Sex in the Cafeteria: The Problems with Preteen Google Searching

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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:

Sex.

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?

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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.

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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 

 

Photo: Flickr/greeblie

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About Kristie Christie

Kristie Christie is a writer and speaker who communicates to audiences about living a life of freedom, authenticity and connection. She'd love to keep in touch with you: check out Kristie's blog www.kristievosper.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on twitter: @kristievos.

Comments

  1. I am very pleased to come across this website and these articles. I am a single mother of one young pre-teen boy. I am very open generally in my communication and liberal in my beliefs, however the “sex talk” just never happened until I saw on his computer at age 10 he had been Googling sex.

    We had “the talk”, which I always assumed I would find easy, and found it surprisingly hard. I of course put a block on his computer, but with mobile phones these days everything is available.

    It is a worry how readily available pornography is to our young children. And I must admit to having gone into “lecture mode” rather than open conversation. Thank you for the advise. I will now begin to have an open sex dialogue and conversation with my son and try to demystify some of the taboos around sex and bodies with him.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful, Holly. I think it’s absolutely natural to go into lecture mode. That’s the way I can tend too. It’s that mama bear protector coming out…but open conversation always wins.

  2. What a thoughtful article— my 12 yo son has tons of great and up to date information at a click of a mouse…but he also has mind-numbing stuff he can watch, too… I try to listen and talk with him when he watches his faves, like Ryan Higa, Ray William Johnson, Tobuscus, and Smosh…. Sometimes the words and situations are a little gross and foul… And sometimes we laugh together over the same silly things…weirdly enough it does provide an opportunity for us to talk about various topics, like gun violence, swearing, bullying, inappropriate sexual behavior, drinking antics, etc. ….I am grateful for the opportunity to talk rather openly with my son in contrast with the way many of my generation were brought up… There were so many taboo topics and the Adult Book Section in the library was tantalizingly on another level ( and we had to sneak over there to peek into what we were not supposed to know about…

  3. I had to check this story to see if it was an old post. Google has been around for, what, 15 years? The 9 YO kids the author worries about in 2013 aren’t alone or unique: there is literally almost a generation of them now. The original 9 YO kids exposed to Google searches are mid-20s college grads now. Nor are today’s 9 YOs the first to really be faced with the “problem” in the article. Today’s college students are all tech savvy enough to have used Google at 9YO.

    The author essentially worries about a potential issue that is a nonissue because its come and gone already.

    And always be wary of someone warning you that your kids are exposed to different things or will grow up differently than you. This is the story of every generation since the earliest children graced the earth. The first kids to enjoy tamed fire drew snears from elders about their inability to handle it and appreciate it.

    Just as Elvis’ hip thrusting wasnt the end of society and civilization neither will Google be.

    So what to do?: talk to your kids, prepare them for what they may see and create an atmosphere where they can come to you with a question about anything else. I expound further here: http://www.triplethedad.blogspot.com/2012/10/child-rearing-philosophy.html

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I agree that every generation has a new threat, and one people clutch pearls over.

      But Kristie is talking to parents who didn’t grow up with Google about kids who ARE growing up with Google. That’s what she’s talking about. For those of us in our 30s with small kids, this IS a new thing and we need to be aware and conscious of the fact that our 12 year olds could very easily google “sex” and fine BDSM scenes that they are far from understanding, in a way that we absolutely could not have.

      Not that I”m condemning BDSM but it is a highly misunderstood kink, and can be highly dangerous if a person isn’t introduced to it in a healthy way by folks like Cliff Pervocracy who teach skills to keep everybody safe and happy.

      For a child with a developing idea of sexuality, seeing sex portrayed via pornography can affect their ideas about sex, intimacy and attachment and it concerns me greatly. With my own kids, it will only be a few short years before they will be actively seeking out sexualized images, and as a sex writer and a sex-positive feminist, I have concerns. Of course, I’ll be sitting them down talking to them about porn very naturally, it’s easy for me. I can teach them about what porn represents, what it does and does not do for human sexuality, about kink and what it does and does not mean about sexuality.

      But for a lot of parents, they have no clue that it’s two clicks and their kid can see someone in nipple clamps being whipped. And we need to know that and be prepared for it. Not because we need to freak out and cause paranoia, but because we need to be prepared for conversations we simply did NOT have with our parents because the chance of us seeing fetish porn was just so minimal.

      • Yes, but today its “fetish porn,” yesterday it was Elvis’ hips. After all, the parent raising a child during that time had no experience with TV or this new fangled rock-and-roll music their kids were experiencing.

        My kids aren’t quite to the age where this is relevant yet, but I think about it. I’ve viewed porn online, and I dont think kids are as likely to stumble upon BDSM as you think or to be as confused as you think.

        As for kids being overwhelmed… the whole world is new and scary for them. While this may be more over the top than some topics, I generally think kids are great at coping, better than we give them credit for, especially when parents foster open, communicative atmospheres where kids feel safe.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Just because you may think that kids are more prepared than we think they are doesn’t mean that parents don’t need help or advice on the subject.

