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”.

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Does hot weather means “hot” clothes for your kids?

With hot weather now the exception rather than the rule,  parents need to understand the effect the heat can have on kids. Some children  wait  all winter for an excuse to bare their skin in clothes that are more suitable for a dance club than school. Let the battles begin?

Not necessarily. For parents, a good place to start is determine your child’s school’s policy on dress code and how is it enforced.

The rules in Philadelphia generally refer to students dressing in a “manner of appearance that disturb, distract or interfere with the instructional program, or constitute a health or safety hazard.” At the very least, schools should prohibit children from exposing their belly buttons, breast cleavage, butt cleavage and the wearing of suggestive slogans on t-shirts by either students or staff. It is perfectly natural for teens and pre-teens to push boundaries and arrive in school wearing something that bends—if not actually breaks—the dress code rules. School staff should react firmly to any breaches in the rules, while not embarrassing the student.

A common problem among younger kids is they may believe that a certain type of look equates to being attractive—without understanding that the look has a sexual connotation. When a nine-year-old girl chooses a bedazzled tube top with a decidedly hookerish look, her parents needs to supplement their “no” with an explanation beyond a “because I said so.” Explaining to kids that certain kinds of clothes carry a message (one that is not always appropriate for their age) is a good place to start. Consider using a uniform as an example and say something like this — “When you wear shin guards, I know you’re getting ready to play soccer.” This starts the discussion about how a particular look is seen by some people as a signal that you’re dressed for a specific activity. You could explain to young kids that certain items of clothing are seen as a “uniform” for people who like to kiss or flirt or an equivalent term that will make an 8-year-old think, “Yuck.” With older kids, it is equally important to stress that a person’s attire is never to be taken as a sign of anything about their preferred sexual behaviors. Dress is NEVER to be taken as an invitation to touch.

Girls are especially are pressured to appear looking sexual at young ages, being exposed to promotions for things like baby bikinis or padded bras for eight-year-olds. Parents can nip this in the bud with a parent-child discussion about their family dress code. What a great opportunity for parents to express their values to their children! Cover topics ranging from self-respect, dignity, the image they want to portray, individual choice versus following a crowd, and sexuality. If you can manage to be non-judgmental, ask the young teenaged girl why she thinks her shirt has to be skin tight; ask the boy why he wants to wear a t-shirt with a sexist logo. Conversations on dress could open a myriad of topics that help strengthen a parent child relationship! Younger kids are more likely to engage that older ones; the turbulent adolescent years may make your teen turn a deaf ear to your opinions, but keep them coming anyway.  They’re listening a lot more than they let on.

Before snapping up the last bargains from the summer sales, start the discussion with your kids so they know your opinions and limits.  Sex-wise parents know that filling their children with their values is one of the most important steps in raising sexually safe and healthy children and this is a golden opportunity for one of those valuable conversations.

Learn more about how to support your child’s sexual health and safety from my book, The Sex Wise Parent and by visiting www.sexwiseparent.com.

 

 

 

Choose a safe summer program for your kids!

Choose a safe summer program for your kids!

The school year will end before you know it, and NOW is the time to make summer plans for kids.   Some parents look for a summer program that is educational; others look for a program that builds a special skill; many pick a program with hours that match parents work schedules.  Regardless of why a program is chosen, one thing should be certain: that the camp is run in a way to keep children safe.

Let’s go through a typical camp day to see some how a camp can ensure a child’s physical and emotional comfort and safety.

If the children will be picked up, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can get unruly and distract a driver; an older child assigned to lead songs and keep order may be enough if no staff member is available. If parents drop off the children, are there procedures in place to ensure that the child passes from the parents supervision directly to a staff member? Is there a safe path to travel when the child leaves the car?

Camp administration should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers or volunteers working directly with kids. It is common for summer camps to employ students; these young folks should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values and standards of the camp, and be assigned a supervisor who really supervises!

Parents need to know how children are monitored as they move about the camp, for example if a child needs to use the bathroom. If the policy is to let children go alone, a time limit of no more than 5 minutes should be set. Tight supervision is a must for field trips; assigning buddies and performing constant head counts are basic tools of the trade.

