The “sex sells” mantra is obvious at the grocery checkout line where magazine covers featuring sexually provocative images are displayed eye-level to impressionable children.
What’s a parent to do?
That was the dilemma Joann Condie recently faced. A registered nurse and licensed professional counselor with Focus on the Family’s counseling department, Joann was at the supermarket with her elementary school-aged grandson and his friend. As the cashier rang up their groceries, Joann noticed the boys looking at the scantily clad brunette on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. They were pointing and giggling at the image.
We’ve all been in a similar situation as parents or grandparents. Try as we might to shelter our children and to safeguard their innocence, even a routine trip to the pharmacy or an evening home watching the network news can result in our kids being assaulted by sexual images. These images we see every day are pornographic. Sadly, their purpose is to incite a sexual response in the viewer.
When faced with a situation like that, we have a choice. We can either pretend it didn’t happen, or we use the incident to help our children develop a biblical worldview as it relates to sex, our bodies and the intrinsic worth of every individual.
Joann, whose clinical work focuses mostly on issues related to sexual dysfunction, knew the importance of directly addressing the situation of the Cosmo magazine cover. She waited until they were all in the car before bringing up the topic.
“Boys, did you notice that lady on the magazine cover?” she asked.
“We weren’t looking at the woman in the white dress with the long hair!” they replied.
“Well, I did,” Joann answered, hiding a smile.
That’s when her grandson piped up: “She was not dressed modestly.”
His friend nodded and added, “My daddy says women should keep their breasts covered because that’s private between mommies and daddies. And mommies can give their babies milk!”
At that point, Joann teared up. She realized the benefit her grandson and his friend had: they were being raised by parents who were, even at their tender age, intentionally teaching their sons about sexuality. These young boys were already beginning to understand there’s a God-given context for sexual expression, and that self-worth isn’t dependent on receiving attention from others.
“Would it be OK if we prayed for that lady on the magazine cover?” Joann asked the boys. They agreed.
“God, please help that lady know she’s loved and special,” Joanna prayed. “Please help her understand she doesn’t have to dress that way to get attention because you love her. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
After their short prayer, Joann suggested they get ice cream. “It wasn’t a matter of having a big discussion on the topic,” she explains. “Rather, it’s about making the most of that teachable moment and moving on.”
Joann advises parents to begin these talks when children are still quite young. “Lay the groundwork early, teaching them that God’s plan is good and pure and wonderful,” she says. “This way you’re the one giving them their first impression about sex and their bodies. You don’t want them to glean a negative message from their friends or TV.”
Focus on the Family has a couple of free resources specially designed to help parents navigate these early and ongoing conversations with their children. Written by Focus’ counseling staff, “The Talk” is a guide for parents on healthy sexuality education. It provides moms and dads with age-appropriate objectives and ideas on how to reach them. Beyond just the mechanics of sex, this guide helps you educate children on the emotions and motivations behind it all. You can download a free copy of “The Talk” online.
Parents would also be wise to teach their children about marriage starting at an early age. The “Teaching Your Children About Marriage” kit from our Thriving Values team is designed to help parents do just that. You can download this free booklet online.
Before I sign off, I’d like to hear from you: Have you noticed your son or daughter reacting to an overtly sexual image? How have you handled it?
Note: Recently, two supermarkets announced they will cover up Cosmopolitan magazine covers. -JD