Shaping Sexual Character in Your Childre
About the Guest
When is the best time to talk to your children about sex? According to our guest, Mary Flo Ridley, any time can be a teachable moment. Since 1986, Mary Flo has been equipping parents to guide their children's sexual values, and today she talks about the importance of talking to your kids about sex when they're young and then building on that basic knowledge as they mature.
Mary Flo RidleyFor years, Mary Flo Ridley has encouraged and equipped parents of young children to be successful in the daunting task of guiding their child’s sexual values. Mary Flo developed her strategy when her own children were young. She searched to find resources that would help her answer her children’s questions and educate them about sex before they entered their teen years. Her research into the topic proved a disappointment. She did not agree with the messages that were out there, so she int...more
When is the best time to talk to your children about sex?
Shaping Sexual Character in Your Childre
Bob: When is the right time to have the talk with your children? What age is the right age to explain the birds and the bees? Mary Flo Ridley says this is something parents need to do early and often.
Mary Flo: The fact that we take the most awkward age and have the most difficult conversation in one hour – that’s not going to be effective. And so if you have it in your mind this isn’t the talk so much as we’re just going to introduce this topic, then later on when you do bring up more complicated issues, you have so much credibility. You’re not just knocking on their door saying, “Okay, we really must discuss some things.” Instead it’s this natural progression that started when they were young.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today® for Monday, August 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Mary Flo Ridley joins us today with a lot of wise counsel on how we can engage our children in a conversation around what can be a very challenging topic.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know if this is how this happened, but I have a sense this is how this happened. You know how sometimes you look at how things are going and you just think to yourself, “Somebody ought to do something about this.”
Bob: And then you say that enough times and you get this little nudge on your shoulder, and you find yourself going, “Now wait. When I said ‘somebody ought to do something,’ I didn’t mean –“
Dennis: It was somebody else.
Bob: “I didn’t mean me.”
Bob: I’m thinking that maybe that’s what happened with our guest. Do you think?
Dennis: I think it likely did. I want to introduce our guest, Mary Flo Ridley, to our audience, because she is a passionate mom about equipping the next generation with the very finest sex education that’s available. Isn’t that right, Mary Flo?
Mary Flo: That’s exactly right.
Dennis: Well, we’re thrilled that you’re here, and –
Mary Flo: Thank you.
Dennis: --we have a mutual friend. Some of our audience is not going to believe the name of our mutual friend. His name is King Crow. That’s a real person.
Bob: Somebody gave him the name King.
Dennis: Yes, they did, and there’s a story behind that that we don’t have time to get into today. But King Crow is on the Board of Directors of FamilyLife, and he has been after me and after me and after me to say, “Dennis, your audience must hear Mary Flo.” And he said, “I go to church with her there in Dallas and know her well and her ministry,” and serves on the board of her ministry as well.
So here we are, and I’m looking forward to our audience benefitting from Mary Flo’s ministry. She’s a graduate of SMU. She and her husband, Dave, have been married for now –
Mary Flo: 31.
Dennis: 31 years. Three adult children, and you just had –
Mary Flo: A granddaughter.
Mary Flo: Thank you.
Dennis: That’s good. She is the author of Simple Truths which is a book and a video series designed to shape the sexual character of the next generation. What I wanted to ask you, kind of back to what Bob was talking about earlier, Mary Flo, when you became a mom and God placed those little ones in your arms, how prepared were you to have the talk, or to begin to educate your children about sex?
Mary Flo: I was not prepared at all. And neither was my husband. I grew up in a family where the word “sex” was never said, and in fact, if it rhymed with the word “sex” it wasn’t said, because we just were not going to talk about that. I had loving, respectful, very wonderful parents, but when I was growing up we were not as exposed as children are today. I just don’t think it was easily discussed, so my parents really did not say anything.
Bob: So your mom never sat down with you when you were 14 or 15 and said, “There are some things you need to know.”
Mary Flo: No. I never got the talk. I never got the talk.