Parents should always be able to observe a camp day. The camp should have a procedure requiring parents to sign in, and parents should be respectful and not interfere with camp activities.

The camp should maintain a list of people allowed to pick up children provided by parents at registration. Honor the process by avoiding last minute changes that the camp can’t verify.

Emotional safety requires attention. If swimming if offered, have the staff been prepared to handle children’s discomfort about changing clothes in front of others? If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept to a healthy level? Is the discipline consistent with parents’ values? And, how to they stop bullying?

A parent could learn about these issues by interviewing the camp director, or talking to parents who sent their children in prior years. If the program that’s most convenient for you because of location, cost or hours does not meet all of these standards, the administration may be willing to take some of your suggestions!

Throughout the summer, parents should ask kids questions on these topics. Summer should be a time of relaxed fun for children and parents will be able to relax themselves when they know they have chosen a safe summer program for their children.

 Find a checklist to take on your camp tour at

www.SexWiseParent.com/resources 

and share it with the other parents in your life!  

 

 

This article originally appeared @Philly.com!

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Choosing-a-safe-summer-program-for-children.html

Don’t give a predator an advantage!

On a beautiful Sunday morning, I was enjoying a walk in a park, admiring the views, the gardens, the art and the variety of people, when something caught my eye and took my thoughts right back to work. A mom was strolling with her two young children and both kids had their first names written in huge letters on the back of their tie-dyed sweatshirts.

I think this is a dangerous thing to do.  Twenty years ago, when law enforcement stressed stranger-danger and abduction-prevention advice to parents, a cardinal rule was to avoid personalizing children’s clothes. The fear was that predators could call kids by their first names and engage them through familiarity.

While I’m the first to remind anyone who will listen that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse against children is perpetrated by someone they know, there’s absolutely no reason why we should we give any predator an advantage. Kids need to know about boundary-pushing relatives or acquaintances who prey on children and youth, and that strangers can be predators as well. Adults can turn to the Take 25 Campaign from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a resource to start the conversation in their family using the materials available in English and Spanish.

Predators who would take advantage of a child’s name on her clothing often feign familiarity and indicate that the parent sent them to pick the child up. Another recommendation that bears repeating is for families to specify a code word that a child should expect to hear from any adult claiming to know the child or his family. Preparation is so important; young children — and many adults — are incapable of outwitting a charming sociopath.

Stranger-danger is easier for parents to talk about than sexuality but that conversation is not enough. Children will want to know what a stranger can do that is so scary and if we don’t explain in developmentally appropriate concepts, kids will fill in the blanks. They have many fears and any child with access to the media knows that sex crimes occur.  Please don’t let your children share the experience of a child who believed that a stranger might ‘rake’ her, which she thought meant being beaten with a garden tool.  The comprehensive discussion about child safety might come after sharing the personal, positive aspects of sexuality and this resource can provide guidance.  Then a  safety discussion can cover the fact there are people who try to abuse a child’s personal and private sexuality.  The first discussions with their parents about sex should revolve around love and intimacy, not stranger danger and anxiety.

Monogram your kids’ robes and pajamas, and discuss why you don’t want their names on their sweatshirts and jackets.   It can provide another opportunity to foster the kind of discussions that strengthen families and protect children.

 

This article first appeared in the Healthy Kids blog of philly.com at   http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Dont-give-a-predator-an-advantage.html

 

Create a winning team for safety in youth sports — with parents!

Create a winning team for safety in youth sports — with parents!

Fall means soccer, winter brings basketball, and then finally we get to play baseball; so go the seasons of childhood. As parents, we idealize the gifts that youth sports can bring to kids such as improving physical fitness, learning about teamwork, and experiencing the thrill of victory. But the Sandusky tragedy reminds us that even people who seem to have our kids’ best interests at heart may not.

Parental involvement with kids’ sports has always been beneficial to family relationships and children’s self-esteem. Now we’re reminded that child safety is also enhanced by the presence of a parent or other observant adult at practices and games. A convicted pedophile that I interviewed for The Sex-Wise Parent told me that “nothing makes a child less attractive than having his parent around all the time.” Most of us can’t be around all the time, but we can take steps to ensure that there is always one adult with eyes on your child.

