How To Talk About Sex To Child

The social conditions of childhood have changed much in the last fifty years. Just as our children have opportunities and possibilities far greater than had we when we were children; so they are exposed to temptations and dangers greater than were we, when we were children. The suggestive, and oft-times positively obscene pictures on post cards, in books and on billboards; the viciously immoral literature; the cheap moving picture shows of to-day, were not social problems threatening the purity of our childhood.

You would not think of having your child taught mathematics by one, who, himself, was never properly taught, or who knew only half-truths about mathematics.{69} You might not demand of him a moral qualification, if he possessed the intellectual equipment. But, in the teaching of sex, a moral qualification is even more necessary than the intellectual. But few adults are prepared to tell the story of life to a child, and fewer still are prepared to give additional instruction as the child grows older. For one to do this work successfully two qualifications are absolutely necessary. (1) Parents and teachers must have a moral qualification

. They must regard the organs of sex and their functions as pure and sacred. If they have the taint of lasciviousness in their thoughts of the creative function, it would be a dangerous experiment for them to attempt to teach their children about the origin of life, or to give other instruction to those more advanced in years. The misinformation and false education they received in childhood and the consequent mock modesty, are the greatest difficulties in the way of their performing this sacred duty to their children. For this reason the adult classes are as much in need of correct instruction in sex as are the children.

(2) Parents and teachers must have a mental qualification. One-fifth of the names referring to the organs of sex, their functions and their abuse, that adults are forced to use when they try to express their thoughts about sex, could not be found in the dictionary, and, one-half of those that could be found{70} in the dictionary would not refer in their meaning, even remotely, to the sexual system. They picked up these words in childhood from ignorant schoolmates and companions whose minds were tainted with debasing thoughts of sex. The use of these vulgar words, in the presence of a boy who has heard them before, suggests to his mind that which is lascivious. Those who would teach these things, to the young or old, should be able to command a chaste, clean, plain, language.

How To Talk About Sex To Child

How a father failed.—During one of my courses of lectures, a cultured lawyer invited me to his office for an interview. He reproduced, in language and gesture as best he could, a speech he had made to his twelve-year old boy warning him of the dangers of the secret sin. I saw the lawyer was deeply interested in his boy. He loved him and was deeply concerned about his future. The language he used was the same he had learned when a boy and the same his boy had evidently heard on the playground. I question whether the father’s advice did his son much good. Here was a case where good service was neutralized by suggestive language.

How a teacher failed.—A few months ago I lectured in a city where immorality was appalling. The superintendent of schools called into the chapel about six hundred boys, from ten to eighteen, and attempted{71} to lecture them on social purity. He soon became embarrassed, used some street terms, excited lascivious thoughts, looks, smiles and laughter among the boys and utterly failed in his efforts. If this lawyer and teacher failed with the advantages and solicitude they must have had, would not the great mass of parents, teachers and ministers fail for the same reasons.

Parents not wholly responsible.—A few editors, doctors and reformers have censured parents severely for not teaching their children the truth on these subjects. They should remember that ten years ago a very few parents had read a sane book or listened to an intelligent lecture on these subjects. Their only information had been gained from the playground and street on the sly. Courses of lectures, adapted to age and sex, should be given in every community. Ministers, teachers, physicians, merchants, parents, young and old, educated and uneducated, all should hear them. A few standard books on sex-hygiene and social purity should be put in every home. Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” More people are in physical, mental and moral slavery because of ignorance concerning the laws of sex, than all other causes combined. It follows that those who have learned the truth should impart it to those who have it not.

How children have been treated in the past.—We{72} have seen how parents have been led in the past to conclude that all information as to the origin of life is injurious to a child. For a child to inquire, “Where was I before I was born? How did I get into this world?” was a sure sign of his depravity. As a result of these traditionary ideas some parents have slapped a child for asking about his origin. Still, others have scolded and ordered the child from the room, commanding him never to ask such ugly questions again. What must be the feelings of a child treated in such an unappreciative and heartless way! Such treatment has never satisfied the inquiring mind of any child. Under such treatment a child will go off alone, pained and puzzled to know what was wrong in that simple, natural, honest question. In most cases the child’s question has been evaded by some one of a hundred falsehoods about “swamps,” “sinkholes,” “hollow logs and stumps,” “bird nests,” “storks,” “old women,” “doctor’s satchel,” and “under a cabbage head.” When only a small boy, I was called from my bed early one spring morning to see a beautiful colt the mare had found. For awhile I looked at the colt with admiration and wonder. Then I very naturally inquired, “Where did the mare find her colt?” I was told that she found it in a nearby brush pile. For the next six months no brush pile escaped my eager eyes.{73}

An example.—On my second lecture trip through Canada, a father told me how he answered his little girl’s question, “Papa, how did I get into this world?” His answer was as follows: “Daughter, God dropped you out of heaven one day while it was raining. Papa saw you falling from a cloud and ran out and caught you in his arms and brought you into the house.” That father was boasting of his tact and wisdom.

