How do you recommend talking to children about how to protect themselves from online predators, from real-life predators, and from date rape?
When having conversations with your children about online safety, set clear boundaries. “Conversations” with strangers online should not be permitted, and all social media settings should be set to private. Additionally, parents should monitor social media and internet activity as much as possible, particularly with younger teens. As far as real life, it’s vitally important to teach kids that their body is their own, and that they have a right to say no. No one is allowed to touch them if they don’t want to be touched. And a child should never be forced to touch someone else. Explain the importance of listening to your inner voice, and of trusting those gut feelings. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. They need to be empowered to stand up for themselves and say no, to leave the situation, and tell a trusted adult.
How do you recommend talking to kids about understanding no and respecting boundaries?
One of the cornerstones of great parenting is teaching children respect and kindness, and that of course applies to sexuality. You need to continuously explain to boys that sexual contact with a partner must be a consensual act, and that their partners’ consent is paramount. Sexual gratification should never come at the expense of a partner’s feelings. Here are questions you could ask your young teen to think about:
Does my partner feel comfortable?
Has my communication been open?
Am I respecting my partner’s limits?
Am I pressuring my partner in any way to do something they’re not sure about?
Unfortunately, our children are inundated with toxic and often scary images of sex prior to their first kiss. Borrowing a father’s Playboy magazine back in the day is quite benign compared to what’s available today. If you Google the word “sex,” orgies, masochism, and a sea of disrespectful imagery come up, which is why it’s essential to have conversations about mutually loving, respectful, and consensual experiences. Again, you do not want their sexual education to come from the internet!
Also, it is really important to talk to young boys about what masculinity means. Healthy masculinity includes discussions about gentleness, sensitivity, and respect. You’ll want to combat the inevitable camp bunk/locker room bravado. As male mentors, fathers especially should be mindful about respectful language about women, women’s bodies, and sexuality, and mindful about the example they model by how they treat their partners.
How can parents be sure the communication lines are left open, and that their children feel comfortable coming to them when they have questions?
This is one of the most essential parts of educating your children about sex. We need to foster an environment at home where kids are totally comfortable coming to us with their questions. How do we create this environment? By not being reactive, flustered, angry, embarrassed, or changing the subject. You want to be the protective, safe place—buffering them from the world outside. To help make your children comfortable asking questions, be calm and encourage them to always feel free to ask questions, and of course answer the questions with truthful, age-appropriate information. As mentioned above, remember to avoid the mindset that there’s one “big talk” about sex, but see it rather as a continual conversation that will evolve as your child grows.
Are there sex-related, reliable resources that parents can share with their kids?
The good news is that there are many informative resources available online. One great site is from Rutgers University: Answer: Sex Ed, Honestly. Another resource is Planned Parenthood, which can point you toward additional helpful websites and books. For many parents, reading an age-appropriate book with their younger children is an easy way to initiate a conversation.
What’s the big lesson we should be imparting to our kids?
The more you empower kids and teens with knowledge, the more likely they are to make healthy choices. Also, talking openly and directly about sex with your children invites them to feel comfortable discussing the topic with you. The most important thing is that you are the safe resource, and the first person they want to turn to.
Lastly, it’s not desirable for a child’s sexual development to be shrouded in secrecy and shame—and it’s our job as parents to set them on the path that leads to healthy, loving adult intimacy. I’ve always loved that the word intimacy has imbedded in it “in to me you see.” Let that be a metaphor for what you impart to your children—that love and sexuality are about truly seeing, knowing, and connecting with a partner.
Related: Sex Ed For Kids