by Karen Rayne from Adolescent Sexuality Today with Karen Rayne, Ph.D.
This weekend I went out of town, leaving my family to fend for themselves. On Saturday, my darling husband took my two darling daughters – 6 and 3 years old – to what he heard was a fun new toy store in town. Great, right?
They walk in the door, and the 6-year-old pipes up with “Look, Daddy! Jesus toothpaste!” He takes one look, puts one hand on each girl’s shoulder, and does a 180 out of the store. It may be a fun new toy store, but it’s intended clientele does not include the under-13 set.
When I got home on Sunday, the first thing the 6-year-old says to me was, “Guess what! We saw Jesus toothpaste!” I blinked, figuring I hadn’t heard her correctly. Regrettably, I had.
Now we have to decide. Is this an “opportunity” to talk with our daughter about Christianity? About irony? About inappropriate jokes? About the only son of the only God who died to keep our teeth clean? And if it is, what on earth do we say?
It seems we are faced with these “opportunities” almost daily. Most parents are.
Billboards, full of conversational opportunities, are everywhere:
“Microsurgical Vasectomy Reversal!”
“Find out who’s the Daddy!”
“Adult Videos! News! News! News!”
“ ‘Love thy neighbor.’ – God ”
As are grocery store tabloids:
“End of world predicted in 1000 BC!”
“Mother Mary seen in a Tortilla!”
“George Bush dines with aliens!”
“George Bush IS an alien!”
Perhaps even more insidious are the magazines:
“100 ways to keep your man happy!”
“How to eat less!”
“How to be more!”
But a wise, anonymous person once said “Opportunities are never lost; someone will take the one you miss.” If we don’t take this chance to talk with the 6-year-old, she’ll continue thinking it’s fine and funny to use Jesus toothpaste. The toy store already took the opportunity to talk with her about it. And after all, was a toy store. And toy stores are for kids, so everything in there must be good for kids. Right?
So tonight I’m going to take the opportunity to sit the 6-year-old down and tell her what I think of Jesus toothpaste. That it’s something that some people would find offensive, that it would hurt them. That I’m sad that other people find that funny. And after that conversation has run it’s course, I’ll ask her what she knows about Jesus, and how she recognized a picture of him so quickly.
This will be a scary conversation for me. But I spend my life encouraging parents to have scary conversations with their children about sex, sexuality, and romance. I tell them that the conversation will happen, and that the only choice they have is whether it happens between them and their children or between someone else and their children. I ask them to realize that a forced opportunity is still an opportunity.
So this has become my forced opportunity – but my opportunity nevertheless.
Parents have to learn to talk about the hard topics. Sex, sexuality, porn, body image, romantic relationships, these are all topics I have thought through and I can talk easily and appropriately about with the 6-year-old. Religion? Not so much. This is one of my hard topics.
So I’m gathering my thoughts, preparing myself for the conversation tonight. But I know that the real learning will actually come during our conversation. After all, there’s no better way to learn than to do. Sometimes, actually, it’s the only way.
And later tonight, I will thank Jesus toothpaste for this forced opportunity, and I will have made sure someone else did not take it.
Karen Rayne teaches classes about sexuality to teenagers and about adolescent sexuality to parents. She also writes a blog on adolescent sexuality. She lives in Austin, TX with one fabulous husband, two amazing daughters, and two rambunctious dogs.