From Meals With Family to Sexual Explanations-June 30, 2003

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“Suzanne Gelb Image”

”Family Meals, Why Must I Participate?”


Dear Dr. Gelb:

I’m 14 years old and my mom gets on my case about eating meals with the family, but basically what happens at the table is my parents bickering at each other. There is no real conversation, and then if I say I don’t like some food that is served, then dad yells how ungrateful I am. So now when mom asks how the food is, I just say “ok” and then she accuses me of being lazy about the family conversation. I don’t see why I should show up for these meals? I’d be better off talking to my friends on the phone. Can you blame me?


Dear Indigestion:

While I believe that the notion of blame per se is inappropriate as pertaining to family dynamics, I do think that more children, especially teenagers, need to take responsibility and comply with parental instructions. So many of our youth nowadays are ungrateful, not having been taught or not having learned to appreciate what they have. Granted, a lot of parents have much to learn in terms of optimal parenting skills, but many tend to try hard to take care of their children and give them the things they need. In my opinion anything that a child receives other than what they need must be earned. Yet, too many children tend to be unaware that most of the things they want are a privilege, not a right.

And yes, it is unpleasant for children to be around parents who bicker, but that is the parents’ problem. And yes, it is too bad when parents respond critically to their teenagers, but I still maintain that a 14-year-old is old enough to know how to behave at the table. As one teenager honestly put it when her mother challenged her on her bickering about what was served at meals, “I probably wouldn’t like anything you cook anyway because I’d rather eat out with the friends.” To which her mother responded, “What I see is a very spoiled undisciplined arrogant 14-year-old who is not going to like anything no matter what. Why don’t you buckle down and show some appreciation for what you have and get busy earning those privileges that you are screaming for.”

”Sexual Misdirection, How to Avoid?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

I am a first time parent of a 2-year-old. With the media publicity lately about more permissive sexuality (U.S. Supreme Court changes laws about gay sex due to privacy reasons; New Zealand legalizes prostitution), I’m confused about what to teach my son about sex. He is around the TV quite a bit and I try to shelter his viewing, but I worry that he may be getting dysfunctional messages about sex or is he too young to notice?


Dear Confused:

Thank goodness for the impact of positive parenting. I do believe that firm, fair, consistent discipline and proper guidance and love can equip children for success, no matter how negative some of the messages from society might be. A solid foundation at home tends to immunize children from potentially disruptive societal influences.

To this end, I would like to share an excerpt about sexuality from Yesterday’s Children, a book authored by Honolulu psychologists Marti Barham, R.N., Ph.D. and Tom Greene, Ph.D. The excerpted paragraph below, titled “Sexual Dysfunction” includes text that points out how acceptance of one’s physical body at a young age provides a solid foundation for learning about self and the world (pp. 194-195).

“Children have innate curiosity about their bodies. Parents may find it natural, amusing, healthy, and acceptable when they see their children exploring fingers, toes, nose, ears, feet, etc. Yet when genitals are explored parents often become concerned or alarmed. A child perceives these subtle or overt reactions. It is easy then for the child to internalize the idea that whereas certain body parts are okay to touch, there is something not okay about “these parts.” The basis for self-love in the child lies in body acceptance. It is the first part of us we identify. Full acceptance of our bodies provides a solid foundation for learning about our aspects or traits and also the world outside of us. If we are denied the opportunity of positive learning about our bodies or learn fear, shame, or guilt associated with our bodies, our foundation may be a bit shaky.”

Of course, there is much to be said on this topic. In this regard the segment in Yesterday’s Children entitled “Healthy Sexual Development” (pp. 188-192) and “Healthy Sexual Functioning (pp. 192-194) can be useful. Also relevant is the question and answer that was posted in this column on April 8, 2003 titled “Explaining About Sex.”

”’Suzanne J. Gelb, Ph.D., J.D. authors this daily column, Dr. Gelb Says, which answers questions about daily living and behavior issues. Dr. Gelb is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Honolulu. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Services. Dr. Gelb is also a published author of a book on Overcoming Addictions and a book on Relationships.”’

”’This column is intended for entertainment use only and is not intended for the purpose of psychological diagnosis, treatment or personalized advice. For more about the column’s purpose, see”’ “An Online Intro to Dr. Gelb Says”

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