs when it comes to your children’s well-being. But did you know that one of these is being your child’s sexuality educator?

Teaching your child about sexuality, in the context of your own family values, is one of the most important jobs you have-yet it is the job parents usually get the least amount of training to do.

The very idea of talking about sexuality tends to raise a myriad of questions for parents: What’s appropriate to say at which ages? Shouldn’t I wait for my child to bring it up? What if I don’t know how to answer my child’s questions?

Relax! There are some basic ways that you can let your children know that you are a safe, “askable” adult-no matter what they might have questions about.

It’s Never Too Early to Start. It’s important to remember that sexuality has to do with far more than “sex.” “Sexuality” is a far-reaching, comprehensive term that encompasses everything from physical anatomy to understanding how to treat people with respect to learning how pregnancy happens and much, much more.

When you understand this, you know that children are receiving messages about sexuality from the day they are born-from the words people use around them to describe their body parts to messages they get from family, peers and the media about how they are supposed to behave based on their assigned gender. The longer you wait to talk with your child, the more you are competing with what they’re hearing all around them.

The important phrase here is “age-appropriate”-what your child needs to know as a kindergartener is much different from what she or he needs to know in high school. Start early, start slowly-and if you’re unsure, reach out for some guidance.

It’s Never Too Late to Start. If you are the parent of an adolescent and you haven’t yet started talking with your child, you didn’t miss the proverbial boat. Start now and keep talking.

As your children get older, they will need to know new information with each passing year and be faced with making decisions about relationships and shared sexual behaviors. Your guidance will be imperative throughout their adolescent years.

Try to put the idea of having “the” talk out of your mind. You need to talk early and often!

Take Small Bites. You don’t need to cover absolutely everything in one conversation with your child. It will overwhelm you as much as it will your child!

Look for teachable moments: watch television with your child and mute the television during commercials to discuss something you’ve just seen.

Take advantage of car rides to and from school and other activities. This is a non-threatening place to have discussions about sexuality and other important topics.

Talk With Your Partner or Spouse About Your Values. If you are married or in a relationship, make sure that you and your spouse or partner talk about your values and beliefs relating to sexuality so that if you have individual conversations with your child, the messages you are giving are consistent.

Be sure to deal with any differences you may have in your opinions and values away from your child. For example, if one of you believes it’s OK for 13-year-olds to date but the other thinks that that’s too young, you need to have that conversation independent of your child and figure out together how to respond in ways that provide information without undermining either one of you or your beliefs.

If You Don’t Know, Say “I Don’t Know.” There is a strong pressure on parents to know everything. Although we may love it when our kids are younger and think we do, we can’t possibly. The good news is there are tons of Web sites, books and other resources for parents.

If you’re stumped, be honest with your child, saying something like, “That’s a really great question. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. Let’s go look it up online together.” You won’t lose validity in your child’s eyes. In fact, he or she will appreciate your honesty.

There’s nothing about becoming a parent that makes us instant experts in sexuality-or in any other topic for that matter. But the good news is you’re not alone.

You can get support from trained sexuality educators, learn from fellow parents and get guidance from folks in your faith community, if you are a member of one. Talking about sexuality isn’t always easy, but it is always important.

You Want Me to Say WHAT? Talking About Sex With Your Kids” was originally published by MOMeoMagazine.com

Moral Courage and the Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Case

November 22, 2011

I stood on the Trenton train station platform last week waiting for the 6:26 a.m. train to Washington, D.C., and found myself thinking of the 10-year-old boy enduring anal rape by an adult man in the shower in the football facility of Penn State University.

Even in the early morning darkness, I had a clear mental image of the assault described by the assistant coach who witnessed it. I had just walked by a newspaper stand blazing with headlines about the child sexual abuse charges against the man, Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator, who has been arraigned on 40 charges related to sex crimes against boys by a grand jury in a 23-page report. University officials first ignored and then lied to the grand jury about their failure to report the child abuse to authorities.

After I boarded the train, my only thought was that it get through Pennsylvania as quickly as possible, so I could turn off the picture of the child rape. I wanted to put the horrific, immoral crime out of my mind, because it made me almost gag or cry whenever I thought of it.

Throughout history, adult men have raped male and female children. It is close to being the most heinous crime, short of taking a child’s life. Sexual abuse survivors suffer bodily invasion, loss of power and trust, and possible lasting pain and sorrow that can destroy positive feelings about sexuality. It was a horrendous story out of Penn State, and it brought back memories of the pervasive rapes by the pedophile Catholic priests.