Many youth sports teams have specific volunteer or required roles to help the team operate like “snack parent” or “equipment parent.” As the next team season approaches, think about collaborating with other parents to develop a rotating schedule for a “stand parent”, an adult to attend each game or practice to watch over and cheer for each player.

The organization Safe for Athletes was founded by a former Olympian who endured sexual abuse and harassment during her career as an elite, youthful athlete. Safe for Athletes goes a step farther and encourages leagues to appoint an Athlete Welfare Advocate, a “designated adult any athlete can contact with concerns about any coach, volunteer, other athlete or anyone making them uncomfortable in their role as an athlete.”

 This type of advocate may have an important role in highly competitive sports organizations such as those preparing elite athletes for national competitions. Properly screened and trained, such advocates could be a lifeline for kids dealing with a coach who exhibits any harmful behavior, including sexual abuse. Less formal organizations should still consider a strategy to enhance parental involvement for child safety, and this should be on the agenda of a pre-season parent meeting.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the organization that brought missing children to the forefront of the American consciousness several decades ago, recently developed an initiative named Safe to Compete providing resources to help youth-sports organizations protect child athletes from sexual abuse. Their resource page contains links to sample policies and procedures for youth and athletic organizations, and I hope parents share this with other parents and league administrators. But policies are never foolproof, and there is no substitute for an adult with set of loving, watchful eyes.

When the schedule for the next season arrives in your email, switch right over to your calendar and block off time for a pre-season parent meeting and for as many games and practices as possible. The fresh air will be good for you and your presence can be a gift to all of the children on the team.

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I recently  presented on this topic at the 2014 National Soccer Coaches Association of America/US Youth Soccer Convention  Philadelphia.

 

There’s still time to make the Golden Rule your family’s New Years resolution!

There’s still time to make the Golden Rule your family’s New Years resolution!

A very long time ago, I found my three-year-old son standing by the wheel chair of a frail, older family member four generations his senior, saying in a taunting tone of voice, “My Mommy says I don’t have to kiss you if I don’t want to.”

At a previous family gathering he had been terrified when she removed her dentures, and he still hadn’t recovered from the sight. Part of his recovery involved me letting him know that he was allowed to keep his distance from anyone who made him feel uncomfortable, relative or not. While he had clearly learned important early lessons about boundaries, he knew nothing at all about empathy. As embarrassing as that may have been for me, I had to remind myself that it was totally normal behavior for his age.

Empathy, or the ability to tune into the feelings of others, is a sophisticated process that takes time to unfold. It’s not fully developed until late adolescence but there are important things that parents can do to build the early foundation.  Punishing or shaming a child for blurting out a statement that embarrasses you (“Mom — look how fat that lady is!”) doesn’t help — in fact it generally does more harm than good. As bad as you feel for the person whose feelings were hurt, your young child likely has no idea what you’re upset about. A sudden expression of anger can bathe your child in shame and frustration, two emotions not at all conducive to learning. But kids do understand feeling good; the easiest way to teach young children about empathy is to let them bask in your praise when they have made someone else feel good. This starts the process to for them to gradually understand that their behaviors have an effect on other people. And here’s the golden opportunity for a New Year’s resolution that can pay dividends for years to come: Resolve to make the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” a fundamental rule of your family. Strange as this may seem to healthy adults, young children yet to develop an ego have no concept of the fact that they can have an impact on others.

Little kids learning empathy make better siblings, friends and classmates. Empathic young people may be less likely to act like a bully  and more likely to intervene when others do. When kids start dating as young adolescents, empathy becomes a key component of sexual health and safety. It is developmentally normal for adolescents to put a higher priority on their own individual feelings than those of others. When sexual activity ensues, raging hormones can overpower what little judgment teens have. Research shows us that kissing and petting start as young as ten or eleven; oral sex can begin as young as twelve. One study of more than 1,000 seventh graders, average age twelve-and-one-half years, found that “overall, 12% of students had engaged in vaginal sex and 7.9% in oral sex”.   A youngster engaged in heavy petting can easily become so totally occupied in the intensity of their own new feelings that those of the partner become irrelevant. No parent wants to think of their child coerced into an unwanted sexual act by an aroused and curious partner or accused of date rape because they were out of touch with the feelings of their partner.

