I was 5 when I heard an adult talk about sex for the first time. It was Mrs. DeWitt, Chrissy's mom in the 1995 film Now and Then, who was willing to discuss sex with her daughter because even though she thought she was too young, her friends were "trash mouths." And since sex is one of the so-called taboo topics in America to discuss with your kids, Chrissy's mom described it as a man using "his watering can" to "sprinkle water on the flower" that a woman grows when she makes a baby with her husband. As a kid, I was completely confused.
Now that I'm a parent, I realize why Chrissy's mom chose this non-scientific, entirely inaccurate, potentially harmful, and certainly confusing explanation. After all, many parents avoid discussing certain topics with their children because they consider them too taboo or think their kids are too young to learn about them. But kids should feel safe and comfortable talking to their parents about complicated subject matter, and they should feel safe asking questions and learning something new in a welcoming and supportive environment.
Even though Chrissy's mom approached the topic of sex in a ridiculous and ineffective way, at least she still tried. According to a 2017 American Family Survey report, only 25% of parents discuss issues related to sex, religion, and politics with their children. Before we send our kids out into the world, we should talk to them about these important issues. At the very least, we should provide them with developmentally-appropriate resources to help them learn about topics that will influence how they view themselves and others. While there are so many examples of important conversations to have with your kids, here are nine taboo topics to explore with your kids so that their (potentially harmful) assumptions don't go unnoticed and unaddressed:
There are so many online resources that teach parents how to talk to their kids about sex. Some of them even offer help for parents who have toddlers and want to start these conversations early and in age-appropriate ways. So many issues related to sex are basic life skills that kids should know and understand, like consent, bodily autonomy, and respecting others. If your kids feel safe and comfortable coming to you to talk about sex, they're less likely to keep secrets from you when and/or if they become sexually active as teenagers. And if that's the case, you can help make sure they are safe.
Racism & Colorism
No matter your race, you should talk to your kids about racism. They should know that there are things they will face in life that might be due to the color of their skin, institutional racism, bias, and, stereotypes. For families of color, that means explaining to their children that they can do anything their put their mind to, but they might face some unfair obstacles that their white peers won't have to endure.
For white families, that means explaining white supremacy in ways that their children can understand. It might be hard to put such complex concepts into age-appropriate words your child will comprehend, but it's important to try. Simply pretending racism doesn't exist will not eradicate racism.
This is a difficult conversation to have, especially for families of color who are disproportionately impacted by police violence. But it's still important to talk to our kids honestly about interactions with police officers. That means explaining what to do if they are questioned by police, placed in police custody, or arrested. It's painful and upsetting to think about the possibility of our kids being harmed by the very people who have sworn to "serve and protect," but we have to teach them about the realities of living in a police state.
If you are a white parent, you can also discuss how to be a white ally to people of color who are pulled over, stopped, or harassed by the police.
Growing up, I was terrified to talk to my family about my sexual orientation. Of course, back then, I didn't use or think in that language, but I knew I had to lie about the crushes I had on girls. Instead of turning to my family members for support, I found support in people online or at school. And while I'm glad I found community outside of my home, it would have been awesome to feel safe and comfortable talking about those things at home. I'd have felt more accepted and much less shame.
LGTQ kids who have at least one supportive and accepting adult in their life are 40% less likely to attempt suicide than those who aren't, according to The Trevor Project's National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. These discussions, and a supportive, accepting attitude, can actually save lives.
The Fact That We Don't Have All The Answers
Kids should know that not only do their parents make mistakes, they also don't know everything. Sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we don't have an answer to their questions, and when those moments arise it's OK to say, "I don't know, but let's discover the answer together."
When we, as parents, admit that we don't know everything all the time, we let our children know that it's OK to admit that they don't know everything either, that they make mistakes, and that, at times, they can be wrong. It also shows them the value of being honest about what we don't know instead of pretending.
Religions We Don't Practice
Talking to our kids about other religions, in a way that avoids shaming and hate, lets them know that it's OK to believe in different things. Things like Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are taught. If we tell our kids about other religions and explain to them what religion is, they'll be more understanding and accepting of people who have different beliefs. They'll also be able to embrace their own spiritual values while appreciating and celebrating those of others.
The first time I went to a funeral I was a child... and no one told me I was going to a funeral. I wasn't even told that the person, someone I was incredibly close to, had died. When I arrived at the service, and saw my loved one in the casket, I broke down and made a scene. I was confused, alarmed, shocked, sad, and angry.
As a parent, I know the conversations I'll have with my child about death and dying will be complicated and heavy, but I owe it to my child to be honest. Death is the one thing, aside from being born, that every living person has in common. We should try to find developmentally-appropriate ways to talk to our kids about death so that if tragedy strikes, they can be eased into coping.
Anatomical Terms For Sexual Organs
When kids know the anatomically correct names for their body parts, they have one more layer of protection against sexual abuse, according to Psychology Today. If a child feels ashamed about a body part, however, they’re less likely to tell you if someone inappropriately touched them.
It's also important for our kids to know that "vagina" isn't a dirty word. Neither is "penis." Their bodies should never be a source of shame.
Our Struggles With Mental Health
If you're a parent who overcoming mental health issues, you should be open and honest about it with your kids. This is especially true if they outright ask. Of course, your child's stage of development and age will likely dictate how much you share, but your honesty could help them in the future. The National Alliance On Mental Illness recommends having "a recurring family meeting or a set, consistent time when you all sit down and have a candid conversation about mental health. This will provide repeated opportunities for discussion and for your children to ask questions."
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry does suggest that parents should "have a basic understanding and answers to questions such as what are mental illnesses, who can get them, what causes them if that is known, how diagnoses are made, and what treatments are available." So you may have to do some research before broaching this subject, but that's OK! It can be a learning experience for everyone involved.