Bob: Well, how did you get the information if you didn’t get the talk?
Dennis: I was going to ask that too.
Mary Flo: There was a little book that our church passed out, and then there was the movie at the elementary school in the sixth grade, and that was pretty much it. It was just – my parents just were very modest about all of that.
Bob: Okay, so in your teen years –
Dennis: Now, wait a second. You had to have some education from your peers.
Mary Flo: Oh, yes. Well, that too. You know, that kind of goes with the program, in that shocking moment, that kind of “Oh, you’re kidding. That couldn’t be the way it really is.”
Bob: Was it a slumber party moment for you?
Mary Flo: Yes, it was. Yes.
Bob: The stereotypical slumber party.
Mary Flo: The stereotypical – but I really did not get very much information. I mean, I was in El Paso, Texas and everything else was flying over us, you know. It was a very simple place to grow up, and we weren’t getting a lot of exposure. And then when you think about the TV that we were watching growing up – We were watching Bonanza and Gilligan’s Island. If the Professor and Mary Ann were doing something, we didn’t know what they were doing.
Mary Flo: So it was a pretty simple way to grow up, and I just think the topic never came up.
Bob: So did that create problems for you in your teen years, or did the absence of information just kind of say, I guess that’s something I should stay away from?
Mary Flo: The absence of information kind of told me that this was a mystery, and also, because I did not get any guidance, I guess I was just protected by God. My mother did make one statement when I was young. We went to a wedding and she said, “The bride gets to wear white because she waited.” She didn’t tell me waited for what, but I kind of got it. And I thought, “It would be so embarrassing to get married in a color other than a white dress. I guess I have to wait.” I mean, that’s how innocent – I was pretty Pollyanna-ish.
Dennis: So what about your husband, Dave. What kind of home did he grow up in?
Mary Flo: Same thing. So we were a blank slate. We really did not have much information growing up. He grew up in Abilene.
Bob: You don’t sound to me, then, like the candidate for somebody who’s going to go around the country talking to kids about sex.
Mary Flo: You are so right. You are so right.
Bob: So how did you get from Pollyanna innocence to the role you’re in today?
Mary Flo: Well, I was a trainer with the Dallas Junior League. I did some training workshops for them. I had been a high school teacher for a few years, and so I was seeing a lot of things that were going on in the high school. I enjoyed that; I enjoyed teaching and I was working with parents of high school students, trying to help them get involved in their schools.
One year we were discussing what we were going to talk about the next year for our training workshops, and our chairman pulled out a little piece of paper out of the suggestion box. The paper said, “Would someone teach us how to talk to our kids about sex?” And all of the trainers laughed; none of us wanted to take the topic.
At that time I had a four-year-old and a one-year-old. She picked up that paper and pointed it right at me, and she said, “Mary Flo, I think you’re the one to take this.”
I said, “First of all, I do not know what that talk would look like because no one ever spoke to me, and also, I have a four-year-old and a one-year-old. I have another decade before I need to think about this. So anyway –“
Then she said, “But if you’ll do this we’ll send you to Washington, D.C. and they will train you how to do this.”
Bob: Bribery. Bribery, huh?
Mary Flo: And when she said that all I heard was “room service,” you know.
Dennis: A mom who wanted out of Romper Room.
Mary Flo: I did. There you go. You got it, exactly. And I thought, “I have a four-year-old and a one-year-old. I think I need that trip.” So . . .
Dennis: So you took the . . .
Mary Flo: So I took the trip. I said, “Okay, I’ll take it on. I’ll find out how to do this.” Went to DC, and I don’t remember the non-profit that was doing it. It was either the Easter Seals or Red Cross. I don’t remember who was doing it, but they gave us a very thick notebook containing all of the sexually transmitted diseases. It was very scary, and it really was not what it was intended to be. It was not how to talk to your kids about sex; it was more like what our kids are up against.