My head had cleared by the time I arrived in D.C. to attend the 28th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, given annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights. This year’s award went to Frank Mugisha of Uganda, who the center described as “a leading advocate fighting for equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community in Uganda and against the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would make “homosexual activities” punishable by life in prison on the first offense and death sentence for aggravated offenses.”

Photo: Brendan O’Donnell

Photo taken of Frank Mugisha on 14 December 2009 in the House of Parliament in London.

I learned more about Mugisha’s exemplar life and work when he appeared onstage with Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, his daughter, Kerry Kennedy, who is president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, and other dignitaries. He looked small and frail, but I soon learned that the only aspect about him that seems diminutive is his height. When Kerry Kennedy detailed why he had received the award, I realized that he had the heart of a lion.

“Frank Mugisha knew at 14 he was gay,” Kennedy said, “and he came out knowing full well that he was taking great personal risk, and he was going to have to suffer harassment and abuse throughout his life if he chose to remain in his homeland.”

She added that the extent of the abuse hurled at sexual minorities in Uganda is unimaginable to people living in a free society. As a result of coming out as a gay man, Mugisha has lost jobs, friends, and is estranged from his family. He was expelled from his homeland because of his advocacy, but chose to return and fight for the rights of sexual minorities — knowing that he could lose his life in the effort.

Uganda is “one of 80 countries in the world where homosexuality is criminalized and punishable by death,” Kennedy said. She estimated that while homosexuality is opposed by almost the entire society, of the “32 million people who live in Uganda, about 500,000 are undoubtedly homosexual, but only few people — one of them Frank — are willing to speak for them.”

“Frank told me that he gets up every day in a hostile climate to advocate for these persecuted people, because he believes ‘I have to do what I have to do,’” she said.

This past January, one of the other few people who did speak for gay people’s rights — Mugisha’s colleague David Kato, an advocacy and litigation officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) — was brutally murdered in his home.

“Yet Frank continues to courageously provide leadership for the movement in the face of constant death threats and in the aftermath of the ruthless killing,” Kennedy said.

Since 2007, Mugisha has led SMUG, which advocates for LGBTI rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and support for openly gay people in the form of counseling and suicide prevention services. An important aspect of the RFK Human Rights Award is that for the next six years, the center will work with Mugisha, SMUG members, and others to advance the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda.

Not only will Mugisha go home with this beautiful honor, but he also has the promise of resources from a well-recognized nonprofit. Now he is not quite so alone. In fact, Kennedy asked everyone in the audience to stand and join her in a pledge to Mugisha, saying together in one strong voice: “You are not alone.” Chills went down my spine.

Kennedy ended her speech by referring to a lovely Africa proverb: “Plant trees when you are young, so when you are old you will enjoy their shade.” She assured the newly honored Human Rights Award Laureate that with the help of the RFK Center, he would be able to enjoy the shade of the trees they plant together.

The theme of the morning was a simple one: personal moral courage, so fundamental to Robert Kennedy’s beliefs. His daughter mentioned it, as did two other speakers who followed her to the podium: Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

In their brief congratulations, both quoted the following words of Robert Kennedy’s, because they applied to Mugisha’s life and work:

“Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”

These words rang in my ears as I took the train home. Unquestionably, every single adult connected with the Penn State sexual assault case failed the moral courage test that Mugisha passes each day of his life in Uganda.

Sandusky’s alleged crimes against young boys go beyond any discussion of morality and courage — and a jury of his peers will make a final determination as to his guilt or innocence. If he lived in Uganda, he probably would be hanged without any sort of a trial, because, as Kennedy told us, “most people there believe that gay men rape teenage boys.”

I wish everyone on the Penn State campus — especially the students who cheered fired head-football coach Joe Paterno — could have listened to Mugisha’s acceptance speech. He said that LGBTI rights are human rights, universal and non-negotiable. He said we must be people of good conscience who stand up and take action when we see something that is terribly wrong and hurtful to others — and that we all must celebrate moral courage wherever and whenever we find it. He assured us that even in Uganda, “Change will come.”

I was fortunate last week to see a personification of moral courage. It made the train ride home — even through Pennsylvania — much easier to bear.

“Moral Courage and the Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Case originally appeared on New Jersey Newsroom.”