As the year draws to an end, offer your child the wisdom of the Golden Rule as  a tool for the great adventures awaiting them in 2014. Praise your child of any age for treating people well, and model love, respect and empathy any chance you get.

 

This post first appeared in Healthy Kids  @Philly.com   http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Promote-sexual-health-and-safety-with-this-golden-New-Years-Resolution.html

 

The complicated job of choosing a book explaining sex to your child

The complicated job of choosing a book explaining sex to your child

Kids need to learn about their bodies and sex; parents know that. But most parents struggle to find the right way to teach them. A good book, carefully chosen, can help you teach sexual   health and safety, but where to start to find the perfect book?

The local branch of a chain bookstore had sections for pre-schoolers and teens. In the area for very young kids, I found a few books with catchy titles and age-appropriate graphics, dedicated either to helping little kids learn where babies come from or how to avoid stranger danger.

While several books had good information, each book I read had at least one point that killed it for me. For example, one book offered the fact that “penises get hard so they can go into vaginas”. That’s no help to a child whose penis gets hard in the bath, in his sleep or worse yet, at the touch or a predator. A parent reading this book could add their own explanation or substitute their own words for the author’s.   Parents may think that adding their own commentary defeats the purpose of using a book to help communicate the most sensitive points, but what it really does is underline that books are not a substitute for an on-going conversation between parents and kids.

Books written to teach kids to protect their ‘private parts’ from predators aren’t a great choice as the first or sole source of information about genitals, mainly because we don’t want the child’s first knowledge to be based on fear. Initial conversations should focus on everyday things, like toilet and bathing hygiene and responses to questions.  If you find a book with this message that fits your values, read it with your child and consider it the opening to an on-going conversation.

When I moved on to the teen section, most of the books I found did a decent job presenting reproduction. In that context some books did OK discussing sexual arousal for boys; after all, a male needs to be aroused to reproduce. Books directed to girls generally did  a good job explaining ovulation and menstruation, but female sexual arousal was nowhere to be found. Only one book even mentioned that vaginas produce fluids other than menstruation, but it did not present the anatomical fact that female genital lubrication is analogous to male erection as a reflexive physical sign of arousal. This is something that teens of both genders need to know so they can understand that reflexive responses to thoughts or stimulation are very different from emotional feelings.

If forced to choose one book for kids approaching or experiencing puberty, I’d land on You: The Owner’s Manual for Teens, (Scribner, 2011) written by a group of experts including TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz.  This book goes from head to toe explaining the changing human body and is written in a way that shows respect for a teen’s intelligence. I caught Oz’s daughter Daphne on her television show teasing easily and appropriately with colleagues about her sex life as a young wife — his advice seems to have worked!

 

Are you ready?

Before you chose a book, decide what you want your child to know.  Then read the book in the bookstore, in your library or on-line and see how the book meets your goal. Parent reviews of some of the highest rated books on this topic include the complaint that the book will open up topics and lead to questions before the child is ready. A well-researched book written by a credentialed and reputable author carefully considers child development; it is much more likely that the parent doesn’t feel ready to deal with a topic. If you need help getting comfortable, use the advice I offer in The Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012).   One of the easiest things to do is to practice by reading the book with your spouse, partner or a trusted friend and anticipating comments or questions from the child.   Resist the temptation to just give a book to an older child until you read the entire book! You need to know what the author is teaching, and its context. National research results shows that teens report parents having more influence on their decisions about sex than peers or the media; a discussion about the contents of a book is a great way to share your opinions whether they match or differ from those in the book.

Books can be helpful components of promoting the sexual health and safety of your family but you’re never going to find the perfect book.   No book can transmit your family’s values and beliefs wrapped up in love for your child. But a good book, carefully chosen, can be an important addition to your efforts.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent. 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.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEAED IN THE HEALTHY  KIDS BLOG AT PHILLY.COM    http://bit.ly/Iebdrt

 

 

What parents need to know about pornography and kids

What parents need to know about pornography and kids

If your children have access to a device with Internet access — and it’s a good bet that they do — it’s an equally good bet they’ve been exposed to pornographic images.

