Mutual consent laws?  Parental advice has much  more to offer!

Mutual consent laws? Parental advice has much more to offer!

 

Consent for sex is in the news these days – from Bill Cosby’s acknowledgement to using drugs which removed partners’ capability to consent, to proposed mutual consent state laws and campus policies — there is a lot of buzz on this topic and that’s a good thing.

The buzz is turning into initiatives on college campuses and elsewhere to require clear and provable mutual consent before sex, but that solution brings with it another raft of problems. The better solution – which parents can do themselves, today – is to show and teach their children the values of honesty and respect that will make date rape unthinkable.

Parents need to be their children’s primary sex educators.  But unlike the conversations about anatomy and physiology, which I know makes some parents uncomfortable, conversations about honesty and respect should be easy to have.

And you’re probably doing some of it already.

We start with the youngest of kids when we teach them not to take things that don’t belong to them. We teach them to think about the effect their behaviors have on others.  We teach them to be kind and honest, and we teach them to stand up for themselves if they are being taken advantage of.   And as they grow up, we hope they will develop good judgement.  That doesn’t happen overnight and there’s a good reason why.

In his book aptly entitled Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen[1]Dr. David Walsh says that modern neuroscience provides a window into some of the mysteries of the teen years. He says “because the prefrontal cortex’s (PFC) wiring is incomplete, the adolescent’s PFC can’t always distinguish between a good decision and a bad one, no matter how smart a kid is.”  Couple this undeveloped ability to assess risk and make good decisions with hormonally induced physical urges and appetites, and we see that kids need adult guidance now more than ever and want it less, making parenting a challenge.

 

Brain development continues into the early twenties; we are sending kids off to college before their capacity for judgement is fully formed. Situations that arise from  bad judgement, like substance abuse and  ill-considered sex  on campuses is certainly not news; the American College Health Association has been promoting programmatic solutions to these issues for at least three decades, and many campuses take advantage of  proven tactics to reduce  out of control behavior.

 

What is new now is that we are finally  talking about  sexual coercion and  ways to make it stop;  the calls for  consent laws and polices is a sign that this behavior is no longer tolerable.

Social media is filled with expressions of disgust at entitled,  high-status males helping themselves to the sexual acts with  females incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

 

Whether it’s TV’s favorite Dad or a college football team, its variations on a theme and the mood is right to make it stop. Parents can step up and be the heroes here who raise children to live by the values that abhor this behavior.  When teens are in situations where their undeveloped sense of judgement may be overcome by hormones and alcohol, they need sober peers and adults in their life to monitor their behavior.  And if parents aren’t physically present, their values can be there with their child.  When tempted  to do something stupid there’s nothing wrong with a parents voice resonating a  young man’s  head  saying “that’s not how we  behave in our family”.

 

Consent laws are also a new idea, but as well-intentioned as they are, consent laws are essentially unenforceable and may also have some unintended consequences. Recorded consent to sexual acts may go viral and do as much damage as a physical act.  A wide net may be cast and trap people who had no ill intent.

 

The best thing about the proposed consent laws and polices is  that they’re starting a starting some very important discussions.  The best prevention comes from parents’ expression, in word and deed, that sex is an expression of a relationship between two people whose consent is never coerced.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and programs for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.    For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.



[1] David Walsh Why Do They Act That Way? Free Press, NY 2004

 

This post originally appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Mutual-consent-laws–can-we-legislate-intimate-conversations-.html

There’s a lot of Sex-Wise Parents in Nebraska!

The Central Nebraska Child Advocacy Center hosted me for a full day of training for professionals from law enforcement,  child protection, education, counseling  and more!   We even enjoyed a visit from the local chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse!

We covered everything from psychosexual development of children  to characteristics of high functioning teams.

Sadly, the newly sex-wise parents who came to the event were all professionals who came to  to improve their job skills; the community parents who had preregistered didn’t make it.    Read the story in the local news paper here:    bit.ly/1Jcabd6

But the full day event for professionals was a rousing success!  Contact me to plan an an event for your community now!

Dangerous games

Kids give us plenty of things to worry about as they mature: Will they pay enough attention in school to get into a good college? Will they choose the right friends? Will they make the right choice when faced with drugs or alcohol? Will they wait until they’re really ready to experience sex? Current attention to an ancient practice has given families something else to understand and warn children against: choking games.