Another example.—A mother in the South, in reply to a similar question asked by her five-year-old boy, said: “Son, God sent you into this town on the Cotton Belt train, about three o’clock one afternoon. The doctor was at the depot and saw you. He knew that we wanted a little boy, so he put you in his satchel and brought you to mamma.” When this mother related this to me, her boy was nine years old and had not asked her another word about his origin. At the close of my lecture, with tears in her eyes, she said: “Professor, do you suppose that my little boy has been hearing vulgar stories and is keeping his information a secret from mamma?” “Yes, nine times out of ten, if you have a bright boy,” was my reply. Upon investigation she found that her boy had been hearing vulgar talk for about three years. How long do you suppose it will take that boy to eradicate from his mind and heart the evil effects of such training? It is not a question whether your{74} child and mine shall get this information or not. That question is settled. The child will get the information. The questions for us to settle are: When shall this information be given? Who shall give it? What shall be given? How shall it be given?

Results of the old method.—I shall not call in question the love, sincerity and honesty of these parents. In most cases they were sincere and did the best they knew how. I am concerned about the results of this time-honored method. Did the old method of deception, misleading and false replies ever satisfy the inquiring mind of a child? Did the old method ever make a child wiser? Did it ever lead a child to regard human reproduction as delicate, sacred and pure? Did it ever lead a child to greater love and faith in its parents? Only negative answers can be given to all these questions.

How the child finds out.—As a rule, it is not long after a child becomes interested in his origin until some older child, a playmate or servant will say, “I know something that you do not know. You would like to know it. It is how little children come into this world. I will tell you all about it, if you will not tell your mamma and papa about it.” I do not care how good the child may be, how well trained, or how obedient: such is the intense interest of a child in the{75} mystery of his life that he will agree to keep the story a secret. Now the child listens eagerly to the half-truths, couched in impure language and gets a perverted vision of the origin of life.

What are some of the results?—Five very sad misfortunes have come to the child. (1) The child has learned that his parents evaded his question; in most cases, he discovers the answer to have been a falsehood. (2) To the extent that the child comprehends the falsehood, does he lose confidence in his parents. (3) He has learned to keep these vital matters a secret from his parents. (4) The child cannot think of his parents’ relation to the initial of his life, except in terms of vulgarity. Early images do not easily leave the mind of a child. Ugly words, impure pictures, obscene language, with all their vile suggestiveness, ofttimes remain through life. (5) He regards the organs of sex and their functions as vile and sinful. God never planned that any human being should entertain any such degrading and demoralizing views of the divinely created organs and function of human reproduction. It is impossible to estimate the evil effects of this false training. Yet, there are many people, often very religious, who estimate their modesty, refinement and culture by the degree of conscious shame they have when questions of sex are referred to. Just to the extent that we fail to see that God is{76} the author of sex, that sex is sacred and pure, our glory and not our shame, has a false training degraded us.

Boys lose confidence in their parents.—You ask, does a child lose confidence in his parents when he has discovered that they have told him a falsehood about his origin? Certainly he does. In the past three years not fewer than seven hundred and fifty young men from eighteen to thirty-five have written me for advice in regard to their youthful indiscretions. One question I have invariably asked those young men, “Did your father ever warn you of your sexual dangers?” Only two have replied in the affirmative. Those young men were once as innocent and pure as your little boy. They first went to their parents for information about these delicate matters. They were treated as I have described. They received their information from sources and in a way that led to sexual abuse.

Girls lose confidence in mother.—While on a seven thousand-mile lecture trip, in company with twenty other lecturers, conducting purity conventions in many of the large cities in the United States and Canada, after the evening sessions were over, in company with one or two detectives and other parties of our crowd, we visited the “red light” districts and saw several thousand erring girls from twelve to twenty years old.{77} Those girls were once as innocent, pure and sweet as yours or mine. They first went to their mothers and asked about the origin of their lives. Those were golden opportunities for safeguarding the virtue of those girls. More easily than at any other time in life could those girls have been impressed with the sacredness of sex. At no other time in life is it so true that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Much more of Christian effort is put forth to rescue the fallen than to prevent the youths from falling. More churches are open to lectures on rescue work than on preventive work. More money can be raised for rescue work than can be raised to prevent youths from falling.

Boys and girls want to know the real truth.—One morning a number of high school boys requested that I give them a lecture more advanced than the one I had given. While passing through the hall, at the close of this special lecture to the young men, I was approached by the lady principal with the request from the high school girls for a special lecture. She told me that fourteen had made the request and that several added: “We wish that Prof. Shannon was a lady lecturer. There are so many things we would like to know, but would hesitate to ask a gentleman lecturer.” Then the lady teacher added, “I said, girls, why do you not ask your mamma for such information?”{78} With hands uplifted, a look of surprise, a gasp for breath, those girls replied: “I would not think of asking mamma such questions.” Why not? Let me tell you why. When they were little innocent girls they went to their mothers with their first questions of sex. They were treated as already indicated. Their inquiring minds and unsatisfied interests in the mysteries of life led them to go elsewhere for this information. It was at this point in their lives that a chasm started to form between themselves and their mothers. There is not one boy in twenty-five who will go voluntarily to his father for information or advice about his sex-nature. The same statement is almost as true about girls and their mothers.

