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Summer is here and if you’re like many parents, you have booked summer camps for your kids to attend, so they don’t drive you insane *COUGH*, I mean, so they have a well-balanced summer. Camp can be summed up as new kids + new adults = new social dynamic, so now’s the time to brush up on convos about bodies and boundaries.
I want to start out by saying that the majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the victim knows well (1), so stranger danger doesn’t quite live up to its reputation. But next up in perpetrator probability are people who your kid knows well but you do not (2). Hence, summer camps! Now, mind you, I’m writing this post as a mom and sex educator, not necessarily as the prevention scientist and professor that I also am because (to my knowledge) there hasn’t been a ton of research on summer camps.
But really, summer camp is so fun! I went to them as a kid and send my own kid to them, so I don’t think they are dangerous spaces. But they are spaces for kids to apply their social knowledge and practice their social skills in a new environment. Consider addressing the following:
Do you know what your kids are doing online? Have no fear! Keeping your kids safe online is a lot harder than you think. That’s right. It’s not easy. There is a lot to consider. Should you let them pave their own way? Eventually. Does monitoring replace parenting? No. Is your kid going to try to disable any software you install? Yes. But it’s still your responsibility to not only keep your kids safe online, but to teach them how to keep themselves safe when they’ve shown they can handle the responsibility of having 24-hour access to the web. Here are 8 steps to get you started:
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
At this stage of my life and my career, I’m getting a lot of questions from friends and colleagues about touching “down there” as a lot of us have toddlers, yet I’m usually the only sex educator people know. Here are some common concerns I’ve been getting lately:
“Fred loves to pull on his penis ALL the time. Is this normal?”
“Jocelyn wants to play with her baby brother’s penis in the bath. What should I do?”
“Jackson has started putting his finger in his anus. His anus! This can’t be good.”
“Leah wants to pull on my nipples and then hers and then mine. Ummm….help?”
“Hannah pulls on her labia every time she uses the potty. This has to be gross, right?”
“Gia puts her hands down her pants sometimes, and my mother said I should tuck her shirt in or make her wear overalls to keep her from doing it.”
The short answer to all of these fears, is: “Relax, your kids are completely normal!”
Why do young kids touch their genitals?
Young children love exploring the human body, whether it be their own or their mom’s or siblings', etc. Babies start out touching eyes and noses and move on to other parts as they discover them. And you know what that means? Genitals are no different. So if your toddler is feeling her vulva during a diaper change or stretching his penis in the bathtub, it is all about figuring out what those parts do.
Up until recently, parents and even the medical community did not recognize genital exploration among infants and young children as masturbation, it was treated as a disorder and lots of money was wasted on very expensive tests and treatment (1, 2). Don’t worry, genital exploration among young kids isn't sexual per se. There are just millions of nerve endings that make genitals more sensitive than other body parts (3). During infancy, toddlerhood and early childhood, genital arousal is recognized by the brain as comfort by releasing endorphins (3). It’s not triggering the sexual response cycle. However, at some point during childhood and certainly during puberty, genital arousal does trigger the sexual response cycle to prepare the body for orgasm. In short, if sexual abuse is not in the picture, you don’t need to worry about your child being ‘too sexual too soon’ because they are exploring their bodies. If you do suspect sexual abuse, click here for resources. If not, just know that your child is perfectly normal and here’s what you can do to respond to the curiosity:
What to do about it?
(1) Finkelstein, E., Amichai, B., Jaworowski, S., & Mukamel, M. (1996). Masturbation in prepubescent children: A case report and review of the literature. Child: care, health and development, 22(5), 323-326.
(2) Yang, M. L., Fullwood, E., Goldstein, J., & Mink, J. W. (2005). Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1427-1432.
(3) Beier, K. M., & Loewit, K. K. (2013). Basic Understanding of Human Sexuality. In Sexual Medicine in Clinical Practice (pp. 9-17). Springer New York.
(4) M. Adams, Donald W. Robinson, K. (2001). Shame reduction, affect regulation, and sexual boundary development: Essential building blocks of sexual addiction treatment. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 8(1), 23-44.