Choking games, medically known as ‘voluntary asphyxia’ goes by many terms among kids. Black Hole, Black Out, Red Out, Knock Out, Flat lining, Five Minutes in Heaven, Space Monkey, Suffocation Roulette, Gasp, Tingling, are among the names used by kids in different communities[1]. These are terms that parents and grandparents should come to know and recognize as a sign of danger.

In these games, kids physically limit oxygen to the brain, causing a brief, intense rush as the brain automatically reacts to the perceived threat by releasing specific chemicals that cause the feeling of a temporary high. Methods range from holding their breath while a peer applies pressure to the vagal nerve (similar to applying the Heimlich maneuver) to using ligatures around the neck. Analogous to the manner in which many adolescents are initiated to cigarettes or alcohol, a trusted or high status peer presents the opportunity to participate as fun or cool. A teen who does not understand the potential danger may see it as a way to achieve a legal high and gain acceptance with peers. However, like drugs, the rush or the temporary high can become addictive. And I can never repeat often enough that the part of the brain responsible for high-level decision making is   not fully developed until adolescence is over!   Peer pressure, poor judgment and a potential high can make risk taking hard to resist for adolescents in many circumstances .Choking games can be played alone or with peers and are believed to be almost always initiated in groups, although the availability of online information may be changing this. As bad as the group games are, the act becomes more dangerous when a child engages alone. Safety precautions fail and kids suffocate.

Adolescent males may also come to believe that that a sexual climax can be heightened by depriving their brain of oxygen. Known as ‘autoerotic asphyxiation’ this practice has been documented in medical literature since the 19th century. Sadly, most of the documented cases are based on posthumous investigations; up to 25 deaths occur each year when fail-safe mechanisms do fail and a victim is strangled.

Here’s an important point for families with young adolescents: Sexual archetypes, or lifelong preferences, are often set in adolescence as the initial objects or behaviors associated with autonomic sexual arousal become imprinted (in a manner of speaking) in a child’s developing brain. Autoerotic asphyxia can become a dangerous lifetime habit that’s difficult to break. Experts estimate that between 250 and 1200 deaths occur per year from autoerotic asphyxiation but since many cases are mistaken for suicide the real number is hard to know. Identifying and intervening in early ‘choking games’ can prevent this particular paraphilia from becoming a deadly part of a child’s sexual life.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that any adolescent will discuss any autoerotic activities with parents or grandparents. I strongly believe that parents and care takers have the obligation to check kids’ dresser drawers, book bags and other hiding places for indications of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes; similarly, plastic bags or items that can be used as a ligature should be added to this list of contraband. Any indication of children using language similar to the many names used for choking games should be a call to action.  Similarly, check a child’s browser history for searches  indicating interest in these issues.    In any case, kids need to hear from loving adults in their lives that this “game” has potentially deadly consequences and should never be practiced.  Ever.

In an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians are advised that “provided with relevant information, pediatricians can identify the syndrome, demonstrate a willingness to discuss concerns about it, ameliorate distress, and possibly prevent a tragedy.” The same is true for parents and grandparents.

This article originally appeared in GRAND magazine, 3/2015


[1]   Daniel D. Cowell, MD, MLS, CPHQ , Autoerotic Asphyxiation: Secret Pleasure—Lethal Outcome? PEDIATRICS Volume 124, Number 5, November 2009 pp 1319 -1325

Want to help prevent child sexual abuse?  Plan now for an April event!

Want to help prevent child sexual abuse? Plan now for an April event!

If you’ve ever felt like child abuse, child sexual abuse, and sexual assault were such HUGE and overwhelming problems that one person could never have an impact, now is the time to get over that misconception.   For more than two decades, April has been designated child abuse prevention month and it is now also designated as and sexual assault awareness month.  Tens of thousands of people will focus on these issues in April;  if you choose to add your voice it  will be amplified by a chorus from like-minded people.    April is is the ideal time to organize colleagues and friends to plan community events like workshops to support parents, advocacy events to help change laws, conferences to help professionals do their jobs, and special displays of parenting books in stores and libraries. All of these can help promote strong and safe families, communities and institutions. Here’s some help to get started:

Step 1: Find partners

Look for like-minded people to form a work group; check out your religious institution or your local schools’ PTA/PTO. Try the local department of public health, the rape crisis center, or child protection agency and ask for the outreach coordinator. These public agencies often have advisory boards comprised of citizens, a great resource to tap.

