Whether they have a television or not, I encourage parents to discuss fact versus fiction in the media with their kids. Billboards, advertisements, photographs, blogs, magazines, video clips, and pornography are all accessible forms of media that kids can see without the help of television. They should know that they are not real.
Photoshopped advertisements and magazine photos can distort what we (and our kids) perceive as what bodies should look like. Blogs (and some news outlets) often present opinions, not facts. YouTube clips are edited and might use computer enhancement. Pornography does not necessarily show what intimacy looks like between ordinary-looking people who really care for each other. Yet porn is how many kids are learning about sex.
Parents, I encourage you to talk to your kid about sex and about critically looking at media, including porn. You might be thinking, “My kid is too young and innocent to know about that stuff.” If your kid is on the Internet without you or another parent or caregiver or trusted adult sitting right next to them, then it is time to mention it.
Another thing you might be thinking is, “My kid has not asked about sex, so we’re all good.” Some kids will never bring it up just because of their personalities. I like to make a correlation with parents talking to their kids about drunk driving. Drinking is a risky behavior, and many parents are very clear with their kids about not drinking and driving, even before they reach driving age. Sex is also a risky behavior, and yet many parents fear talking about it. I encourage parents to start talking, even if they feel unprepared. The kid’s interests—books, songs, movies—can lead the way toward discussions.
You might also be thinking: “Nobody ever talked to me about sex, and I came out okay.” You might have learned about sex from your friends, or a magazine in someone’s basement, or maybe you were lucky and got some sex ed in school. Well, the world has changed. All it takes these days is a text or an email from a peer or a friend to show your kid something they can never unsee. This is why I encourage parents to talk about porn with their kids. If a kid can discern that what they are seeing is not real, this goes a long way toward healthy attitudes about body image, media and intimacy between people.
Here’s a script for you: “Hey, kid. There are a lot of things on the Internet that are not for kids. You might find sites that show people having sex. Please know that there’s nothing wrong with sex, and there is nothing wrong with being interested in sex. Some of these sites are showing sex that is not about love, or caring, or even pleasure. It’s not real. If you see something that weirds you out, please come talk to me about it.”
Most kids that I know will be somewhere on the reluctant-to-mortified scale when they hear these words from you. The simple act of your mentioning this stuff, though, will tell your kid that you are available to discuss sex, relationships, media and other tough topics.
What does healthy sexuality look like to you? What messages did you get about sex when you were young? What about your upbringing would you change? Your kid needs guidance to navigate the world, and this is just another part of the world. Please think about your values, and then communicate them to your kid.•
Brooke Norton is a certified sex educator and a parent of two. She teaches kids about puberty and sexuality, and she consults with parents about how to talk with kids.