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
I'm delighted to introduce a very special writer and mom, Wesley Davidson. She is the author of straightparentgaykid.blogspot.com and is going to teach us how to talk to kids of all ages about sexual orientation in this guest post of hers. She is currently writing a book on this topic, so follow her if you don't want to miss out on the release!
It’s Not Just the Birds and Bees Anymore!
Chances are your kids are bound to see a gay family at a park or fair. Perhaps they attend a school where a classmate has two daddies or two mommies.
Or maybe he watches Modern Family and sees that Cameron and Mitchell are married and have an adopted daughter Lily. Gay celebrities such as Neil Patrick Harris recently married while raising children already. The marriage announcement is fodder for the tabloids and Internet. So in a world where the family is being redefined, how do you explain gay to a child?
As parents or caregivers, your role is crucial in dispelling myths, challenging stereotypes, and expressing respect for all regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
The ABC’s of Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation can be defined as a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual attraction to individuals of the same and/or opposite gender. It is not chosen nor is it something that can be changed by medicine or therapy. As to the cause, there are many theories that include genetics, prenatal factors, psychosocial factors, socio-cultural influences or e) all of the above. People’s beliefs about sexual orientation vary and are based on their religious, cultural and family values. Sexual orientation is just one part of who we are. It is different from sexual identity defined as whether you identify as male or female.
Messages for Ages 5-8
Fred Kaeser, Ed.D., sex educator, advises parents to talk to kids about sexual orientation by age 5. Say only what’s necessary to satisfy their curiosity. Remain open for further discussion when and if it is initiated by your child.
Five year-olds can understand that a man who loves and is attracted to another man is called gay. A woman who loves and is attracted to another woman is called lesbian.
Making fun of people by calling them homo, fag, queer, dyke is disrespectful and hurtful. These words are often used with hostility to put down a gay or lesbian person and to imply that that person is less than the person using the phrase.
By age 8, Dr. Kaeser suggests discussing transgenders. You can start by saying that there are boys and men that will seem more like a boy or man. There are many people that will look , act, and behave at times like the opposite sex or perhaps like both sexes. Transgenders do not view themselves as not necessarily being the sex they were born with.
Messages for Ages 9-12
There are men and women who are bisexual, which means they can be drawn to and fall in love with either men or women. Gay men, lesbian women, and bisexual people can adopt children or have their own children. They sometimes marry, if allowed to do so.
Gay, lesbian, or bisexual people’s relationships can be as fulfilling as heterosexual people’s relationships. You can not always tell if a person is gay, bisexual, lesbian, heterosexual by how they act or look. Gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, and heterosexuals are alike in most ways. Some people are afraid to share that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual because they fear they will be mistreated.
Messages for Ages 12 through 15:
Every culture and society has people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual. Understanding one’s sexual orientation can be an evolving process. Teenagers who have questions about their sexual orientation should consult a trusted and knowledgeable adult. There are organizations that offer support services, hotlines, and resources for young people who want to talk about sexual orientation.
When a gay, lesbian or bisexual person tells another person his/her sexual orientation, it is known as “coming out.” Sometimes one’s sexual orientation is disclosed without his/her consent. This is known as being “outed.” Disclosing one’s sexual orientation can be difficult because it can invite negative reactions.
People who are gay, lesbian or bisexual engage in many of the same sexual behaviors as heterosexual people. There are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with the same sex, but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Similarly, there are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the other gender, but do not consider themselves to be heterosexual.
Messages for Ages 15 through 18:
The identification and understanding of one’s sexual orientation may change within their lifetime. There are many states that ban discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation.
Not all information on the Internet about sexual orientation is accurate. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals can find and join communities for friendship and support. Establishing contact online can be dangerous and proceed with caution.
If you or someone you know is being intimidated, harassed or harmed because of a perceived sexual orientation, it is important to tell a trusted adult, school official, or law enforcement authority.
Seek teachable moments – those daily opportunities that occur when you are with your children that make it easy to share your messages and values. Let your children know that you are open to talking with them about these important issues. If you don’t know how to answer your children’s questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
To talk with children, ages five through eight, the books Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman can help you begin to have conversations. Order through Alyson Publications at 800/525-9766.