Step 2: Find a champion

Find an ‘honorary chair’ — a high profile person to lend their name and credibility to your cause and event. This is generally easy since elected officials of all stripes want to be associated with protecting children and keeping families  and communities strong.  If you get lucky, an elected official might offer time from a staff member to support the event.

Step 3: Make the plan

With your partners and champion identified, decide together what you want to offer your community. My personal preference is for events for parents. My experience proves that parents are concerned about promoting the sexual health and safety of their kids, ensuring the sexual climate of their school and other institutions is healthy and that the community has resources. With parents on the planning committee, you’re sure to be able to tap into the concerns of your local parents and plan an event that meets their needs.

Check with your library to see  if the youth or reference librarian can curate a special collection of resources for parents; they can highlight information about your event next to the special display. The librarian may even be able to find a local author who could offer a reading and a book-signing!

Consider working with an agency to honor their volunteers; I’ve seen wonderful events where people come out to see  volunteers honored and also get to hear a program where they learn how to promote sexual health and safety in their family and community.

Step 4: Find the resources

Volunteer support might can often be found in the local high school as many now have a ‘service learning’ requirement and young people are looking for meaningful projects! Similarly, Greek organizations at a local college and youth groups at religious institutions can be a great source of help to raise funds and awareness supporting your cause.

An event does not have to be very expensive; a speaker and refreshments may cost a few thousand dollars but sponsors are generally easy to find. Like elected officials, businesses want to be associated with a popular issue like safe kids.  Many communities have public grant money that they can spend on community involvement. These public agencies can help:

  • Find your state’s Rape Prevention and Education coordinator here:
  • Find your states Children’s Trust Fund here
  • Find your states Child Protection Services agency here:

Non-profit organizations, like Prevent Child Abuse America support special events in April and you can find your local chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America here:

Step 5: Need individual help?

Contact me at DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com, visit my webpage or my page at APB Speakers.

Take advantage of the national voices being raised in April and promote safe and healthy children, families and institutions in your community!

Get ready — 50 Shades of Grey is coming to a theater near your kids!

Love it or hate it, a movie glorifying some of the darker sides of sexual behaviors between consenting adults is coming to a theater near you. What’s near you is near your kids, so get ready to take advantage of this teachable moment.

If you don’t know the theme of this best-selling trilogy, Mr. Grey is psychologically damaged from an abusive childhood and finds relief in sadomasochistic practices. He meets sexually inexperienced Anna, they develop a relationship, he teaches her about sex and she teaches him about love, all with lots of sex going on designed to arouse readers of all persuasions.

Here’s a few topics from this movie that make a great discussion with any child, from around age 10 on:

  • In real life, it is never OK for an adult to seduce a child (Grey was introduced to sex by a friend of his mother)
  • In real life, it is never OK for people to hurt each other
  • In real life, girls  want to have their own lives, their own opinions and don’t crave domination
  • In real life, if a man tells a woman (or a woman tells a man) he’s too damaged for a relationship, as Grey tells Anna early on, listen to him and run the other way.

With all of the hype about the books and movie, you may have read points like these, or thought about them yourself if you’ve read the books. As a sex educator, here’s the point I consider most important: This material was written to induce sexual arousal, and when it does, your child needs to understand that just because they experience reflexive arousal does not mean that this is the type of sex they want to have when they are mature enough to have sex.  It is a very common experience for humans to experience arousal from observing or reading about a sexual act they would never consider, and it takes honesty and maturity to understand that fact.

When a male experiences an erection, when a female experiences warmth and lubrication in her genitals, it is a sign that a primal part of their brain has been activated. Young people who don’t understand this are at a terrible disadvantage. People who exploit children and adolescents use the child’s reflexive arousal to convince them that they were a willing partner. Adolescents unfortunate enough to develop a crush on a predatory adult may find their arousal used as a tool for seduction. A teen  may mistake a partner’s arousal for a “yes,” even when they are  clearly saying “no.”  Each of these scenarios are too common and can have disastrous results that devoted parents can help prevent.

Becoming sexually aroused is a reflexive response to stimulus. Sexual response comes from a primal part of the brain that has nothing to do with reasoning. Our kids need to learn that there is no shame in sexual arousal – ever! A key lesson in becoming a mature adult is learning the difference between lust, which is physical arousal and love.  The ubiquitous promotions for the  50 Shades  books and movie provide a most useful teaching aid to make this point.

