Most of us have heard educators’ maxim that kids lose one to three months of academic learning during summer vacation. But in contrast to this “summer learning loss,” moms know another dirty little secret about summer: kids pick up a whole different education during summer, gleaned from new friends at camp, older cousins, those nights around the campfire during your cross country RV trip. Witness the “Mad Men” episode when Don and Betty Draper’s 10-year-old daughter Sally gets caught masturbating at a girls’ slumber party. The hot topics are as timeless as s’mores: sex, drugs, divorce, alcohol, and what did Tiger Woods do with all those women anyway?
So today’s topic: how do you answer the tough questions kids come home with at summer’s end?
New York psychologist Dr. Debbie Magids gave smart, no-nonsense advice recently:
+ Be honest
+ Answer with brief, age-appropriate, accurate information
+ Don’t shame your child for being curious
I would add that it is never too early to start answering kids’ tough queries. At age two, they may not understand what you’re saying in response to “where do babies come from,” but YOU are getting good practice answering questions that would make any adult gag. By the time kids can actually understand your words, you’ll be grateful that you’ve developed a high comfort level with these tricky topics.
Here’s a sampling of questions my husband and I have fielded most recently from our kids (ages 13, 11, and 8; both genders).
1. Why were two women and one man talking about having sex together in that movie?
2. Why are you two fighting?
3. Where does the pee come out?
4. What is heroin?
5. Are you ever going to get divorced?
6. Why aren’t you going to have another baby?
7. How much did our house cost to buy?
8. How old do you have to be to start swearing?
You need a Ph.D. in parenting to answer these kinds of questions. Especially when you get asked them in the supermarket aisle or a quiet movie theater. But following Dr. Debbie’s advice, here are the real-life answers I gave — while my husband blushed crimson and looked to me beseechingly:
1. Some people like to have sex with more than one person at a time. (Spoiler alert: the movie was Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s 2003 classic, Old School, rated R.)
2. We are fighting because we disagree about something; fighting can sound awful but it is not terrible as long as no one’s feelings get hurt and you find a solution that both people are happy about. Not fighting and holding your feelings inside can be worse over time.
3. The pee comes out of a tiny hole in your vagina. It’s okay to look at it and play with it but not in front of your friends. Don’t talk about it at school because to some people it’s very private.
4. Heroin is an illegal drug that some people stick into their bodies with a needle; people say it makes you feel so good you want to do it again and again until you have no money left, no food and no family. It is very, very dangerous. Don’t ever try it.
5. We are not planning to get divorced. I really love Daddy even though he drives me crazy and I scream at him sometimes.
6. I love you kids. Sometimes I really want another baby. But I think three is all I can handle. Don’t you agree?
7. The house cost a lot of money. I will tell you but do not talk about this outside of our family because some people consider the subject of money even more private than sex.
8. In our family you have to be 13 to start swearing but try not to do it in front of younger kids or in public because a lot of people find it offensive.
Whew! I’m sweating just remembering how stressful it was to answer those questions calmly. And I’m sure you would answer these inquiries somewhat differently or perhaps not at all.
Which is the point here: every family has different answers to kids’ hard questions. The information is personal, private, and family-specific. Which is exactly why I want my kids to feel comfortable asking ME about these tough questions. I DO NOT want them to get answers on the playground, from a tv show, the human development teacher at school, a kid at camp, or that tough cookie down the block.
So get your thick skin on, and be ready to look your kids in the eye and answer the hardest questions a summer of free time can bring on.