A major study found that almost all boys and two-thirds of girls over age 13 have been exposed to online porn. Most exposure happens between the ages of 14 and 17, but thousands of children 13 and younger are exposed to sexually explicit images daily. Boys are more likely to report that they sought out pornographic images while girls were more likely to report involuntary exposure.

Impact of porn on kids:
Sexually explicit images and erotic art have had a place in almost every culture, so observing a sexual image is not necessarily harmful. But it’s all about context. Pornographic images are often reflections of sex that have nothing to do with real life and young people lack the context to know that. The very fact that such a private act is being shared with the world obliterates the concept of intimacy, and intimacy is an important aspect of sexual health and safety.

Early images influence a young person’s fundamental understanding of sexuality. People develop “sexual archetypes” or fundamental beliefs about sex, and viewing sexual images can become part of this development. If the people in the images look like people who could be a friends or neighbors then the acts may appear acceptable and an involuntary feeling of sexual arousal may make the act even seem more agreeable.

Archetypes become like shorthand the brain uses to immediately put things into categories prior to gathering additional information. For example, if you were bitten by a German Shepherd, the image of such a dog may become part of your archetype for fear. Sexual archetypes are developed when our brain stores information about the characteristics of images, experiences and/or people that lead to our sexual arousal, and the earliest associations with sexual arousal are very important.

The type of images kids see can influence their sexual archetypes and later sexual behavior. One study found that kids who had seen violent pornography were more than five times as likely to have forced or coerced someone into sex as kids who reported watching only non-violent porn. An association of sex and with violence or coercion threatens the sexual health and safety of your children and their future partners.

So what can a parent do?

First, use every technological resource available to limit your children’s access to pornography, including spam filters and parental controls on devices, software and browsers. If your child knows more about technology than you do, call your school or local library and ask if the resident technology professional can offer a workshop to parents.

But don’t count on technology; no measure is foolproof and purveyors of pornography and curious kids are both likely to figure out a way around them. This takes active parenting. Open a discussion about online pornography and consider it a great opportunity to share your family’s values about sexuality and pornography. Don’t start by asking their child if they’ve seen sexual images on line; assume that they have.

 Concepts to explore

Ask about the content of the images using medically accurate terms for body parts and sex acts. Acknowledge that curiosity is normal, and share that these images are fictional and have nothing to do with real life love, sex and intimacy. Then consider exploring these issues:

  • Consent: Did the people in the pictures look like they’d both agreed to the sex act? Did one participant appear to be coercing or otherwise threatening the other? Impart the healthy value that in real life all sex requires explicit consent.
  • Emotions: What feelings did the people in the images seem to be experiencing? Make it clear that that the emotions associated with sex should be love, affection, warmth, and respect.
  • Intimacy: No matter what was going on in the image, the very fact that it was being recorded and shared shows that there was not intimacy; share that healthy sexuality is an expression of deeply private and intimate feelings between partners.
  • Arousal: Involuntary physical arousal from viewing sexual images may leave a youngster both exhilarated and shamed. Sexual arousal is instinctual and autonomic, and people of any age may find their body responding with arousal to an image they intellectually find repulsive. A discussion about the feelings associated with the arousal caused by the sight the pornographic image will break the secrecy and with it the power the images have over the child’s perception of sex.

Finally, while a demand that the child not watch porn is likely to be met with overt or covert resistance, suggest that the child’s future sex life will be much happier and more satisfying if he or she avoids it.   Maybe use the analogy that learning about sex from pornography makes as much sense as learning to drive by watching a NASCAR movie.  And, it can limit the ability to find the satisfaction that comes from sharing  experience with a partner.

The thought of this conversation may make any parent uncomfortable, but here’s the win: when you make an active effort to counteract the messages from online porn, you have a golden opportunity to replace the dysfunctional values with your own. And — research shows us that kids keep listening, even when acting like they’re not!

This article first appeared at Philly.com