I have a dear friend who I have known since grade school. She is the mother of three children, the oldest being in 8th grade. Given my profession and her being an all-around fabulous mother, we tend to have conversations about sexuality, pornography, sexting and children.
I recently reposted my blog on Child Pornography Prevention on social media. This was inspired by a local priest being arrested for possession of child pornography. From this, my friend and I had a great conversation I thought I would share (with her permission).
My prevention work focuses more on parents than it does on children. I want parents to start talking to their kids about sex and pornography. Parents tend to not do this. There are many reasons, mostly the fact that it is awkward and embarrassing.
“Talking to my oldest daughter about these things is ….hard. For both of us. She is 11. She uses the internet.”
My friend also employs all the tools she can to ensure her children are not unwittingly exposed to pornography online. She and her husband use parental controls but we all know sometimes this is not enough.
“We have parental controls. They don’t always work as they should. She goes to kids houses where there are computers, these kids have smart phones etc., not locked down AT ALL….because they have ” good kids ” who wouldn’t bother to look at ” that stuff”
As my friend points out, as a parent, you do what you can in your own home to avoid unwanted exposure to this content, but you don’t know what the parents of your child’s friends are doing. Much of the exposure to pornography is via peers. Just because your house is cybersafe, doesn’t mean that someone else’s house is.
So my friend and her husband have taken the leap and had the uncomfortable conversations with their daughter about sex, cybersex, pornography, sexting and sexualization of others.
“We decided we had to go there. The conversation continues because we have opened a door and she now knows we are capable of having these conversations. Is it fun? No. Do I look forward to them? Sure…like I do a root canal….but they are imperative. As are these conversations.”
So what happens when you talk to your child often about sexuality? It becomes more comfortable. They learn that they can safely bring their concerns to you because the topic isn’t taboo and you won’t react badly. They trust you with this information.
The end result of this trust was on display for my friend and her daughter just a few weeks into the school year. My friend’s daughter is in 8th grade.
“She has already talked to me THIS school year about her 8th grade friend on the bus sexting.”
Her daughter came to her this year with this concern because they had already talked about these issues. It was a topic that, though still uncomfortable for both of them, was an approachable topic. Her daughter has the knowledge to arm herself in the digital age and to make better choices for herself as she interacts online with her peers.
Education about sexuality and cybersex is imperative in todays’ world. In my friend’s words;
“I used to think I was a good enough parent to protect her. I decided to educate her on how to protect herself as well. The education is never ending”
My dear friend ended our conversation with this quote…which is dear to my heart.
I couldn’t agree with her more. Many parents don’t think that their child would sext. They don’t think that their child would look at pornography. I implore you to not be in denial. Sexting on the bus in 8th grade is a reality. If your child is sexting or looking at online pornography, it is not a reflection of your parenting skills. It is a reflection of the age we live in.
Talk to you children, please.
Dr. Weeks is the Author of The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.