          This all-or-nothing approach of “don’t overreact” becoming, “don’t worry about it” isn’t helpful.

          It IS important to talk to kids and prepare them for the real world, as it stands. It can be done wihout overreaction, but it DOES require *reaction*.

          • I totally agree with your Joanna. And kids DO find porn and are quite traumatised by what they see. And I am talking very young children. In fact, a co-advocate for sexual abuse prevention education has been called to implement an emergency education program where young children in a community are acting out sexual acts they have viewed and obviously have no comprehension of on other children.
            And on another point, Bryan, when your children do stumble on porn be it on their own or with their peers, they will very likely be traumatised by it as it may well be adults performing sexual acts upon adults or adults performing sexual acts upon children. Tell me what child is prepared for that and how can you ever compare this kind of exposure with new ‘fangled rock and roll’ music of the past.

  4. Thank you so much for your well-written and informative article.
    ‘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.’
    I too am extremely concerned. It so important ‘body safety’ becomes a normal part of our parenting conversation from as young as 2.5 years. I am an advocate for sexual abuse prevention education which goes hand in hand with your key points above, but I also advocate we start to talk to our kids about their rights in relation to their body from a very young age. I also push for sexual abuse prevention education to be mandatory in all kindergartens and elementary schools WW.

  5. Valter Viglietti says:

    “Pornography threatens normal childhood from remaining innocent”
    Children are NOT innocent; they have never been.

    Besides, shielding children from world’s dangers will never work. Hence, open communication with them is the only good way to prepare them to face real life’s complexity.
    Do not think you can close the world outside your home (how naive!); talk with your children about anything. Do not restrain their curiosity (how vain!): feed it with smart and meaningful information.

  6. Sex needs to be an ongoing discussion between parents and kids. As much as it’s always an ongoing discussion between adults and adults. I do think more parents need to be honest and open about talking about the role of pornography. Fatherss and mothers should both talk to son’s and daughters about it. I also think that Fathers should think about what they would say to their daughters about porn as much as what they would say to their son and mothers should do the same. Would the conversation stay the same? Would you have the same concerns for your son as you would your daughter? How would you approach the roles of men and women and how they are generally showcased through porn? What would you say about the way porn looks and the way people in porn look? Would the ideas and messages that porn gives mean the same things to your sons as they would your daughters?

    And if it’s a two parent household, parents also need to remain in open communication with one another about what they are discussing with their children. Sometimes parents can do this little “lets keep this between you and me think” that excludes the other parent from the discussion and eludeds to secrecy to keep the peace.

    All in all, I think we already have grown adults that have been largely affected by pornography that was available to them as young kids. Just from my experiences with dating men, I’ve seen things in men that I don’t think are for the positive. It’s not that these guys are terrible guys, but they have obviously been heavily influenced by pornography. You can see it in how normalized certain things have been made in pop culture that use to be taboo. I don’t believe this is the same thing from when parents where worried about Elvis’ shaking hips. Porn is a serious issue that I don’t think our culture takes serious enough. Most porn today is still created for and by men. Which is another thing we need tobe honest about. If young kids, both young girls and boys are seeing porn, there is a heavy imbalance between what the role of a woman is presented as vs what the role of a man is presented as. Most porn shows that the woman is the object that fulfills the man’s desire. She is the one used to get off. It’s her body that is largely focused on. What her body is doing that is focused on. She is the object. While men are also objectified in porn, they are also more often showcased as the ones in power who have control over the situation and who are being serviced. In most cases ast least that’s what I’ve found porn to be.

    I wish we could have a world without porn though. Where people were free to discover what they liked on their own. And where they weren’t fed this contrived kind of sexuality that people seem to aim more for having then an actual real bond now a days.

    Even though Googles been around for 15 years, the internet and Google are still new to us and how we interact with it. We are still trying to figure out how to contend with new issues and technology everyday. So I do think this article is stll very valid and will be very valid for decades to come since we will always be navagating a new life with advancing technology.

  7. Jack Jones says:

    Why pick on sex? Everything a child experiences, influence them. I see no complaints about animal abuse kids see in Tom and Jerry. No complains about the daily does of crime dramas, and nothing about boys being sold toy guns, and watching the A-Team using violence to save the day. Then there are the parents who drink and smoke in front of their kids, activities that kill tens of thousands of people every day. Not all sex is bad, but we treat it all as if it were.

  8. Madeira says:

    I think what would be ideal is if we were less weird about sex as a whole, there should be easily accessible wholesome porn for anyone who wants it. I can imagine a nice television series about say a married detective couple who are affectionate and loving and you just throw an explicit sex scene in every episode, because sex should be portrayed as loving and fun for everyone not as something men do to women, Obviously it wouldn’t be for small children, but I feel that that would be a much nicer introduction to sex than say, tentacle porn.

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