Loving, responsible parents can find the words and the courage to explain sexual arousal to their children. Young people can learn about the joy of these wonderful feelings and  the angst of them occurring at inopportune times.  Parents can share  the critical lesson that these feelings have nothing to do with the thoughtful, deliberate decisions they will make about their own sexuality. Just because they experience arousal at a book, a move, video, or even the sight of popular young teacher does not at all mean that they can or should act on these feelings.

Your child will most likely have access to clips, summaries and other excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey. Along with processing the obvious lessons about loving, equal relationships between real adults in love, use this as an opportunity to prepare them for the complexities of understanding sexual arousal, a most important lesson for a lifetime of sexual health and safety.

This article appeared first at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-is-coming–are-you-ready.html

 

Privacy? YES! Secrets? NO!

If you’ve just spend the holidays with a house full of company or crammed into an airport waiting area, privacy probably seemed like a distant fantasy. If you managed to surprise someone with the gift of their dreams, keeping secrets may seem like a great idea. There’s a time and place for both secrecy and privacy. Understanding and incorporating the concepts into your family life can promote sexual health and safety, and strengthen the overall quality of the relationships between the family members.

Secrecy is a straightforward concept; a person knows something and keeps it to himself. Privacy is more nuanced; one person knows something, and others may know it too, but the others don’t observe or witness it.

As part of healthy development, kids should be taught that they can earn the privilege of privacy but that secrets from parents are unacceptable. Promoting sexual health and safety is easier when a family has a norm that includes treating all part of the body equally.  Children who are unable to discuss their genitalia with their parents may be even more susceptible to the request of a predator to keep their ‘special games’ a secret. A child should learn that their body is private, but there is never any shame or secrecy associated with any part.

It’s a great idea for the adults in a family to have a discussion on what will be private — for example, discussions about finances, or parents’ arguments the children might overhear. By the time a child gets close to elementary school age, they should start to be able to understand this nuance, but younger kids understand absolutes: no secrets from Mom or Dad.

As a child matures, they can start to earn some privacy. Going to the bathroom is a good topic to illustrate the difference between privacy and secrecy. A parent might explain: “When you’re big enough to reach the toilet, when I trust that you will be sure wipe yourself when you’re done, you can earn the right to have privacy in the bathroom – you’ll be able to go by yourself and eventually shut the door. But, Mommy or Daddy will know that you’re there, we’ll know what you’re doing so it won’t be a secret. And if anything is wrong – if your pee is a funny color or it hurts when you poop, you know you can tell us.” Privacy means you get to do it by yourself, but we just don’t ever keep secrets from each other.

In a healthy family, parents need and deserve privacy. It is to be assumed that older kids will rifle through parents’ drawers and closets given the opportunity. Assume that your child will do this and take precautions: Put your personal things away and lock up anything you don’t want them to find. Of course parents have the right to have adult items in the house—they are after all adults. But, children do not want to be confronted with the fact that their parents are sexually active, so put away the special books, toys, creams, prescriptions, lingerie, etc.! If a child finds a locked drawer or box, let him wonder about the contents; if parents find evidence that a child has been exploring the parents’ possessions, take the opportunity to discuss the difference between privacy and secrecy. It’s no secret that grown-ups are sexual but how they express it is completely private from their kids.

Parents can set a foundation for privacy early in the life of their family, making it clear to their kids how they can earn more privacy as they mature. At the same time, be clear that open lines of communication mean that parents and children can and will talk about anything, and no secrets from Mom and Dad.

 

Sex Play Between Kids — What’s OK and What’s a Problem?

For more than a century, developmental psychologists have been studying how and why children play. One of the most widely accepted schools of thought describes children progressing through three stages of play: solitary, or playing by themselves; parallel, or playing near other children but not necessarily with them; and group play, where the children are clearly interacting with each other. The speed at which children pass through these stages is highly variable, depending on such factors as the child’s personality, the number of siblings in her household, or her exposure to other children. Most children are not capable of true group play until well into their preschool years.

Parents often  wonder about sex play between kids. There are certain issues that differ with the ages of children, for example touching between two year olds is very different than touching between twelve year olds, but there is one universal indication for your concern: if coercion of any kind was used by either child to gain compliance from the other, adult intervention is imperative.  There is also one universal rule for parental reaction: regardless of what you see, stay calm and think before you say anything to your child or another parent. If you display a shocked exclamation or scream, this can stay with the children involved long after any memory of the activities that caused this reaction.

