Introducing Innocents to the Fallen World

May 21, 2008 | 24 comments
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Scene One: In the car.
Six-year-old: “What does ‘XXX movies’ mean?”

Scene Two: Family scripture study.
Six-year-old: “‘. . . if this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people . . .’ Does that mean acting like an adult?”

Both of these happened today. The second one we explained (gently). The first one–well I did a little verbal kung fu and changed the subject four or five times in two minutes until he forgot the question. I know someone who told his kids that it means “thirty movies.” (Thank heavens for Roman numerals.)

What would you do?

24 Responses to Introducing Innocents to the Fallen World

  1. Josh on May 21, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    If I had a six-year old child I think I’d do what you did. Children are like sponges and they’ll figure stuff out on their own eventually as they grow older.

  2. Ray on May 21, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    Movies we don’t watch.

    Laugh hysterically and say, “Yes.”

    My 5-year-old daughter almost killed me a few days ago with something she said, but explaining how would be TMI on any blog except FMH.

  3. Sean on May 22, 2008 at 12:48 am

    I like Ray’s answers!

  4. m&m on May 22, 2008 at 1:00 am

    We are pretty open about things in our house, and our six-year-old is our youngest. I like addressing things quickly and simply and clearly and then usually we can move on.

    So my responses would be something like this.
    1. they are really bad movies (I might add something like ‘with lots of sex’) — and then reinforce that they are movies that are so bad even Mom and Dad can’t really imagine how bad they would be. (My kids know about sex and chastity in general terms and so I wouldn’t hesitate to add that. But you have a younger one, don’t you, Julie? My six-year-old is my youngest.)
    2. (after looking at dh and trying really hard not to laugh) “No, that means adults who are sinning/making bad choices.”

    These moments are precious and heartbreaking at the same time.

  5. m&m on May 22, 2008 at 1:04 am

    But I am going to disagree with Josh about kids figuring things out on their own. I prefer that my kids find things out from us, not having to navigate these things or figure them out on their own. To me, moments like this are the perfect way to open the doors for future discussions that will be more detailed, and also to let them know that when they have questions, we will answer them and try to be clear about it (albeit simple when they are young).

  6. Starfoxy on May 22, 2008 at 1:33 am

    I’m going to second M&M on the idea of answering the kids directly (though at an age appropriate level), and on wanting my kids to learn from me rather than picking up answers from who knows where. I want my kids to view me as an honest reliable source of information so that they will at least know they can come to me with questions about anything as they get older and that I will not embarrass them, patronize them, or lie to them.

    I will admit that, for me, this is still mostly intellectual; my oldest is just now using sentences, and the most awkward question’s he’s asked are about body parts.

    The harder question for me is what to say to other people’s kids when they ask such questions. In the past two months I’ve had two little girls who only have sisters ask me about my son’s genitals during a diaper change. I went ahead and answered them how I would answer my own kid’s questions, and talked with their parents about the exchange

  7. MikeInWeHo on May 22, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Answer honestly but in an age-appropriate way, absolutely. I am opposed to lying to children when they ask awkward questions about sex.

    This reminds me of one of my earliest memories. I was about 6, and wondering where babies come from. I knew that they grew in their mommy’s tummy, but why?? I concluded that the kiss at the end of the marriage ceremony is what made the babies start to grow. The sacraments had magical power, so it was a logical conclusion. (We were Lutheran) Nonetheless, I was unsure.

    Out of the blue, I asked my mom: “What would happen if a woman had a baby before she got married?”

    Her answer???

    “I guess she’d be in BIG trouble.”

    Bless you, Mom!!!

  8. Josh on May 22, 2008 at 8:32 am

    I think that adults should be honest to adopted children about where they came from. I don’t think that we should be so honest about telling kids about the birds and the bees. Wait until they’re a little bit older and more mature to take it all in.

  9. Ray on May 22, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Josh, I think you might mean “detailed” or “comprehensive” or “graphic” instead of “honest”.