I came home, and I didn’t really have what I needed to do a program. And so my husband, Dave, and I really talked about it and prayed about it. We said, “What are we going to do?” I did some research, talked to some pediatricians, talked to some youth workers at our church, people that were working with our youth.
I talked to a lot of elementary school teachers, and then I realized “Maybe parents need to start this conversation sooner than they think. And maybe parents need to have a way to talk to their children about sex that starts before the hormones kick in.”
Dennis: You were a reluctant prophet. Seriously, you were thrown into the battle and in the midst of this secularized world-view of sex, and you’re listening to all of the data, and as a follower of Jesus Christ, you and your husband, and I caught this – You said, “We prayed about what to do.”
Bob, I think there are people, kind of like how you began the broadcast today, who say, “You know, somebody ought to do something about this” or that or something happening out there, and they may not realize that today they may not be equipped, but perhaps God will equip them because they’re passionate and they care about it, and they’ll go on to do something significant for Jesus Christ.
Bob: Well, and every mom and dad is going to face this issue. If you have kids, then the issue of how your kids learn about human sexuality – it’s not a question of whether they will or not. They will. It’s a question of who’s going to tell them, what role are you going to play?
If you decide you’re not going to play any role, then you’re throwing them to the wolves, so you have to pull back and go, “Okay, so what will we say, when will we say it, how will we say it?” And as soon as you start asking those questions, a lot of moms and dads go, “Ahh . . . “
Dennis: “I don’t know.”
Bob: “. . . I’m going to go watch TV. Let’s do something else,” because it’s just intimidating, frightening . . . “
Mary Flo: It’s daunting.
Dennis: Well, one thing that happened as we raised our kids -- we decided some things we would do, and we would share those with parents, and here’s my point. You may not agree with my convictions of the conclusions that Barbara and I have come to or what Mary Flo and Dave came to in terms of their convictions.
The point is what are your convictions and what are you going to do? Because, as Bob said, your children will get a sex education one way or the other.
Mary Flo: That’s right.
Dennis: Would you rather they hear it from you as a parent or from their peers and the world?
Bob: But now you were still dealing with a one- and a four-year-old in your own home. Were you thinking at this point, “Well, we need to start talking to our four-year-old and get him or her ready?”
Mary Flo: That’s exactly what we did.
Bob: Really? With a four-year-old.
Mary Flo: Yes.
Bob: As a mom who grew up in a house where you didn’t even say the word “sex,” now you were going to venture in with a four-year-old?
Mary Flo: I was finally a revolutionary. Yes, that little Pollyanna turned into somebody that decided – because, what I came to realize was that I’m only starting the conversation. This is not the talk. I put aside the idea of having a one-time-only conversation, because that’s so ineffective.
Mary Flo: The fact that we take the most awkward age and have the most difficult conversation in one hour – that’s not going to be effective. And so if you have it in your mind this isn’t the talk so much as we’re just going to introduce this topic to our regular bath time and snack time and anytime else we’re around that it applies, then it just makes it something that we can talk about.
So I was just introducing certain topics.
Bob: Why do you think moms and dads are uncomfortable having – I mean it would seem like a casual conversation on this subject with a four-year-old shouldn’t be something that sends you frightened to your bedroom with your head between your legs.
Mary Flo: Exactly.
Bob: Why are we scared about this?
Mary Flo: Well, I think one reason we’re scared about it is that we go immediately to the dangers and the pleasures. I encourage parents to take those two things off the table when you’re talking to pre-schoolers, to up until ten or 11 or 12, that preteen age when they have to start learning the things that they learn in their purity class that you have that’s so wonderful.
But in those early ages, it helps parents when I tell them that, to just don’t worry about talking to them about the dangers or the pleasures. All you’re going to cover with a young child is the biology and your theology.
Your biology of just the simple mechanics; you’re going to use the right vocabulary, you’re going to explain how a baby is born, you’re going to explain how a baby is made, you’re going to explain the beauty of God’s design in reproduction, you’re going to be fascinated with seeds and eggs and you’re not going to get into a real complicated conversation.
