Ask the Loveologist: What To Tell The Kids

Q: My children recently came across some pornography sites on the Internet and are asking me to explain what they saw. I am a single mother and am not sure how much to tell my sons (ages 10 and 13) about sex because I don’t want to give them too many ideas. Will talking about sex make them feel more comfortable to be sexually active?

A: This is a great question and one that troubles almost all parents. According to several studies, over 60 percent of parents have not spoken to their early adolescent children about how to prevent pregnancy or avoid STDS. The statistic holds up with younger children as well, with less than half the parents not able to discuss peer pressure or sex with their kids. Schools are bound to distant mandates and respond to adult levels of sexual discomfort by either providing an abstinence only model of sex education or one that might name body parts and all the reasons to avoid sex.

This lack of real sexual education takes a toll on our kids, teen pregnancy rates in the US are twice as high as in Canada and England and nine times as high as Japan or the Netherlands. One in 15 boys will father a child in his teens, and four in ten teen girls will become pregnant at least once. Added to these statistics which we can count, are the widespread incidence of child sex abuse, child sex trafficking, date rape and sexual harassment and violence against gay youth.

Many boys are first exposed to pornography around age 8. Most children who are savvy on the Internet frequently run into pornographic sites by accident. A recent MSNBC survey found that “Forty-two percent of Internet users age 10 to 17 surveyed said they had seen online pornography in the past year.” Knowing that boys are trying to figure out what it means to be male and sexual at this age is a great reason to make sure that there is a lively discussion in your home that is open and ongoing, so that they can balance what they might find on the internet with real information and values from you.

Talking to kids about sex starts with clarifying your own values and beliefs about sexuality and relationships. While our kids listen to us sometimes, they watch us constantly. The intimate relationships that you create in your own life are a living model for your kids as they grow up, which is probably the best single reason parents have for working hard at sustaining functional and healthy sexual relationships. Being honest about your relationships, both the successful and unsuccessful gives kids a chance to understand the work involved in intimate relationships. By staying in touch with the world your kids live in and how different it is from the world you grew up in, will help you understand and be able to talk about the cultural value systems that maybe competing with the values that you are sharing. The more that these differences can be explored in a non-judgmental way, the more that kids will be able to make their own good choices.

Just like adults, maybe even more than adults, kids need to know that they are normal when it comes to their changing sexual identities. Parents who recognize and validate the changes that happen in adolescence and puberty are hard on kids. Building their self esteem and expressing trust in them is the foundation for any other discussions that can take place. Kids who don’t trust themselves cannot really trust anyone else, so being an advocate for your child will allow them to come and ask questions of you. Treating your child with age appropriate respect cements the relationship between you.

One way that parents miss this opportunity most is when they don’t provide real information about sexuality for their kids. I have always believed that when my child was old enough to formulate a question, they are old enough to have a real answer. Avoiding difficult topics doesn’t make them go away, the questions just become bigger in the children’s minds. Using real names for sex organs and taking the opportunities that life provides, whether it is an off color remark on some teen programming of music lyrics, I always let my children know what it means and why it offends me. Misinformation and disinformation leave a big empty space that pornographic content is happy to fill. If you don’t know the answer to your child’s question, look for it together. This kind of openness and sharing will ensure that your child feels safe to come to you when they are caught in difficult choices.

Children actually want their parents to set limits for them. This is not the same as using scare tactics of threats. Reinforcing age appropriate rules and limits about sexual behavior helps adolescents to create their own boundaries to keep themselves safe. Don’t believe that because a child asks a sexual question that they are about to engage in a sexual act. Many times, kids are looking ahead and giving them information to face potentially harmful situations prepares them for times when they will have to rely on themselves. I highly recommend, Deborah Roffman’s Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex as a guide for both thinking and talking to your kids about sex.

Wendy Strgar is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. Wendy helps couples tackle the questions and concerns of intimacy and relationships, providing honest answers and innovative advice. As her online presence continues to grow, Wendy has become a trusted and respected source of information on lasting and healthy relationships. ďI feel like I am inventing a language to give intimacy back to the people, take the fear away and open a space for physical love to serve as the glue that holds relationships together.” Wendy lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, a psychiatrist, and their four children ages 11-20.


Wendy Strgar
Wendy Strgar8 years ago

Thanks for the continuous reminders to take the time to copy edit these columns...sorry for the oversight.
More importantly, the issue about what to tell the kids about the pornography they find on line actually has everything to do with what and how you discuss sexuality in general. There is no singular response to the massive quantity of exhibitionism and pornography that is available in a single click. The response should be part of the bigger and ongoing discussion about sexuality and relationships.

