“Dad, where do babies come from?”
The opening line of Kia’s Super Bowl commercial doesn’t beat around the bush. The question spills forth during a car ride, making Dad’s eyes bug out before he quickly recovers and spins a fantastical story of a planet, Babylandia, from which newborns of every ilk originate. The mom plays a bit part, buckled in the passenger seat, silent and smiling — as if she doesn’t have the moxie to interrupt her husband’s psychobabble and give her son the 411 on how he got into her uterus and ultimately into the back seat of their new car.
The commercial itself is laugh-out-loud amusing, with cute babies (giraffes, pandas, humans) in space suits and parachutes, preparing for their journey from their planet to the earthly parents who await them. It pokes fun at the stereotypical way that moms and dads apparently seize up, hearts racing, palms sticky with sweat, when the matter of birds and bees comes up. (Me, I had no such qualms. My kids have known since they were 3 how babies were made.)
But rather than simply scoff over the improbability of it all, you might consider that Kia spot a teachable moment. “Things like this ad are a great opportunity to have the conversation,” says Susan Bartell, a parenting and child psychologist in Port Washington, N.Y. Where babies come from is one of the most common queries lobbed at parents, according to Bartell, who wrote The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.
“When your kid asks you that question, your response should be, Tell me what you think,” says Bartell, who is also a contributor to BabyCenter.com. “Before you answer them, you want to elicit what they’ve heard. Kids hear so many things, and they are looking for you to confirm what they know already or rebut it.”
In the ad for Kia’s 2014 Sorento — part SUV, part minivan — the bespectacled father looks pretty pleased with himself as he winds up his procreation yarn. “And that, son, is where babies come from,” he pronounces. His son, however, protests: “But Jake said babies are made when mommies and daddies …” The dad hastily interrupts, commanding the Sorento’s entertainment system to kick into gear and play “Wheels on the Bus.” Mom and Dad join in lustily, accompanied by their boy, who appears to have completely forgotten about the sex convo, overcome as he is with joy at the childhood ditty. Kia’s tagline for the ad about its new crossover? “It has an answer for everything.”
But is obfuscation the right answer? Bartell doesn’t think so. Certainly, 2-year-olds can’t handle a technical explanation of baby-making. But by the time children have a grasp of how boys differ from girls, parents can start the process of explaining the roots of biology. For a preschooler, that discussion may be as simple as babies coming about when moms and dads get close and love each other. “The more you tell them on this subject when they’re younger, the easier it is to talk about more difficult topics when they’re older,” says Bartell. “This is a gateway topic for being able to talk to your kids about sex, drugs, alcohol, all sorts of tough things.”
Kids, of course, are maturing earlier than ever these days, making parents’ queasiness over the conversation even more inadvisable. Dr. Claire McCarthy of Boston Children’s Hospital recently wrote a blog post on the hospital’s Thriving blog about parents’ reluctance — dads, in particular — to talk about sex.
“When it comes to sex, [parents] want to keep [their children] innocent,” says McCarthy. “They feel that if they have ‘the talk’ too early, it will make them more likely to have sex. Ninety percent of the time when I ask parents if they are talking with their kids about puberty around ages 9 or 10, they say no. Even when they get to be 16, they’re still not talking about it.”
When I watched the commercial with my kids, my 5-year-old was amazed but skeptical. “Is that really what happens?” she said, despite knowing the truth.
“You tell me,” I responded. “You know how babies are made.”
“I can’t explain,” she answered back. “It’s inappropriate.”
Her 8-year-old sister, meanwhile, took issue with the dad’s lie. She was worried about the little boy. “When he grows up, he’s going to wait for a baby to come from Babylandia,” she said. Then she added: “He’ll probably find out the truth from his wife because she won’t believe that.”