You’re just going to drop little particles, little drops of water into the sponge of their mind on this subject, so that later on, when you do bring up the more complicated issues you have so much credibility. You’re not just knocking on their door saying, “Okay, we really must discuss some things.” Instead it’s this natural progression that started when they were young.
Dennis: I love what you do in your book that goes with the DVD series. The book is called Simple Truths. You ask the question, “What do you want your child to understand about sex?” And before I looked at your answer that you gave, Mary Flo, I took a step back and I thought, “I want them to know that God made sex, and secondly, that He made it for our enjoyment in the marriage relationship.”
And then I opened your book to your definition and how you answered it very simply, and you said:
Mary Flo: Dave and I decided we wanted our children to know that sex is a gift from God for marriage. We wanted it to be something that would not just apply to them when they were young, but that they could go back to even as an adult. So we would elaborate on that later on, like “It’s for oneness and fruitfulness.” Or, you know, “What is the gift from God for marriage?”
We felt like we wanted them to know it was something good and that God created it, and that He made it in the Garden, so it was not made in sin. It was made in beauty and wonder and for His purposes, and it’s mysterious and wonderful, but He has limited it to marriage.
Dennis: I love your definition because it’s simple and yet it’s pristine. It has a sense of clarity and beauty and dignity and nobility to it. I want to go back to Bob’s question about why we don’t get into these conversations, because you talk about this subject in your book, Simple Truths. You talk about how couples bring into the parenting process baggage.
Mary Flo: Yes.
Dennis: Explain what you say to young moms and dads about what they do with past mistakes.
Mary Flo: Well, almost every time I speak I get the question, “Mary Flo, what should I do if my children ask me about my past, and if I want them to wait until marriage but I didn’t?” They really carry around that burden a lot. First of all, they’re not going to get that question when the children are really little. They are not going to get that question when children are six or seven.
They may get that question in the pre-teen and the teen conversations, but by that time I assure parents that they’ll have something to say to their child. They may want to say, “You know, sweetheart, when I was your age I did not see sex the way I see it now,” or “I didn’t understand that this was designed by God for marriage. I really thought this was something you had to do to be homecoming queen.”
I don’t think you need to give children a lot of details, but I think that they can see your heart to say “I was not as successful at this as I hope you’ll be,” or “I went further than I should. I have some regrets, some regrets I hope you won’t have.” So I think there are things that you can very tenderly and earnestly say to your children, but I think that out of the fear of that conversation parents don’t even cover all the good stuff. They just are too afraid that it will go there immediately, and it won’t. It won’t.
Dennis: Right. Right. We don’t often talk about the Devil here on FamilyLife Today, but Jesus spoke a great deal about him, and I think in this subject, because our children are, as you described them, sponges in this area, and they are going to soak up what is taught to them, it’s imperative that we as parents not listen to the voice of the accuser, because the Devil is known as the accuser of the brethren.
In other words, he’ll take a mistake we made years ago and he’ll whisper in our ear and say, “What gives you the right to speak about this subject to this little, innocent child?” Here’s the thing: If perfection was what gave you the right to speak on any subject, you’re disqualified if that’s your standard.
Mary Flo: Right.
Dennis: So you need to realize, don’t let shame lock you up.
Mary Flo: It can be paralyzing.
Dennis: Exactly, and paralyze you in the process.
Bob: I think what you said is very helpful, Mary Flo. If a child says, “Well, what about you when you were a teenager?” and you say, “You know what? I’ve got some regrets about how things went,” you’ve answered. You don’t have to explain what those regrets were or any more details. “I’ve got regrets. In fact, one of the reasons I want to have this conversation with you is I don’t want you to have to have the same regrets that I’ve got.” And that’s a simple and gentle answer that should satisfy most teenagers.
Mary Flo: And what we want to do is to build a relationship with your children on this topic, because if we wait until they’re older, it’s too awkward and you can’t go there.
