Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talking To Your Children About You-Know-What

Below is something new for this blog -- an interview with an author. I sent a few questions to Sara Diament, author of an important new book for parents titled Talking To Your Children About Intimacy: A Guide For Orthodox Jewish Parents (link). My questions are in bold. You can also find a review of the book in a recent issue of The Jewish Star.

What is your goal with this new book?

I’ve been working with pre-teen and teenage girls in yeshivas, talking about topics ranging from puberty to intimacy for about six years. Soon after I started teaching, and as a result, counseling parents, I realized that many frum parents did not feel confident about talking to their children about these issues. The parents I spoke to had a strong sense of discomfort with the topic, did not know how to approach it, and could not find a guidebook available on the mass market that they felt comfortable with. My goal with this book was to empower frum parents to feel capable and competent in terms of discussing intimacy with their children.

Click here to read moreWhat first got you interested in this subject?

When I was in graduate school in Columbia I was focusing on women’s health issues with some consideration as to what relevant issues were not being adequately addressed in the frum community. A good friend of mine was a school psychologist in a local girls’ high school and this was an area where she felt strongly that current education was inadequate. I developed a program for her school and went from there.

Is this really something that needs to be discussed in public?

No -- That is to say, if all parents were talking to their children about intimacy in an open, honest and thorough way, and not dodging questions because they were uncomfortable. I don’t think it would need to be addressed much further. I am an advocate of this being an issue about which parents teach their children. That said, if parents do not have the tools and there is some need for guidance, there is no choice but to put the issue in a more public arena, whether it be through promoting a book or more public lectures.

Do you think there are possible negative consequences of raising this issue onto the communal level?

I don’t. Denying the issue does nothing but harm our children. Obviously, I’m not advocating that people discuss their private lives in public (short of needing to do so with a professional), or that the issue not be approached with a healthy sense of tzniut. But, all children, at all ages, have questions about intimacy. If we do not answer their questions they will either concoct their own answers or, as they get older, find their “answers” from other sources such as TV, the internet and magazines. (In my experience these three are by far the sources of information regarding these issues that modern Orthodox teens rely on.) Beyond that, as parents, our not responding to their concerns implies that there is something forbidden or negative about the topic, which is a feeling that they can carry through, consciously or unconsciously, into their adult lives.

Why do you think no one has written about this before?

I think that it is simply the fact that many people, even mental health professionals, are very uncomfortable with the topic. The Orthodox community has a very strong sense of tzniut which is a very admirable quality, but it has to be applied appropriately. Talking about this issue, from a Torah hashkafa, is not a breach of tzniut.

What do you think is the next step in bringing this issue forward and making a positive change in our community?

Most parents recognize that the issue is an important one. But, until now there have been very few frum-friendly resources to provide guidance. If parents can overcome their discomfort and guide their children appropriately, whether they be young children or teens, it will have a tremendous impact on the community at large. The key issue here is that our children learn about intimacy from a Torah hashkafa so that they can see the beauty and holinesses in it. Secular society is highly sexualized and the messages our children receive about sexuality from it are not the ideals that we would want imparted. Even if you don’t have home access to TV or the internet, our children are exposed to very sexual images when they pass bus stops, drive by billboards on the highway and see magazines in the supermarket check-out aisle. As frum parents, we need to counter the attitudes reflected by those images. Our children are not going to be aware of or understand the Torah’s view unless the issue is addressed by their parents or educators.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I’ve been very touched by the positive response to my book. I am also very grateful to Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig, and Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski for their support. Without their backing this project could never have gone forward.

You can learn more about the book here: link.

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