Answering my kids’ questions openly and honestly has always been something I’ve prided myself on. Whether it was a question about sexual intimacy or anatomy or whatever, I almost always felt comfortable and capable of answering in a straightforward, calm manner. I often felt an increase of closeness as we talked and shared so I jumped at any opportunity to begin various discussions and teach what I knew. And I still do!
But a few years ago, as I began doing serious research about the dangers of online pornography—especially the dangers posed to children— I was surprised to discover something about myself. I realized that I had put off discussing some vital conversations because of my own embarrassment and unease.
To clarify, I was NOT on the receiving end of some creepy Sunday School lesson about a cake that was touched and smeared and “de-frosted” in order to show some archaic notion of purity. Nor had I grown up in a home where an extra dose of shame was spooned out with every sex talk. Both of my parents were very positive and helpful when it came to sex questions.
However, like many parents, I had put off discussing masturbation, pornography and a few other vital topics because I felt unqualified and worried that I might cause “too much” curiosity. In my embarrassment, I used one of my now least favorite excuses that I hear from parents and teachers, “My kids are too young to hear this.”
Start With the Easy Topics
Instead of dealing with these “heavy” topics first, I stuck to topics that I knew were important to talk about, but were less threatening to me. I started out talking about how amazing our bodies are and how important they are to care for. I talked about predators and how they are usually people we know and what grooming behaviors to look for. Later, I moved on to talking about the mechanics of sex. Since I believe that sex should only occur between consenting adults in a committed relationship, I told my kids this. Thus, using my personal, spiritual values and experience to guide these conversations.
This gradual progression and moving at my own pace turned out to be a stroke of genius. Without realizing it, by starting the conversation first and beginning when my kids were young, I was establishing myself as a source of helpful, accurate information. By calmly and lovingly talking with and posing thoughtful questions to my kids, they were learning that I would not judge them or shame them for any questions they asked.
About three years ago, I was shocked into further action by an article discussing porn consumption among children and teenagers. After further research, I knew this was something I needed to talk to my kids about NOW! This is what I did:
1. I helped them define pornography so they would know what it was when they were eventually exposed.
2. Then we talked about what they should do when they see it. We talked about several physical locations that they were likely to come across porn: the school bus, a friend’s house, on our personal computers (even though we have filters) on a smart phone and through gaming consoles.
3. Then we came up with a plan for what we could do when we these situations happened.
4. More importantly, we talked about how natural it was to be curious. Curiosity is directly programmed into our biology. I wanted my kids to know that God gave them their curiosity and and that this curiosity is essential to their soul, their creativity and their survival.
A Continuing Conversation
We haven’t stopped talking about the dangers of online pornography. In the past three years, my husband and I have layered many other discussions including media literacy, the addictive nature of porn, self-monitoring, and the potential porn has to diminish empathy and destroy intimacy in a relationship. Within these discussions, we have reminded them of God’s merciful and loving nature and reassured them that there is always a way back from small and big mistakes.
As I learned for myself, parents no longer have the luxury to put off any significant discussions—especially as they relate to online dangers or sexuality. As soon you hand your toddlers and young children internet-enabled devices, they are at risk for exposure. It is time to start talking!
But we do NOT need to be scared. We have opportunities every single day to talk and connect with our kids, to take time to teach them the difference between online, shallow connections and real-life human intimacy. We can teach our kids about using the internet, social media and other forms of media to do good in the world and to build up those around us. With our friends, spouses and partners we can set an example of what healthy intimacy looks like and how to create lasting, healthy relationships.
For more helpful information, conversation starters and great discussion questions for you and your kids, please visit our friends at Educate Empower Kids. Check out their books, How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography or 30 Days of Sex Talks, Empowering Your Child with Knowledge of Sexual Intimacy, available on Amazon.
Dina Alexander is the founder and president of Educate and Empower Kids, an organization determined to help parents create deep connections with their kids and be the first, best source of information when it comes to teaching healthy sexuality and the dangers of online pornography. She is the creator of How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography and the 30 Days of Sex Talks and 30 Days to a Stronger Child programs. Dina received her master’s degree in recreation therapy and has taught in various capacities for the past 19 years, including marriage enhancement and art for small children. She has also worked with teenage girls in a residential treatment setting, adults with drug addictions and special needs children. She is a dedicated, whole hearted mom of three children and loves spending time with them and her amazing husband. Together, they live in Texas.