Christy Mcdevitt
Christy Mcdevitt8 years ago

Being in an interesting position with one pregnant female cousin (16 now with a 1 year old daughter) and a male cousin (19) who is going to become a father I would say to tell the 13 year old everything he has questions about. I have had an open communication with my mom since I got into 6th grade. We talk about everything from both the physical AND mental aspects of sex to the acceptableness of masturbation in my house.
Today, actually, I had one of my friends (14) tell me that she believes she might be pregnant. She said that her mother never really had the talk with her other than just saying "Use a condom." Unfortunately she went and lost her virginity while the boy convinced her that "it would be fun" and not to use a condom. I'm really worried about her and I wonder how a REAL and OPEN sex talk with her mother would have done to have kept her with her virginity.

Nightcat Mau
Nightcat Mau8 years ago

I'd just tell them the truth. Tell them there are adultsd who like sex and get paid good money doing it. I wonder how many "acciedentally" find these sites. They might just be embarrased and not want to admit going to the site on purpose.

If she doesn't feel OK talking about this, a responsible adult friend could. Porn has been around for ever, and most kids look at it long before they know what's really going on.

Though at the ages stated, they might be mature in a sense. Sorry, but thanks to wonderful diets and healthcare, we now have ten year old who are asking questions only teens asked generations ago.

And I agree. If extreme whatever if fine, then talking about extreme sex is too. You might want to mention STDs as they are never part of the adult fanatasy genre.

Lovely article as always.

Janet D.
Janet H8 years ago

I agree with Xavier Vespa. You must tell your kids about this or they will surely come across sex in a way they probably will make the wrong decision about. Coming across sites like that is another story. It is difficult to think of how to explain to young kids about that sort of activity and also why it is broadcast for everyone to see.

Katheryne K.
Kaitlyn K8 years ago

You will need to explain to your children about sex (if you need some help answering questions, perhaps the family doctor can help). To keep them from inadvertently viewing inappropriate material on the computer in the future, however, you'd have to install the appropriate software on the computer.

Kathleen Kubic
K K8 years ago

Oops . . . I just saw my own typo! Should be "to" instead of "too".

Kathleen Kubic
K K8 years ago

I agree that Care2 needs a copy editor and a proofreader.

The woman posing the original question stated that she did now know HOW MUCH too tell her kids, not whether she should tell them anything. I would imagine that what you tell them is going to be based on your belief system. If you are looking at porn then you may not feel that it can be degrading not only to women, but the men, as well. Some porn can be healthy, some abusive. What could be considered abusive could be enjoyable in a healthy relationship.

What you you feel and what do you think they should know?

This article did not say much about WHAT to tell them.

Jennifer R.
Jennifer R8 years ago

Many thirteen year olds are already sexually active, and I went to school with several girls who became sexually active in the 6th grade (one of whom became pregnant). So not to have discussed sex with a 13 year old is totally irresponsible.

Xavier Vespa
Xavier Vespa8 years ago

The article is nice, but it doesn't say what to say when your kids land on a porn site (and probably browse through to see what's it all about).

Talking about sex is easy as 1-2-3. Talking about porn and sexual fantasy is different.

If my boy wants to know how to make babies, I'll be more than glad to explain to him. If my boy asks me why this woman was naked, surrounded by three guys, engaging in an extremely physical sexual activity, getting slapped on the butt, and apparently liking it, now I am going to have problems explaining sexuality to him.

So please answer this question instead of stating the obvious about kids, parents and sex talks.

Jenette Downing
Jenette D8 years ago

I find it mildly amusing how so many parents are comfortable with their children watching R rated action or horror movies as well as playing game slike grand theft auto/saints row yet feel some strange "need" to shelter them from anything sexual what so ever.

People need to realize sex is not some bizarre taboo or anything "forbidden," but a natual aspect of human nature/ culture.

When children ask questions answering them truthfully and in a manner they can easily comphrend is far better then some fairytale or half-truth designed to protect their

"innocence." (Ones innocence/naeivete about something is lost the moment they become curious about the subject and desire to learn more.)

Being supportive of that normal curiosity and not condemning them for wanting to know more about a subject you yourself may find awkward/embartassing can help them from devoloping a adverse reaction to discussing the subject matter as they grow older/mature.