It’s an uncomfortable truth that kids today are far more likely to learn about sex from the internet, rather than from their parents.
That’s sobering, considering so much online imagery demeans women, and treats sex as cheap. Girls absorb the message that they are sexual objects, while boys adopt an attitude that women are simply bodies made for their pleasure, devoid of greater worth.
But parents can help their kids form healthy attitudes about sexuality, say the experts, simply by stepping up their role in talking to them about the topic.
Sex educators David and Katie Kobler from YourChoicez work with groups of young people and parents, helping them develop a healthier understanding of sex and sexuality, and navigate difficult issues like pornography.
In an interview on Open House, the Christian educators offered advice on how parents can have those all-important conversations with their children.
Parents Shy of Teaching Their Kids About Sex
“Sex is something God created,” said David. “This is why as parents it’s so important to talk to your kids about this topic. God wasn’t embarrassed about sex, he created it [for] the context of marriage. There’s this beautiful design for it. But then there is the counterfeit message—that sex is about me, about what I want, when I want, [rather than] about love and intimacy and connection.
“Interest and curiosity around sex is really good—God created us to desire sex, to want to know about sex. That’s actually not evil. But the problem is, young people go searching in the wrong place.”
With the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography being 11, David and Katie often challenge parents that they aren’t talking to their children soon enough.
“When we talk to parents, we say, ‘Who’s had those conversations with kids before age 11?’, and most say, ‘No way, that seems too young’. But then, pornography steps in to be their sex educator,” said David.
Talking to Your Kids can Delay Their Sexual Activity
Research has turned up a surprising fact: the more parents talk to their children about sex, the later in life they will become sexual active*. Studies also show that parents are a key influence on their child’s decisions around sex, up until age 25**.
This means that parents of faith, who believe sex is best kept within a marriage, have a good chance of passing their values on to their children. And while talking to your kids is no guarantee that they will delay sex until marriage, it’s nonetheless valuable in forming their attitudes about the value of sex.
“Kids have got to hear what their parent’s beliefs are,” David stressed.
One trap Christian parents often fall into is relying on church pastors or youth leaders to teach their teens about sex. It’s a mistake, David says.
“This has got to come from the home,” he said. “Being fearful of communicating that ‘we think sex is best within marriage’, doesn’t do kids any favours, because they’re going to hear the opposite everywhere else.”
How to Start Those Tricky Discussions
Conversations about sex should begin at a young age, but in an age-appropriate way, say the Koblers. A good tip is to use media you see as a conversation starter.
“We can’t pretend that we’re not driving past billboards with images…use them as a platform for conversation.”
“We can’t pretend that we’re not driving past billboards with images that are going to cause questions for our children,” Katie said. “We can’t pretend they’re not there because they are. But using those things as a platform for conversation is important.
“Use those moments.
“If you’ve got a teenager and you’ve never talked about these topics, have a 10-second conversation about that ad that just came on TV. Just keep it short…then back away. Don’t expect them to add to the conversation. Just short, sharp conversations around the everyday things we see.
“They’re great moments that can be used to shape and influence your child for what you believe to be good.”
Encourage Conversation to Continue
David and Katie are parents of a six-year-old who has already started asking questions around love, marriage and babies. These questions, even from a young child, are a great opportunity to start talking about the basics.
“One of the things we encourage parents to do, and something we’ve done with our own children, is that when your child comes and asks a question around these topics, take them to a café and buy them ice cream or the biggest piece of cake,” Katie said. “We want to see that child thinking their curiosity around these topics is something to be celebrated, not to be ashamed of. We believe that curiosity should be rewarded. We want to see those conversations flourish.
“Our hope is they would continue to ask those questions.”
Don’t React in Embarrassment or Fear
While some conservative parents may long to ban all screens and social media for fear of explicit content, that approach is only likely to drive a child’s curiosity underground. Instead, allow them to experience a reasonable amount of media, so they know how to respond to it.
“Talk about the scenarios that might happen, or what to do if things go wrong.”
“They need guidance,” David said. “As parents we are kind of discipling our kids. Lead them into a situation by saying, ‘What would you do, if you found yourself on Snapchat and a naked photo came on your phone – what would you do next?’
“If they want a new app, sit down with them and talk about it. Talk about the scenarios that might happen, or what to do if things go wrong, what you can do.”
Making a Difference
The work the Koblers are doing is changing the attitudes of many young people. Recently David received a Facebook message from a student he’d spoken to three years earlier, who had been struggling with pornography addiction. The young man wrote to thank David for the sexuality seminar, which gave him tools to overcome his problem and begin to see young women as valuable individuals, not sex objects.
“Those kind of stories are the reason we do what we do,” David said. “There is hope, and kids do want to make good choices. Christian and non-Christian kids want to be great men and women and have great relationships, they’re just really confused about how to do it.”
* Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA 1997;278:823-32.
** TRU Youth Monitor survey, 2016.