Max Garrone, PREFund board member interviews Amy Lang
I was really curious to talk to Amy because my family had recently had the conversation and have been thinking and talking about related topics quite a bit lately. Needless to say, I came away from our conversation with even more to think about and great ideas for our family conversations.
Max Garrone, PREFund board member, and Potrero Hill parent.
Can you give us a basic sketch of what you do?
I’m a sexuality educator who primarily helps adults talk to kids about sexuality. I don’t work with kids at all unless you count my delightfully annoyed 16 year old son! I work directly with parents to have the conversations with their kids about the birds and the bees based on research and their values. My mission is to help every kid to grow up to be a whole and healthy adult. Sexuality is key to that and it's a parent’s responsibility to help our kids understand that. Just like everyone is worried about their kids eating the right food, we educate our children on what we want them to eat and not eat. We need to do the same thing with sexuality because when we don’t have that conversation it doesn’t work, because other people and the Internet will step in.
What sort of research do you base your talks on?
I use parenting strategies and child-communication techniques combined with the latest research into what really helps kids make good decisions about sexuality. I look at research based in reality that comes out of organizations that are focused on related topics, especially how to talk to teens and young adults. One is the Guttmatcher Institute, another is Advocates for Youth.
How do you involve parental values in your presentations?
My goal is to help parents understand and clarify their own values about sexuality. That means talking about what do you really believe about sexuality; what does your religion say about sexuality and do you agree with that? What are YOUR values about sexuality? When parents dig into those questions it helps them settle down and it helps them clarify their terms and goals.
Do you address different types of sexuality?
Yes, sexual and gender identities are hot issues right now. I think that’s great. It’s really cool to see how much more flexible and open kids are about gender and sexual attractions, it’s easy for kids to be open about this, especially in the areas where we live: Seattle and San Francisco. What I find is that the kids are mostly alright with these topics but, as parents, we have to get over ourselves.
So the real question for us as parents is “How do we learn how to be flexible?” We may have grown up in a rigid environment, now there is much more openness and freedom so we have to address and welcome that.
How did you come to this line of work?
I have a degree in Women’s Studies and I was interested in reproductive rights, so I started volunteering to help with a pregnancy and abortion counseling hotline and found that I loved the work. I loved helping women who were dealing with this difficult and uncomfortable issue. That path led me to doing more general sexual education, much more work with reproductive rights, and, eventually, a Masters degree in Applied Behavioral Science.
But the real turning point came when my son was 4. He was getting ready for a bath one night when he grabbed his penis and I thought that he was going to say it felt good. I was so afraid of the situation that in that moment I said ‘uh oh I gotta get myself in order’ because that’s not the way that I wanted to be dealing with things as a parent. I had to figure out how to talk to my kid about sex and then realized I could help other parents, too.
I started Birds & Bees & Kids in 2005, I started teaching locally and now I teach all over the planet and online. My favorite thing is to teach live because people learn better in person. It really helps to be in a room with other parents talking about these topics, airing out their questions. We can all hear one another and know that we’re not alone in this conversation. It’s totally my favorite thing to do.
What does one of your seminars look like?
I use a really interactive format, I want parents to ask questions when it comes to this conversation and I want parents to feel more comfortable and confident when having conversations with kids. I help parents with what to say, I have scripts that are easy and provide starting points so that parents can easily talk to children. My goal is to increase confidence and give you the tools that you can put right to work the next morning when you can have a short, sweet, sex talk with your kid. I want to set you up for success, so that you can take the ball and run with it.
The bottom line is that we are way more worked up about this than our kids. The younger the kids are, the less they’re worked up about it. That’s what we as parents bring to the party - anxiety. I show parents how to use language that kids can relate to, that takes the pressure off the conversation and helps parents be proactive. Parents wait for kids to ask, but it’s our job to bring the information to them. The idea that we should wait for kids to ask us about sex is a total myth and I think parents use it to get out of the conversations. Kids are not asking because they don’t know what to ask, but really it’s our responsibility to talk about it. Think about it this way: When was the last time your kid asked you about whether brown or white rice was more healthy? When was the last time that they asked you to make sure that they were wearing a seat belt or asked “hey, is there a way for me to be more safe in the car?” That’s our job, not their job and we need to apply that to sexual education as well.
Did your parents talk to you about sex?
I grew up in the liberal 70’s but my parents gave me books like What’s Happening to Me and Where Did I Come From? They never had a conversation with my brother nor me. They did the best they could, like all parents, and they’re great parents. The simple thing is, we can all do better, even me. I have to gear up to talk about the tough stuff.
Part of parenting is recovering from our own parents. We parent in reaction to how we were parented and we really have to work our own stuff out. But we owe it to our children to give them the best of what we have now.
How has the Internet changed the conversation about kids and sex?
The Internet is not a safe resource for kids to learn about sex. Kids think they can go get information online that will be helpful to them. If they’re lucky they’ll end up at a place like http://www.scarleteen.com/ but more likely they’ll end up at a place that can be damaging. Porn is prevalent online so we have to protect our kids. Kids are curious. It’s not their job to be protected so we have to put parental controls on the devices that we give our kids. Most devices have internal parental controls so start with those but also look into Qustodio which is affordable and gives you a digest of what your kids have seen or downloaded.
But really I want to focus on the positive things about having these conversations in my presentations. I want to get parents feeling really ready to start or re-start the conversations and make them an ongoing, normal, and natural part of their family life.
As you can tell Amy is a fascinating person and has incredible insights into how to have this conversation with our children so please join us on October 4th. Get your tickets today!