If you’re like many parents, at least at some point in your parenting, you may have found yourself crossing your fingers thinking, “How long can I put off having THE SEX TALK?” For some, the mere thought sends immediate sweat beads to glisten your foreheads. You may think, “But I want to keep them innocent! And young!” If this is you, welcome to the crowd. You’re in good company. However, that doesn’t negate us from the reality check we all need to come to grips with. If you need to, sit down, find a paper bag to breath into, I’ll give you a minute…because reality is, the world is racing to beat you to it. That’s right, the world would LOVE to teach, train, & equip your kids in ALL things sex. Rather than, “How long can I put off having THE TALK?”, perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, “How much do I trust society to teach, train, & equip my child’s sexuality?” In a world that not only capitalizes on, but also glamourizes sex scandals, pornography, & a plethora of other sexually promiscuous behaviors, can I tell you right now that, let unchecked, our children are NOT in good hands?
You may have read last week’s intro newsletter to our Kids Online Safety series, where I mentioned a couple of the sneaky ways the world has been aiming to steal our kids’ innocence right from under our noses (If not, you can view that newsletter here. We also invited you to join us in our ongoing online discussion via Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram where we’ve been posting discussion questions from our readers. Feel free to get in on the conversation. Send us your questions, hear from others, & add your “2 cents” to the conversation.
Today we’re focusing on the topic of EDUCATE.
There’s no better place to start than to
1) EDUCATE YOURSELF:
Do you know what your kids are doing online? Do you know what their favorite apps & games are? Which take up most of their time? Do you know how to work these apps? What are the minimum age requirements for these games & apps? Which ones come with community chat features? Which link to social media? Which apps provide loophole links to unfiltered internet? How much time are they spending on the internet? All of these and more are good questions to ask ourselves.
With Summer upon us, the number of online hours kids spend online goes up, & so does the risk of encountering an online predator or inappropriate online content. In fact, Ofcom.org reports that “17% of 8-11s and 29% of 12-15s who go online say they have ever seen something online that they have found worrying or nasty; 45% of 12-15s who go online say they have seen hateful content online in the last year, an increase since 2016;…12% of 12-15s say they have been bullied on social media, equal to the number who say they have been bullied face to face.”1 Ofcom.org goes on to report “a quarter of 12-15s say they have ever been contacted online by someone they don’t know, and one in ten say they have ever seen something of a sexual nature that made them feel uncomfortable, either online or on their mobile phone.”1 Add onto that that “over 80% of children get exposed to porn unintentionally,”2 according to onlineschools.org.
If we’re going to take on the responsibility of protecting & training our kids in the online world just as we do in the offline world, we must be willing to become at least somewhat tech savvy. While some parents are already on this, others may find this task more daunting. If you fall into the latter category, a way to get started is by inviting your kids to educate you on what they know. Spend time poking around on your kids’ devices. Step into their world. Try playing their game with them. While doing so, you may want to take special notice of social media links & chat arenas & what is going on there. You might be surprised at what you find.
Also, be aware that our children are targets. Just as we warn our kids of coming in contact with a “bad guy”, “sneaky people”, “stranger danger”, or what have you, we also need to be mindful of the same kind of characters preying on our children through the internet & mobile devices, even as we see them tucked away “safely” in their beds or lounging on the couch next to us. The dangers are still very real & can have long term, damaging effects on their lives, health, & the health of their families. In all actuality, pornography addiction is no respecter of age or persons. The younger the consumer the more money is made. In fact, it is estimated that globally, the porn industry brings in $97 billion annually. About $12 billion of that is from the U.S. alone3. Hook them young & they’ll be lifelong customers, right? Who do you want to get to them first? Which brings us to…
2) EDUCATE YOUR CHILDREN:
It is not good enough to simply know for ourselves; we educate ourselves so we can best educate & lead our children. The world-wide web is a double-edged sword, a tool for good and evil. Our children should be familiar with the good, but should also beware of the danger there, as well. There are several ways to do this:
One way we can address this topic of internet safety is to capitalize on what we see & hear. Integrate online & personal safety in everyday conversations as appropriate: News, school, outside conversations, social media (#metoo, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby...), etc. can all become talking points of conversation between ourselves & our child as it relates to safety. We may also decide to carve out special times to focus & discuss it. If you’re not sure where to start, consider using a book or online video you have screened beforehand and believe would be helpful.
Keep in mind that kids don’t like lectures. We can be sensitive to this as we gauge what they can & can’t handle. Try breaking things up with questions (i.e., Why do people prey on others? What is the difference between a real-life friend and an online friend?) Another thing we can do is to capitalize on our kid’s questions. Anticipate personal questions they may ask about us & be prepared with an honest, but age-appropriate answer. We can warn our kids to beware of online predators pretending to be someone they’re not. If they use social media or chats, make sure they know what information is personal information not to be shared online & what kind of information they should use a high level of caution when sharing online.
What is appropriate safety discussions for what ages? Each child, family, & set of circumstances is unique, so this will depend a lot on parental discretion. We know our child better than most, if not all. Consider their maturity level, level of exposure, & their natural curiosity. Kids often pick up on things we assume go over their heads. For all ages, find out what they already know. Here’s some helpful reminders when educating our child(ren). Keep in mind this timeline is not concrete, but rather, a loose guideline that may vary based on your circumstances & child’s maturity:
*Find out what they know.
*This age is very literal.
*Keep it simple. Tell them what is good & bad.
*Use proper names for body parts.
*The bathing suit area is private.
*Find out what they know.
*Address their curiosity.
*Teach them what to think about sex.
*Look for positives.
*Find out what they know.
*Encourage open dialogue.
*They don’t like lectures.
*Teach them how to think about sex.
*Admit when you just don’t know4.
If you have young children, rather than waiting to play damage control on sexual issues & internet safety, why not take the plunge & beat the world to it?
In later weeks, we’ll hit on these next topics:
3) Be a Safe Place
4) Prepare for Independence
5) Recognize the World They Are Inheriting
Search for A Circle of Joy & join in on our online discussion surrounding Kids Online Safety on social media via Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.
As we’ve studied the available resources & tools that can equip parents to understand the problem & address it in the most up-to-date way possible, we’ve encountered an array of groups offering such resources. Some are developed by religious denominations, & others by individuals and other organizations, but all are meant to help you parent in this fast-paced, & sometimes dangerous technological age in which we live. Here’s a small listing of a few of those groups as well as additional resources suggested by our readers…
In this together,
3Source: NBC News
4Source: Common Sense Media