Recognizing the harmlessness of parallel play with or without clothes, many families allow full nudity among their kids, for example bathing the younger kids all together. A child will let you know when she’s outgrown this and then you must heed your child’s request and honor a request for privacy from siblings.

Toddlers who are still in the solitary or parallel phase of development would be highly unlikely to be interested in a game like naked doctor or you-show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine. Toddlers may glance at one another or maybe even reach out in curiosity to touch another child’s genitals, but this behavior should be treated like your child reaching out and annoying someone with an unwanted touch anywhere.

It is not uncommon for an older child to decide that he or she is curious and wants to inspect a younger child and the younger child may not mind at all.  This seems to have been the case in the family of actor/writer Lena Dunham.  Although some pundits labeled her a sex offender when her memoir revealed that she’d inspected her little sister’s genitalia, it apparently was a non-event for her sister.   Parents who come into this situation might calmly announce that playtime is over and then speak with each child in private. That conversation should be a lesson in respecting the personal boundaries of others, and offering to answer their questions about body parts. Doing this without shaming the children is crucial.   It’s key to determine if   either child used any kind of force or coercion; if one child appears frightened of the other pay close attention.  Speak to the child who may have done the coercing and try to determine the motivation and where they came up with the idea.

If the answers indicate that someone else has been playing this ‘game’ with them, you need to investigate further of call authorities.   If t they truly can’t understand that their behaviors may cause pain to another, it may be time to seek the support of a qualified child development specialist.  While the overwhelming   mutual majorly of sexual exploration between children is harmless, learning the identify an intervene where maladaptive behaviors are indicated is one of the best things a parent can do for their child; intervention with young people has a very high probability of success.

 

This article originally   appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Sex-play-between-kids-When-is-it-a-problem.html

Kids, Food and Pleasure

I have a lot of great company in the world of professionals who encourage parents to speak with their kids about sex.   Nonprofit organizations like Advocates for Youth  offer support as does  The American Academy of Pediatrics; even the US government recognizes the important role parents play in sexual health and safety!

But many health care professionals focus almost exclusively on preventing problems, like teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or sexual abuse.    These are very important issues but woefully one-sided. To really give our child the gift of sexual health and safety, we have to include the good stuff and one way to do that is to ensure that our kids learn  to value their own pleasure.

Any parent or caretaker who has nursed or fed an infant recalls the joy of seeing the baby cooing in our arms and falling into a delightfully satisfied sleep after being fed.    But sometime between the suckling infant and the awkward adolescent phases, parents forget how important it is to let our kids delight in the pleasures of their body.    Promoting a healthy relationship with food as our child develops is an important way to reinforce the concepts of healthy pleasure.

According to local expert Dr. Lynn Caesar, the first step is paying attention to how we eat with our children.   “We need to be eating mindfully in order to experience pleasure.”  Caesar said.       “Parents can encourage this experience by slowing down life and creating a pleasurable connection with our children around food.”   She adds “it takes practice, time, and commitment.”

Encouraging our children to savor the taste and texture of their food can encourage paying attention to all of their senses and learn to listen to their bodies own cues.

Caesar reminds us that “food can be fraught with emotions that have nothing to do with eating….   guilt, anxiety, reward, or punishment.”   To avoid what can become maladaptive  associations, she urges parents to consider the downside to using food as a tool for reward and punishment.   “The road to healthy pleasure with food and family is challenging, particularly as parents are competing with children’s excessive snacking with highly addictive foods that are salty, fatty, and sweet.”

Sex-wise parents encourage their children to mature into sexually safe and healthy adults and healthy sensuality is fundamental.   Mindful eating can offer important lessons about health and pleasure, concepts we want to see our children transfer to their developing concepts of sexual health and safety.

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Kids-Food-and-Pleasure.html

A Lesson in Sexual Abuse Prevention from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Matt Sandusky

In her recent interview with Matt Sandusky, Oprah Winfrey hit one of the toughest issues associated with child sexual abuse head-on.

Her interview with the man both victimized and adopted by former Penn State assistant football coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky drove home this  point:  people must rid themselves of the notion that all sexual abuse hurts physically.

“It is part of my mission to expose sexual abuse for what it really is” said Winfrey, and her  questioning of Matt Sandusky was one more step on that path.

