Epistemology. Wait! Don’t leave yet – I promise there’s something useful coming. Epistemology is the branch of philosophical study that deals with knowing. How do we know something? How do we know we know something? Can we really be sure we know what we think we know, or have we just convinced ourselves that we know something, which, in reality, may be unknowable? You get the idea.
While epistemology can easily lead to useless mental meanderings, it is also a very practical part of every person’s life – whether you know it or not. Everybody learns. Everybody teaches. Everybody has a set of ideas and propositions in their brain that they call knowledge.
Parenting is a teaching task. It involves suppositions and decisions about what your kids need to learn, how they can best learn it, and what your role is in passing on that knowledge. This is the epistemology of parenting.
For example, maybe I believe my children really need to know about kumquats. I (perhaps subconsciously) ask myself questions like, “What do they most need to know about kumquats?” ”What is the timeline for rolling out the major parts of kumquat knowledge?” ”How would they best learn about kumquats?” ”What is my role in instilling proper kumquat knowledge?” ”Who else should I involve in the unraveling the mystery of kumquats for my kids?”
In general, the parents I know seem to think through these kinds of questions pretty well, with one glaring exception – sexuality.
Clarification: I did not say “sex” because I am not talking about sexual intercourse. History tells us that, one way or another, everyone figures out how to have intercourse. Sexuality is a matter of figuring out how to live comfortably in your own body, pursue appropriate levels of physical and emotional intimacy with others, defining the standard of purity that you are called to, managing the emotions that relationships stir within us, etc.
Many parents leave the subject of sexuality largely to osmosis. As a result, their kids grow up gleaning ideas about sexuality from friends, media, observation of others, etc. Even worse, they are left to do all the processing and meaning-making of these inputs on their own.
Personally, I believe the worst idea that has ever hit parenting is “the talk”. Consider this – sexuality is perhaps the most pervasive part of our human existence. It seeps into every sphere of lives. People with a healthy grasp on sexuality live some of the happiest lives on the planet. Perverted understandings of sexuality, on the other hand, are linked to some of the ugliest outcomes in life. Still, many parents still assume they’ll exhaust the topic with one sweaty-palmed, stuttering, staring-at-the-floor talk when their child turns 13. Others won’t even go that far.
I’ve been in the lives of a lot of parents and teens over the years that description fits a scary number of them. Pretty universally, teens tell me that “the talk” only assures that they’ll never feel comfortable going to their parents about intimate issues in their lives.
Parents, I’m begging you to treat sexuality with the same intentionality that you would kumquats, math, soccer, or music. To do otherwise is to leave most consuming topic of their adolescence purely to chance and to abandon them as they try to unravel the most complicated part of their young lives.