Addressing sexuality with your preteen
Today’s blog post is a little off-topic for me. You could say it’s related to personal growth but it specifically focuses on sexuality. Specifically, budding sexuality in adolescents.
In the last six months, my wife and I have had discussions with both our daughter and foster daughter about a number of issues relating to gender identity, sexuality, as well as about sexuality (and sex) in the media and social media. To prepare myself I’ve done a lot of reading on the subjects.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I *vastly* overestimated the age at which kids are thinking about and seeking out media related to sex. I’m not talking about “sex ed” sex, where the act remains rather nebulous and the result is a baby. I’m talking real, nitty gritty intercourse – of all kinds – and gender identity issues (trans-, cis-, etc.) and the various labels of sexuality (Hetero-, Homo-, Bi-, Pan-, etc.).
Pan?? I admit that was a new one on me. Apparently, it’s been popularized by Miley Cyrus (the irony that arguably the biggest “Disney girl” ever has helped throw today’s preteen girls into added confusion over sexuality isn’t lost on me).
Kids are developing physically and emotionally at the same pace
Kids today are developing, physically and emotionally, at essentially the same rate that kids of my generation did. When I was 12, I was just as curious and aware of my budding sexuality as kids today, but I didn’t have easy access to the knowledge I sought. Yes, there were gender- and sex-based messages in the media back then (though they largely focused on gender roles for kids as it related to toys and games, or adults as it related to roles in the workforce).
As horny pre-adolescents, we had to find a friend whose dad had nudie magazines in the house or someone who had Cinemax and stay up late to watch it (or record it on the Betamax), so we could engage in some extra “self-discovery” (usually alone). The result was that we developed, and stumbled and went through our awkward stage of growth over a handful of years, as we eventually grew into our sexuality, and formed our views and opinions.
Kids are exposed to more and at a highly accelerated rate
Fast forward thirty years to parenthood. I made the mistake of assuming that, as kids today became aware of “Life Science” and good old sex ed, they would be curious, and wonder, and we’d have talks, and they would grow and stumble through puberty just like we did. What I did not take into account was not so much the media but the internet and social media.
I asked questions like, “what’s an erection?” Today, 12-year-olds are asking “What’s the difference between anal sex and regular sex?” and they’re reading fan-fiction about homosexual male teen characters engaged in heavy petting.
What used to take years, leading to finally getting the real opportunity (and courage) to engage in sexual activity today takes months.
So while kids are maturing (physically and emotionally) at essentially the same rate we did, they are being bombarded with images, and messages and “norming ideas” through the media (TV, radio and movies) and through social media. Everything is accelerated to the Nth degree.
My advice to parents
My advice to parents? Start talking to your kids about love and affection at an early age. Set the tone with the “good touches and bad touches” talks. Have multiple talks. Know that sex ed begins in 5th Grade in California, puberty is right around the corner, and the questions begin.
Don’t wait until you think they’re old enough
Don’t wait until you think they’re old enough for “the talk.” Trust me, they’re old enough for the talk.
We had our first of several “talks” with the girls a year ago, when they were 11 and 12. Once they have the first “life sciences” class and puberty is beginning, anticipate the questions. Bring them up in conversation. Sensitively, yes, and in an age-appropriate way, but bring them up. If you don’t address with them all the things you wanted to know when you were 12, they will go to other, less caring, less healthy, and less desirable sources.
Learn how to monitor their activities. Tell them you will monitor their activities to help them avoid mistakes and non-age-appropriate content. Then actually monitor their activity! We review our child’s online activity, text messages, Skype chat sessions, and so on. Whatever form of internet activity or social media your child engages in, you have an obligation to know what it is, who they are interacting with, what they are doing/saying, and to establish rules and guidelines for that use. (I’ve posted our family’s rules at the end of this blog.)
It can be time-consuming but it’s also very enlightening. If your child is engaging in inappropriate behavior or exposing themselves to inappropriate content, you can address it. If they’re not, you can use it as an opportunity to express praise and gratitude for making good choices and consider giving them a little more freedom.
They are our children. We owe it to them to arm them with good knowledge, model healthy relationships, and understand that the relationships they see in the movies, on TV, and hear about in songs are usually not real and not healthy.
Here’s an excellent article about things to discuss with your tween (https://defendinnocence.org/2016/08/17/7-little-healthy-sexuality-talks-to-have-with-9-to-12-year-olds/)
An excellent source of media (movie, TV, books and music) reviews, that specifically address content and the subject’s appropriateness for children, is CommonSenseMedia.org. I strongly recomend it as a good resource for reviewing movies, TV shows, books and music that your child expresses an interest in.
Social media rules
These are the rules my family uses. Feel free to copy and use whichever rules work for you and your family.
- You may not download an app or program without asking us first. We will review the app and, if we think it’s appropriate, we will grant permission to download it.
- For an online name, you may use your true first name or a made-up name. You may not use your last name or any other identifying information.
- You may not give out your age, your birthday, your phone number, email address, the name of your school, your home address, the city you live in, or any other identifying information to any person online.
- You may not engage in online chat (using text or voice) with any grown up without our permission. If you discover a grown-up is on the same chat channel, you will leave it immediately.
- If any person you are chatting with online uses inappropriate language or sends you an inappropriate picture, you will notify us and show us right away.
- “Inappropriate” means anything we would not approve of. If you have a question and don’t know if we would approve or not, then assume we would not approve.
- You may not send any pictures of yourself to anyone without our permission.
- You may not add any contacts (I.e., names and telephone numbers or email addresses) to your cell phone or email contact list without our approval.
- You may not use any inappropriate language when chatting or e-mailing online. This includes any profanity or discussions of a sexual nature. Role-playing involving themes of romance and friendship are fine, but no physical contact will be described.
- Online acquaintances are not friends. Friends are people you know and like in person.
- If you do not know for certain what a word means, you will not use it until you ask us to explain it or look it up in the dictionary.
- If any person sends you rude, abusive, or angry messages (I.e, “cyberbullying”), you will stop chatting with them and show us right away.
- You may use YouTubeKids, which filters out content that’s inappropriate for kids. You may not use standard YouTube without our specific permission for specific videos. You never have blanket permission to use adult YouTube. (It’s just too easy to accidentally find inappropriate content.)
- You may not have your own social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) until you are 13 years old. We will have access to monitor all social media accounts an online account until you’re 18 years old. You must give us your password, and if you change it without telling us you will lose your account. (Exception: 16 if you also pay for your own equipment, monthly phone fees, internet access, and utilities to power them).
- You may not have an account on any social media platform that does not record and save its messages, pictures, or videos. (For example, you are not allowed to use Snapchat.)
We want our children to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted young adults. That must also include a healthy development and understanding of their sexuality.
We need to use our influence to guide our kids while we still have it. Thirteen is, sadly, too late.