Let me date myself a bit. When I was growing up, the group 2 Live Crew was pretty big. They had a collection of raunchy lyrics and their tunes and images were being lifted up as all that is wrong with America’s “declining moral standing.” There are many equivalents of this very thing today with its fair share of polarizing political lingo attached. My parents would have never allowed such an album in their home, but somehow the lyrics of their songs found their way to my ears. These songs prompted me to innocently ask my mother one day “what does horny mean”. Yup, that’s right. I asked my devoutly religious, poised Black Baptist momma what does “horny” mean. If you needed a mental picture, it would be like Rudy asking Claire Huxtable those very words. As a 30-something year old it’s a pretty funny memory to me, although my laughter quickly sobers up when I turn on the news and realize that my girls are likely to ask me some shockers someday very soon.
A child’s questions provide insight into their thoughts. When they bring us questions (which is different than “questioning” us) we see just how comfortable they are with communicating their unknowns and how much confidence they have in our ability to address their curiosity. When kids aren’t asking questions it may be because they think they already have the answer or they fear the response they might get. Trust me, you don’t want the answers to your kids challenging or controversial questions to come only from the lips of other children or teens, the media, or pop culture. We have to be intentional about influencing our children, because someone else is certainly doing just that.
When our kids are brave enough to bring us their questions we must be humble enough to answer them. Sure, Dr. E, I hear you, but what if those questions are shockers and how does a parent know what is even appropriate to answer based on the age and maturity of the child? Like for example, your “sheltered” four year old catches a news story about a possible boycott of Chick-Fila due to the owner’s stance on gay marriage. Junior comes to you and says ’”Hey momma, what’s gay marriage?” For the parent who does not know how they feel about a particular subject like gay marriage, sex, or an unexpected death and why they feel that way, such questions are challenging.
So, let’s consider a few possible responses as we prepare ourselves for the next question from our kids.
Response 1: A time to teach
When kids bring us questions like “Dad, did you drink alcohol when you were a kid?” It’s a great opportunity to teach our kids about our values and our hopes for them. When our children ask us questions that reveal some of our personal shortcomings, we must be ready to state the case for why they should chose the other option even if we did not. This question provides a springboard into deeper conversations about temptations pulling at our children. Based on the age of the child, the level of disclosure can be adjusted however the truth is the necessary default.
Response 2: Saying I don’t know
Another option is to simply say “I don’t know” when you really don’t have a clue. No parent has all the answers, and being candid about this models humility for our children. Can you remember the first time in grade school you realized your favorite teacher did not know something? It was shocking. Sometimes kids can treat parents the same way and conversely teens can treat parents as If they know nothing. Somewhere between thinking mom and dad were geniuses, teens have concluded they are now idiots. One reason, among many why this has happened is because parents offered shallow or flat out dishonest responses to real questions. The parent may also be unapproachable. It goes without saying, yet needs to be said, if you treat kids like their questions are stupid or deviant, they are going to stop talking to you. So pause and take a reality check. Are you easy to talk to? If not, work on it today! Tomorrow’s questions will not wait for you. Let’s be truthful early on and offer our kids a chance to embrace not knowing everything while you search out age appropriate answers together.
Response 3: Take it step by step
Finally, some questions are so tremendously shocking or complex because the parent does not know where they stand on an issue. If they know where they stand, they may not know why. Insecurity can produce terrible responses. The phrase “because I said so” can only hide for so long the lack of understanding a parent has on a position. Examining our moral convictions and/or the actual facts of matter may take time, reading, and prayer. Saying to a child or teen, thanks for asking, give me some time to give you an answer as good as your question. Here’s part one of the answer and I will give you more as you grow and I grow in my understanding.
My guess is you are still wondering how my mom answered my unknowingly provocative question all those years ago. Being the wise women she is, she attempted to give me the old English definition of the term ”horny” which means basically when you really want something. I, the literalist, decided to use this new vocabulary word as frequently as possible. “I am so horny for some toys” or “I am so horny for dinner.” Needless to say, this did not last long and the 2 Live Crew conversation was revisited and extended. This time, I was informed that there are people who use this word to describe things inappropriate for a child to discuss so it is best we use other words. Thanks, mom. I am prayerful that our kids will thank us one day for answering their questions, even the provocative ones.