As she did with former child actor Todd Bridges in 2010, she directed her questioning of Sandusky to reveal that sexual arousal and climax were part of the abuse.

“It’s very confusing, it’s very confusing to you because you … have a reaction,” Sandusky said, tearfully stumbling over his words. “It’s something that you definitely don’t know what’s happening, but that’s just what it is, I guess, I don’t want to say that it’s pleasurable, but it’s not the most painful thing I guess.”

Winfrey firmly told Sandusky that it is OK to say it’s pleasurable, “because it is. You don’t have the language to even explain what’s happening,” she said.

And therein lies one of the most compelling arguments for sexual education for children. We can neutralize one of the most powerful tools used by predators when we raise kids who truly understand that genital arousal in response to stimulation is as uncontrollable as getting goose bumps when they are tickled. There is no shame or mystery – that’s just how the body works. Parents are the best people to share this information with their kids in age–appropriate doses as they develop, and I believe that so strongly that I developed resources to help them.  With practice and tools  like these, it can be easier than it seems.

Oprah Winfrey shares my dedication to ensuring that people understand that involuntary physical sexual arousal is often an aspect of sexual victimization, and ignorance of this fact traps victims into confusion, shame and silence.

In April 2010, she asked Todd Bridges to read the section from his autobiography “Killing Willis” where he described his awful confusion from climaxing when molested. That show inspired me to bring a sex educator’s perspective to child sexual abuse prevention, write the Sex-Wise Parent and put resources at SexWiseParent.com. In 2012, I heard boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard speak at a Penn State conference on child sexual abuse; he said that hearing Todd Bridges acknowledge this physical reaction on national TV gave him the courage to speak out about his own victimization.

Sexual abuse of children takes many forms, each of them painful in its own awful way. We know that the majority of abuse is initiated by a person known to the child.  In many of these situations, the abuser uses so-called ‘grooming’ techniques to seduce a child into compliance before the child knows what’s happening. Accurate information, lovingly shared by informed parents, can provide children an extra means of defense against fear, guilt and shame and provide a robust defense against sexual a most common type of sexual predator; those who shun physical violence in favor of inducing a physical reaction.

I will always thank Oprah Winfrey for using her platform to continue to share this very important message. Let’s honor that by helping families and communities provide accurate and honest information about sexuality. To paraphrase a pedophile I interviewed when writing the Sex-Wise Parent: “kids want to talk about sex and if their parents won’t do it, I will”.

.

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Parents have both a right and the responsibility to be totally aware of their child’s online life, and the earlier you make that clear to your child the easier it will be to enforce. A 2010 Pew Research study revealed that “the bulk of kids … are getting cell phones at ages 12 and 13 – right as they transition to middle school” and a 2013 study found that 95% of teens are online. And while the true incidence of sexting with explicit photos is probably less than 5 percent of kids online, we also know that at least 10 percent of kids report an unwanted sexual solicitation. Here are two good reasons why parents need to stay on top of their kids’ online activity: Neither young children nor teens are a match for a skilled predator;  and adolescents have a mature sex drive managed by a not–yet-mature brain. And if you still need convincing, read this report prepared by the Crimes Against Children Research Center and see how many of the cases reported to law enforcement were uncovered when parents checked their kids’ phones!

Parents of young kids can set a precedent starting when their kids use their first electronic devices. Certain security measures are low-tech, like keeping the device chargers outside of the bedroom in order to keep devices off the bed, setting all passwords yourselves, and checking devices daily. The most readily available of the low-tech options is parent-child communication. Let your children know why you intend to monitor their on line use; little ones should not have independent internet access until at least age 12; their first experience of your limit setting can be when they learn that your plan only covers a certain number of calls, or of you program their phones limiting the numbers they can call or receive calls from

Continuing conversations about online safety provide a countless opportunities to discuss your family values around relationships and sexual health and safety with young teens and adolescents. Discussions about unanticipated solicitation, sexual and otherwise, lead right into a conversation about respecting other people’s boundaries, and being empowered to hold their own. A dialog about predators opens the door to conversations about the importance of really knowing someone — online or in person — before placing full trust in them. And when you get to the talk about sexting, don’t stop at the tech-based reminders that photos exist forever and can be shared beyond the intended recipient. Try having a discussion about how normal it is for young people to be confused about making any decisions about sex. Chapters 5 and 6 in my book, The Sex-Wise Parent will be helpful.