    I talk with my kids openly and honestly about whatever they ask, sometimes to the point of embarrassment – although I stop as soon as they groan and say, “OK, dad, that’s enough.” My 5-year-old knows about homosexuality (at least that it’s boys dating boys and girls dating girls) from her friends in kindergarten; I’m not doing her or anyone else any good by refusing to talk with her about it at whatever level she is able to understand.

  10. rk on May 22, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I see moments like this as a good opportunity to teach children about immorality in an age appropriate way. I want to be the one to explain these topics to my children rather than relying on some “knowledgeable” punk on the playground. Sure it would be nice to have our children always be innocent, but that is not the world we live in and never has been.

  11. SteveS on May 22, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Sometimes its hard to think quickly when unexpected questions arise with children, but I usually prefer to answer questions accurately and not making a big deal about them. One thing I believe is that innocence is innocence, and kids don\’t pine for it as a blissful state the way adults do reminiscently. One of the fundamental characteristics of humans, and especially human children is their curiosity about the world around them. Painting a rosy picture of the world works well until children comprehend that you are intentionally withholding information from them. Then you are simply perpetuating ignorance, not preserving innocence. I think that withholding truth creates anxiety about subjects we are uncomfortable to broach with them, and can lead to unhealthy psychological relationships with the world in all its nuanced, messy glory. Telling a child that adultery is when two married people get together to kiss and hug and have sex when they should be with their own spouses will not destroy their innocence, only help them understand the term, and to know that adultery means a major betrayal. Kids might not understand exactly what sex is, but they\’re certainly not painting mental images of it when we mention it, the way an adult might. Kids will understand that adultery means doing something that mommy and daddy do only with each other, with other people instead, and that it is deeply hurtful to everyone involved.

    Focusing entirely on the good, and forcing children to retain their ignorance well beyond the limits of their natural curiosity promotes unrealistic views of reality. I know someone, for example, who refuses to read a book without knowing the ending, or watching a movie without knowing that everything turns out fine in the end because she can\’t stand bad things happening to the protagonist(s). I don\’t know where this came from because I don\’t know her terribly well, but I do know that if we observe the dark, undesirable aspects of life in the world we live and turn away from them because they are too troubling, we\’ll never be able to see things in proper perspective.

  12. fluffychicky on May 22, 2008 at 11:53 am

    This is so similar to what the husband and I went through with the boy (he’ll be 7 in 2 months). We had just come home from church a couple of weeks ago when the boy suddenly blurted out “Hey mom, what is porn?” I was stunned and I asked him where he had heard about it. The answer: “Sacrament meeting.” Nice. What a great time to suddenly start paying attention in church kid. I wasn’t going to lie to the boy or avoid the subject, so I told him they were pictures of people without their clothes and that it was wrong to look at them because Heavenly Father said that our bodies were special and private. And I told him that the word porn was now on our family Swear Word list and if I caught him talking about it to anyone (unless it was us and he had additional questions) I was going to pound him into the ground. The boy accepted that explanation and went on his merry way. I guess this just shows that the husband and I can’t put off “The Talk” with the boy much longer. Sigh.

  13. Martin James on May 22, 2008 at 11:58 am

    So how would this group handle a situation where a first grader asks about why his friend with gay or lesbian parents has two moms or two dads? What about play dates?

  14. SteveS on May 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Fluffychicky: so now when anyone mentions pr0n0graphy in church, including GAs in conference, they’re using a swear word? To me, when we can’t even speak its name, this serves to mystify the subject further as a cultural taboo. And what do children do best? challenge mystery and the limits of our authority at every turn. Do you really think that forbidding the word is going to prevent him from seeking further understanding of its meaning? It might have the opposite effect of your intention.

  15. Ray on May 22, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    #13 –

    1) Answer that they are gay or lesbian – that some people do things that we don’t do, but that doesn’t make them bad people.

    2) Treat that child like any other friend and the adults like any other adult parents who are living together but not married. If I restricted my children’s time to only those with a traditional or “ideal” home life, my kids would have far fewer friends than they have.

