Modern Family: When kids walk in during sex
I cannot believe that the blogosphere is not buzzing itself silly about last night's (hilarious) episode of ABC's Modern Family, which raised the all-important question: What should parents do if their kids walk in on them during sex?
(If you missed it, here's the link. The key moment occurs at 2:45.)
Characters in the show offered two options for minimizing the psychological damage from such an episode:
a. Have an honest and sincere talk with the kids about what they saw and help them put it into context in an affirming, healthy way.
b. Never say a word about it, recognizing that talking about it will just be that much more embarrassing for all involved.
Both approaches had their moments last night. While the parents whose walking-in-on we witnessed found relief in talking things out with the kids, the success of that strategy was tempered by the fact that the kids had already schemed to completely block out the content of the chat.
But when the woman in that couple confronted her dad about why they had never cleared the air after she, as a child, had walked in on him and his wife during sex, it became apparent that talking things out wasn't all it's cracked up to be, after all. In fact, shutting the door and never mentioning the incident again seemed abundantly sensible.
I've got a call in to a psychologist recommended by the American Psychological Association; I'll update this blog with her comments as soon as I get to speak with her.
I communicated by phone and e-mail with Mary Alvord, a Rockville- and Silver Spring-based psychologist and American Psychological Association public education coordinator for Maryland. Here's her take on the matter (having not, she notes, had opportunity to see Modern Family last night):
First, parents typically find this an awkward and embarrassing situation, even if they have taken precautions to keep this private. If this happens with a teen, it will be dealt differently than if were a young child. Developmental level of the child and knowledge of and previous discussion of sex, all must be taken into account. Also, it depends on what they saw and heard. I would recommend that when a teen catches their parents in the act, that this be discussed later with one or both parents. It should be done in a calm manner. I would explain that it was meant to be a private act, that parents love each other, and this is an expression of love within their relationship. The positive of this event, is that it can open communication about an important and sometimes avoided subject. Opening the discussion clearly gives the message that parent and teen can discuss the topic of sex, that the teen can ask questions about the topic (not necessarily about their parents sex life), and that you as a parent offer that they ask you questions or discuss concerns, rather than only friends or others who might provide inaccurate information.
So, readers, do tell: Has this happened in your family? Did it happen to you when you were a kid? Were you scarred by the experience? Please take a moment to vote in today's poll, and share your tales in the comments section.
This post has been updated with a quote from psychologist Mary Alvord.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| January 20, 2011; 1:29 PM ET
Categories: Family Health, Kids' health, Life's Big Questions, Parenting, Psychology, Reproductive Health, Sex, Teens
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