Kids today have unlimited access to sexual content on the Internet, much of which isn’t healthy. Kristie Vosper offers tips to help parents navigate teaching healthy sexuality.
I distinctly remember my elementary school library, it doubled as our cafeteria. Connected to it was a giant covered lunch shelter where we who brought our lunches from home would eat outside at fiberglass, graffiti-carved, picnic tables.
One day after I’d eaten my lunch I found the dictionary in the cafeteria-library. Curious about the changes happening to my body, as well as the whole lot of information that had recently been revealed to me, I opened to the word I was most curious about. You guessed it:
I found a stale and clinical definition. There weren’t pictures, stories, descriptions…no salacious details to tantalize my pre-adolescent curiosities. I wanted more. I didn’t want to have sex, I just wanted to make sure I was informed. I felt left in the dark along with the details of the charade I’d also recently uncovered: Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. I’d recently learned that babies came because of something called “sex.” Penises somehow fit inside of vaginas like puzzle pieces. As I referred to them back then: “pee pee things” entered “down there” in a strange human mating ritual. “Who would ever want to do that!!!?” I secretly mused. My childhood was coming to an abrupt close as I was thrust into a world of bras, deodorant and maxi pads.
I was disgusted and curious. Fascinated and thirsty for more information than the 10 page “You’re Going to Get Your Period” pamphlet offered me.
When a 4th grader in 2013 goes searching for these details, will they even barely pause to look at a dictionary and its stale description? Google will guide them to the kind of enticing info I was curious and searching for at Jefferson Elementary School back in 1990.
They’ll all google “sex”…and a much different set of details will be theirs to explore. Wouldn’t you? I mean…come on…you searched the library books too, didn’t you? It’s a part of growing up to discover and learn about sex and menstruation and where some new hair is about to start growing (weird!).
I implore you to consider with me how wide the impact of modern media will be to the lives of our pre and post adolescent children.
I believe that the problem is much deeper than we can even begin to measure. We simply don’t have the long term research for how the privacy of an iphone or ipad will impact child development norms.
I am extremely concerned for the impact explicit material has on children who do not have the developmental capacity to filter, understand and sort out graphic content.
Sexual abuse is broadly defined to include exposure to explicit digital content. Will our children unintentionally find themselves exposed to the kind of content that hinders healthy sexual development? I believe that this is not a question but a reality we are faced with as child advocates. How do we protect our children from an invading media culture, intruding upon the childhoods happening all around us?
Pornography threatens normal childhood from remaining innocent and developmentally appropriate. How do we respond and react? How do we find our way into a healthier sexual culture rather than an over-indulged, sex- obsessed one that robs our children of the necessary and appropriate slower pace of discovery?
Here are some pileminary steps towards keeping children safe and unhindered in their sexual development:
1. Monitor online activity closely. Create a family rule that tech lives in public spaces. Let the children know that their online world is not private and is something you will daily monitor. Install appropriate and helpful filters that keep your children away from sites they shouldn’t be exploring.
2. Talk About Pornography. Ask curious questions that won’t shame your kids. The goal is to provide an open dialogue, not a lecture. You’ll earn the right to be heard when you listen well. Be willing to hear what your children think about pornography. Some conversation starters could be: “What do you think is normal?”, “Have you ever looked at pornography? Is this something you talk about with your friends?”, “Does it make you uncomfortable?”, “Do you think the people are nice to look at?”, “What do you think happens to us if we look at it?”
Because pornography is so easy to access, use of it and addiction to it is on the rise between men and women. It is my opinion that if you don’t have explicit content on your devices, the chances your child will find it goes down. Model with your behavior the ways you hope your children will treat porn. Sure porn stars might be inviting your gaze by their participation in the industry, but we must remember that each person on the screen has a story and is a human being worthy of being valued, not only objectified.
3. Provide Open Communication. Allow your kids the space to ask questions about sex and their changing adolescent bodies. The more you create a normal enviornment for your kids to approach you with their curiousities you will decrease their need to go elsewhere for this detail. Don’t have one “sex talk,” have an ongoing dialogue with your children about these important issues. Educate yourself on an ongoing basis so that you aren’t surprised by the world they are living filled with sexting, instagram, porn and “likes.”
4. Create Community You Trust. Do your best to cultivate a community of trusted, like-minded families who share your values. This will help you monitor your child’s exposure to content even when they aren’t with you. Share articles like this one with other parents you know so that you can have a common language and understanding together.
According to a study conducted by Emory University, 37% of child sexual abuse is conducted by a peer, usually an older peer who has been abused (keep in mind that abuse encompasses exposure to explicit photos and online content). If exposure to explicit content continues to grow, we can infer that the incidence of peer-to-peer abuse will rise. This is safe to assume because children sometimes act out what they have seen on the screen and attempt to process disturbing images in real life.
When your child goes hunting for information, how will we keep them safe from harm? How will we create an environment to help them develop a healthy and whole understanding of human sexuality?
This is likely the beginning of a long conversation that we’ll have over the course of many blog posts. What are your thoughts? Are you concerned? What are you doing to provide a safe online environment for your children?
Originally appeared at KristieVosper.com