Sunday, November 25, 2007

First Kiss

My friend Kathy’s daughter, Kim, is 12. Kim’s best friend is Ashley. The other day, Ashley’s mom called Kathy. “This isn’t easy to bring up,” she said.

Bracing herself, Kathy said, “OK. Go ahead.”

Ashley’s mom said each of the girls had been “seeking dark corners” at school. She meant they’d been kissing boys.

Kim had told her mom she had a crush on a boy named Mike. Kathy had even met the boy, and thought he was a nice kid. Still, she thinks Kathy is too young for romance. “But what am I going to say?” Kathy asks, rhetorically. “‘You can’t like him?”

Kathy and her husband Jim talked about Kim’s crush and the call from Ashley’s mom. Kathy and Jim were on the same page. “We agreed to keep talking with Kim, trying to be open, trying to trust her and follow her lead,” Kathy says.

At a recent school event, before Ashley’s mom called, Kathy had introduced herself to the boy’s mother who also knew about her son’s attraction to Kim. Kathy gave her their phone number. “Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions, or if anything ever comes up,” Kathy said.

It was the mention of “dark corners” that scared Kathy. So she called a friend, whose kids are grown, for perspective.

“She made me laugh and not take everything so seriously,” Kathy says. “She said, ‘I was looking for dark corners too when I was a girl.’ ”

Then Kathy felt as if she could talk more comfortably with her daughter, and be ready to listen. In the past, she’d made the mistake of speaking to Kim out of fear. “I’d say things like, ‘Don’t you ever…’ ” Kathy says. “That approach is shaming. A conversation stopper.”

Kathy sat down that evening with Kim. She was straightforward about what she wanted to discuss. But rather than put Kim on the spot, she began by sharing something about herself. “You know, I was older than you when I first got interested in boys,” Kathy said. “But I remember what first-love feels like. And I remember being curious about sex.”

“Mom!” Kim giggled. Kathy saw both a little girl and a preadolescent. She thought back on her own youth. She saw how different Kim is – spunkier, more curious – than Kathy had been at age 12.

Kim didn’t run to her room. She told Kathy the whole story as if she’d been dying to open up. As it turned out, there had been a first kiss, but there were no “dark corners.” The kiss happened at the table, midday, in the lunchroom.

Now the subject of boys and romance is out in the open. Kathy can ask casually for updates and share more of her memories. Above all, she and Kim continue to talk about thoughts and feelings kids might ordinarily keep from their parents.

Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health
Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health

Related Issues and Answers columns
Parents as educators
Postponing sex
Talking with kids

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