How shall a child be told.—One day when our little girls were four and six, wife said, “Husband, I am in trouble about our little girls. They are asking where they were before they were born and how they got into this world. How am I to answer them?” “Tell them{82} the truth,” was my reply. “But, they are not old enough to be told the whole truth,” was her reply. We talked over the problem and arrived at the following solution of the problem: Since I had been a teacher of biology for years, and it was presumed that I was familiar with the stories of life among the plants and animals, it was agreed that I should at once tell them a nice little story about God’s beautiful plan of bringing all the little plants into the world. Six months later I was to tell them the story of life about the oysters and fish. Every six months to a year I was to tell them a more advanced story. As they were girls, wife reserved the right to tell them the last story to be told when they were nine and ten.

These stories were all told in the order given. Our girls are now twelve and fourteen. We have never had an occasion to regret that we have followed this natural method of instructing them. They seem to have no morbid curiosity about questions of sex. They look upon the facts as being natural, sacred and pure. Wife and I can approach them on these subjects without embarrassment to them or us.

When should a child be told?—The average boy should be told all these stories by the time he is eight, not later than nine. The average girl should be told all these stories by the time she is nine, not later than ten. The developing mind of the average child and{83} the social influences to which he is exposed, demand that he be safeguarded by the whole truth, this early in life. While the girl and boy develop alike until they are ten or eleven, the boy being exposed to vicious companions more than is his sister, he should be told the story of life earlier than she. At the age of seven, boys know more about these things than the girls do at ten and twelve. You had better tell the child the truth at six, than to have him told by the vicious at the age of seven. If a child could understand the story of life at three, and was properly trained afterward, this information could not do him one particle of harm. This statement is either absolutely true, or God is the author of a plan of human increase, the knowledge of which is essentially sinful. Personally, I decline to believe the latter.

If the child has been informed by vicious playmates or servants and his mind has been tainted, the only sane and safe method is to tell him the full truth as quickly as possible, regardless of his age.

If the child has been allowed to grow up to the age of nine or ten, ignorant of the story of life, I would tell him all the stories, beginning with the first story, telling them only a few days apart. Where parents are not prepared to do this, I would advise them to place a suitable book, presenting these stories in a clear, chaste and interesting way, in the hands of the{84} child, saying, “Here is a very interesting little book telling you just what you will be interested in knowing and what I would like for you to understand.”

The ideal way.—The ideal way would be to start with the child when he first inquires about his origin, telling him the first story about the plants. Promise to tell him other stories about the oysters, fish, insects, birds, animals and man as he grows older and can understand them. Where a child is naturally very inquisitive and insists on knowing more, I would not hold him off too long for the next story.

How to introduce each new story.—I would introduce each new story by reviewing the story of the plants and flowers. There are at least three reasons for this. (1) You can go into all the details of reproduction in the flower without danger of awakening the sex consciousness of the child. (2) It saves going into the detail when you have come to the higher animals and man. The child’s mind usually comprehends more than we give it credit for. If he understands the details of reproduction in the flower, his innocent fancy will fill in the details when he hears the other stories. (3) If he has been so unfortunate as to fall in with bad company at any time and his mind has been tainted with their stories, there is no means you can use in ridding his mind of impurity,{85} quite so effectively, as by telling him the story of life in the flower.

Teaching these truths in the public schools.—The violation of the laws of sex is the chief cause of physical, mental and moral degeneracy. The degenerate classes are increasing at an appalling rate. Correct sex-instruction in childhood is the most important and effective step in the solution of this problem. There is a growing conviction among the students of sociology that sex-hygiene should be taught in the public schools. There are some teachers in all departments of school work, who, in morals at least, are not fitted for this delicate work. At present, an extremely few have the educational qualification for this delicate work. When teachers are required to take a course of training in these subjects, there will still be but few who are possessed of the natural talent for effectively and wisely presenting these subjects to children of the different grades.

Already colleges and universities and even a few high schools have begun to teach sex hygiene in a limited scientific way. This work will first be introduced into the high school work and later, gradually be introduced into the lower grades. Definite instruction will not be given, for many years at least, and possibly never, to boys under eight, and girls under ten or eleven. If this statement is true, it will be seen that{86} the schools will have left the first and most important part of this training to be done in the home. The teaching of morals in the public school can never be substituted for the teaching of morals in the home. The present great awakening on these subjects will shortly result in three-fourths of the parents teaching these truths in their homes. Since one-fourth of the children do not get any moral instruction in the home and they do not go to Sunday school or church, the public school is the only place where they can be given moral training for citizenship.

How this can be done.—In my opinion, the safest and most effective method of dealing with these questions in the public schools, for the present at least, would be for the school boards in two or three counties to select and employ a gentleman and a lady lecturer, having natural gifts, moral and educational qualifications, whose duty it shall be to lecture to all the boys and girls; the male lecturer, lecturing to the boys and the lady lecturer, lecturing to the girls. All other teachers should be required to be sufficiently versed in these matters to enable them to solve any individual problems that may arise in their social relations to the pupils in school.

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