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!

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

 

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

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

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