  16. fluffychicky on May 22, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    SteveS (comment #14),
    The Family Swear Word list is a mis-leading name and I should have explained it in my previous comment. My apologies. The list is comprised of topics that the husband and I have decided that if the boy has questions about, we would like him to hear our explanation first before running off and finding out about it from other sources. The list includes things like sex, drugs, and alcohol. The boy was the one who dubbed it the Swear Word list (we are not sure why, but the name stuck…and yes, he does understand the difference between our list and what we consider to be a real swear word).

    And I guess I should also explain that when I told the boy that I would pound him into the ground if I caught him talking about it to anyone else, that was our family code for “Now, just because you know about it, it doesn’t mean that your friends know about it and I would like you to know that it is not something you necessarily talk about in polite company.”

    I don’t expect this method to work forever, nor do I expect it to work with the girl when she gets older…it is just what works right now.

    Note to self: Fluffychicky, if you are actually going to be brave enough to comment, make sure that you explain yourself fully so you don’t wind up looking like an idiot.

  17. SteveS on May 22, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    I’m relieved for the clarification, fluffychicky. Online forums, email, and other written means of communication are difficult media to navigate; intention, inferrence, irony, etc. don’t always transfer well. I can’t say I’m terribly good at it either, because upon rereading my response in #14 above, it could sound a bit sarcastic and mean-spirited. I certainly don’t mean to critique your parent skills, and I suspected you didn’t mean exactly what you wrote. Cheers.

  18. Bob on May 22, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    #15:

  19. Bob on May 22, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    !5: Ray: ” Some people do things that we don’t do, but that doesn’t make them bad people.” Good addition. Is so easy for kids, adults, x-smokers, to be judgmental and should teach our kids the non- judgmental social skills along with answering their questions.

  20. Josh Smith on May 22, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    What would you do?

    Tough question. Hard to say what I would do. But here’s what I think would be a good answer for my 5 year old.

    I think it would be appropriate to answer her question with another question.

    Five-year-old: “What does ‘XXX movies’ mean?”
    Dad: “I’m not sure. But that building didn’t have any windows. Why do you think that is?

    [Five-year-old is gently steered in the direction of “what ever’s going on in there is too bad for other’s to see. Participants are ashamed.”]

    Dad: “That building doesn’t have parking out front. Why?”

    [Again, conversation steered to participant guilt.]

    Dad: “That building is not allowed in town. Why? What other things do we not allow in town?”

    [Pig farms aren’t allowed in town. They stink. Whatever a XXX movie is, it is like a pig farm and can’t be in town.]

    Five-year-old: “‘. . . if this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people . . .’ Does that mean acting like an adult?”

    Dad: “Why do you say that?”

    [And I’ve no idea where this conversation would go, or which way to steer it.]

  21. mjp on May 22, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    As to XXX movies, I would ask my six year old if he knew what the skull and crossbones sign means on a pill bottle or cleaning product.

    Hopefully, he would say that it is a warning that it is poisonous or dangerous. (If he doesn’t get this right, you could have a little home safety discussion.)

    Then I would say that like the crossbones warning symbol on a dangerous or poisonous product, the “X” is a warning rating applied to movies that are dangerous and poisonous, especially for children. And triple X means especially dangerous and poisionous.

    If he then asks why the movies are dangerous, I would go into more detail in one of the ways discussed in the comments above.

  22. Al on May 22, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    I tell them that i will answer that in my next blog and will gladly CC them. ;)

  23. snow white on May 23, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Ray #2, I hope that means you are planning on posting it at FMH. You can’t leave us in suspense.

  24. Fake Name on May 23, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I was molested when I was five by a neighborhood kid. I saw my first soft-porn movie at a friend’s house in fourth grade. You definitely do not want your kids to learn about sexuality from someone else.

    If your kids think you are upset or embarrassed because they asked a question, they won’t ask you anymore. They’ll learn somewhere else. The best thing is to get out in front and control the conversation from there.

    Sorry about the Fake Name. I’m a regular commenter here, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to publish my private past and out myself. Still working through it.