Dennis: I agree.
Mary Flo: So if we can start younger and if we can have a message for our children, really that’s the critical first step: What is it that you do want your children to know about sex? And once you come to that, then you know you have something to give your children and you look for opportunities to talk to them. Before you have that message you don’t know what you’re going to say and you don’t have a purpose for those conversations.
Dennis: Well, I’m going to give an assignment to our listeners.
Mary Flo: Alright.
Dennis: Alright? Number one, I want you to get a copy of what Mary Flo has put together, Simple Truths. It’s subtitled, A Simple, Natural Approach to Discussing Sex with Your Children. It’s five steps that will prepare you all the way through adolescence to begin to tackle this subject, and the book is just – it’s invaluable in kind of laying out the details and giving you some really great concepts, like a map, a timeline for what’s going to happen over their lifetime.
And then the second thing I want to encourage our listeners to do – Mary Flo referred to it a little earlier – is, if your child is coming up on age 10, 11, 12, specifically we think Passport to Purity® is the very finest weekend equipping tool that you can purchase and customize for your child. Mothers with daughters, fathers with sons, go on a Friday night, Saturday adventure getaway that, I promise you, it will cement your heart to your child.
You know what, instead of letting the culture do it for you, as a parent do what Mary Flo did. Become a revolutionary.
Bob: I think the point we’re making here today is you don’t want Passport to Purity to be the first time that the conversation ever happens between you and your child. This is something that you make a part of the conversation starting when they’re young. And if you do that, it becomes easier, more natural, more comfortable.
You outline for parents how we can do that in the Simple Truths curriculum that you put together. There’s the DVD set with the corresponding CD that comes with it and the booklet that you’ve included, or the stand-alone discussion guide that you’ve created as well. Folks can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about what you describe as a simple, natural approach to discussing sex with your children.
And then, when you’re ready for a Passport to Purity weekend, we’ve got that kit available as well. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about these resources. The website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.” Ask for more information about the Simple Truths curriculum or about the Passport to Purity weekend kit that is available from us here at FamilyLife.
Now, a quick word of thanks to the many folks who have gotten in touch with us over the last several weeks, those of you who have been listening for a while but you had never called or gone online to make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today. Back at the beginning of the month we set a goal hoping that we would hear this month from 2000 of you who listen regularly but had never contacted us and said,”Hey, I’m listening.”
We’ve been following the progress and it’s been encouraging to see. I just want to say thanks to those of you who have gotten in touch with us. We just have a couple of days left here in the month of August, so can we ask you if you’ve not gotten in touch with us, if you’re a regular listener of FamilyLife Today and if God has used the program or the ministry in some way in your life, would you consider making a donation to help us cover the cost of producing and syndicating this radio program?
If you do that this month, we’d love to send you as a thank you gift six messages from our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway on four audio CDs. Dennis and I spoke at one of these getaways not long ago, and we’d like to send you this CD sampler that has some of the messages from the Weekend to Remember included.
All you have to do to receive it is type the word “SAMPLER” in the key code box as you fill out the online donation form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and just ask for the CD sampler from the Weekend to Remember.
And keep in mind, we’re about to kick off our Weekend to Remember fall season. If you’ve never been to one of these weekend getaways, we hope you’ll plan to attend. And in fact, if you’re a first-time donor and your donation this month is $100 or more, we’ll send you a certificate so you can attend, or you can pass it along to another couple you know who could attend instead.
If you’d like that certificate and you’re making a first-time donation to FamilyLife Today, type the word “HUNDRED” into the key code box on the online donation form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone, and just ask for the Weekend to Remember certificate. Again, we’re happy to send it to you, and we appreciate your support of this ministry.
And we hope you’ll be back with us tomorrow. Mary Flo Ridley is going to be here with us again. We’re going to continue our conversation about the conversation you ought to be having with your children throughout their childhood about sex. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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