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‘Beyond the birds and the bees’

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By Shannon Brock

Parents can say a lot to their children by not saying anything at all — especially when it comes to sex.

That’s one of the messages Betsy Neale, Ph.D., hopes to convey to Anderson County parents during a workshop Feb. 5.

“By not saying anything, children can pick up the message that (sex) is embarrassing and that it’s something our culture doesn’t talk about,” Neale said.

Neale works with the Kentucky Department for Public Health and leads these communication workshops, titled “Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Talking with Children about Relationships, Values and the Facts of Life,” all around the state.

Anderson County Schools and the Anderson County Health Department partnered with the state to bring the workshop to Anderson County Middle School on Feb. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The workshop, which is geared toward parents of elementary and middle school children, is free, but parents are asked to call ahead to register by Jan. 30.

Neale said the topic of sex is something all parents will have to deal with at some point — and the earlier they begin to deal with it, the better.

“Parents are inclined to postpone talking to their children about sex because of their own discomfort,” Neale said.

“They think, ‘My child is so young,’ but their children are already talking about it.”

Whether children are part of conversations or are just overhearing them, they are getting information about sex and sexuality, Neale said.

And a lot of what they hear could be negative or derogatory misinformation.

“Even though we feel they’re too young, they’re getting exposed to it anyway,” she said.

Children are naturally curious, Neale said.

“It’s natural for them to be curious about their own bodies, and if they see a pregnant woman, it’s natural for them to ask questions,” she said. “And parents should honestly address those questions.

“Address their questions, welcome them and answer them open and honestly and in ways that they’re cognitively and emotionally able to handle.”

And although children are naturally inquisitive, that doesn’t mean parents should wait for them ask questions before they initiate a conversation about sex.

“A lot of parents wonder, ‘My child hasn’t asked any questions, should I just wait?’” Neale said.

“I strongly discourage that. The longer you wait, the more they’ll think their parents don’t want to talk about it.

“Don’t assume your children will come to you with questions.”

Even if parents want to talk to their children about sex, they may not know how or where to start, Neale said.

These days, television can lend a helping hand in that arena, she said.

“There are a lot of sexual themes and innuendos on television,” Neale said. “One thing to do is wait until a commercial, then ask your child what he or she thought about a particular situation.

“Ask your children questions and get their feelings. It shows them you are interested in what they have to say and that you respect their ideas.”

One misconception parents have is that if they talk to their children about sex, it means their children will start having sex, but that’s just not the case, said Anderson County Public Health Director Brandon Hurley.

“Giving (children) information does not mean you’re giving them your consent,” Hurley said.

Studies show that children who have open lines of communication with their parents about sex are less likely to have intercourse, but if they do, they are more likely to use some sort of birth control, he said.

Hurley said he used to teach workshops like Neale’s and he advises parents to use appropriate terminology from the start.

“Using the appropriate terms early on sets a foundation,” Hurley said.

Some parents also think they just need to have “the talk” with their children, but “it can’t just be one talk,” Hurley said.

Neale agreed.

“It’s a form of education, so there’s a learning process,” she said.

“It’s best to give them little bits of information at a time. Start while they’re young and then build on it.”

The format of the workshop is also beneficial to parents, Hurley said.

“We don’t tell you what to say, we just give you information on sex and sexuality,” he said. “And we encourage you to incorporate your family’s moral beliefs into the discussion. We just want to help open the lines of communication.”

Also, parents will be in a room with other parents and they can learn from each other, Hurley said.

“They have the same issues and same concerns, and some of them have been there before,” he said.

Hurley encouraged parents to attend the workshop to get information. Childcare will be provided, as well as a free dinner and raffle prizes.

“Even if you don’t need the tools now, you will eventually need to know how to discuss this with your children,” Hurley said.

For more information, call Cheri Johnson at the health department at 839-4551 ext. 1110 or Beckey Johnson at the middle school at 839-9261 or visit www.achdonline.org.

Want to go?

What: Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Talking with Children about Relationships, Values and the Facts of Life

Where: Anderson County Middle School library

When: Feb. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Who: Workshop is for parents of elementary and middle school children

Cost: Free, but parents are asked to call 839-4551 ext. 1110 or 839-9261 to register by Jan. 30.

E-mail Shannon Mason Brock at sbrock@theandersonnews.com.