For pre-teens and teens, you can find teachable moments by reading an article in the newspaper about gay marriage, watching a sitcom with a gay character or listening to music lyrics that may have positive or homophobic remarks.
Find out what your children’s schools are teaching about these topics. *Unfortunately, many school curricula don’t even address homosexuality and preach abstinence!
Provide pamphlets, books, and other age-appropriate, medically accurate materials. Some sources are: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), www.pflag.org; National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC), www.nyacyouth.org; Gay, Lesbian& Straight Education Network (GLSEN) http://www.glsen.org
For books that address sexual orientation go to http://www.familiesaretalking.org/resources/sexual_orientation.html or call SIECUS at 212/819-9770, ext. 303.
You can find Wesley on Facebook and Linked In
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
Over my years talking with parents about sexuality, pornography and their kids, it seems as if everyone just wants to know what button to push, what software to buy, what technique to use, in order to ensure their child never sees porn, talks to strangers about sex online, or sends a “sext”. Let me be the first to say there is nothing a parent can do to guarantee their child will never do anything potentially dangerous online. There are however, steps parents can take that will drastically reduce the probability that a child will develop consistently problematic internet behaviors.
When it comes to porn specifically, I believe protecting and preparing children has less to do with managing internet access and more to do with being an approachable parent and talking about sex early and often in a positive way. Of course talking about porn helps too, which is why you should read part 1 and part 2 of this 3-part series.
When it comes to problematic internet behaviors generally (e.g. cyber-aggression, responding to sexual solicitations from strangers, engaging in sexting or webcam sex, exposure to violent or child pornography), I recommend first focusing on becoming a reduced-tech family. Putting more emphasis on the real world and less emphasis on cyber-reality can help kids and teens put their value and energy into their real lives and simply use the web as a tool to connect with others and learn about the world on an as-needed basis, instead of constantly drudging through the cyber-sphere searching for the next thrill.
Every family is unique, so you need to do whatever tech reduction works for you. The following are just some suggestions to get you thinking about what you can change about the technology environment in your household. Try something out and adjust as needed. For example, you might want to start out more stringent, and then allow more online autonomy as your children get older and demonstrate they can handle the responsibility. Regardless of how you’d like to implement a change, here are some tips to get you started:
1. Limit time. Help reduce problematic internet behaviors by reducing time spent online in a specific way. If you are trying to limit the use of technology in a general way (e.g. a few hours a day) it is easy to forget how much time you’ve been online on any given day. It is much easier to limit time by providing time windows when the use of the internet is allowed and windows where it is not, because it is difficult to forget that from 5-7pm there is no internet action going on in your household. You could also try a tech curfew (no internet after 7 or 8pm). Some families have found that having no tablet/smartphone usage from 5-7pm works, then they have a 30 min window to return emails, messages, and texts, and then off again at 7:30pm. There is also software which tracks time spent on Netflix, Facebook, Games, Word, Excel, etc…..and that is another way to monitor time spent on a computer doing recreational activities vs. homework activities. Whatever you choose, 24-hour unlimited access to the internet doesn’t mean we need to be online 24-hours a day. The internet isn’t going anywhere. We can take a break.
2. Limit space.Determining which areas of your house can be used to access the internet and which areas can’t be used can protect your children from developing problematic internet behaviors. It’s easy to sneak a peek at porn when at friend’s house or even in your own living room. However, it is really hard to masturbate to porn every day or to chat with a pedophile if there is no device to connect to the internet in your bedroom or bathroom. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to keep all devices that can connect to the internet in a public place. No laptops, tablets, or smartphones in bedrooms or bathrooms. They are not private devices, so they do not belong in private rooms. Here’s the catch: you should do this too. This is where I lose parents. You actually have to model this stuff in order for your kids to buy into it. Try to have a “home” for the devices such as a basket or cabinet (some families have a cabinet that locks for kids who sneak their devices at night). This sends the message that devices shouldn’t be attached to our bodies at all times just because they are portable. It also sends the message that these devices don't belong to the child, they belong to the parent who is allowing the child to use the device. You can also have other areas where gadgets aren’t allowed such as a dining room table or kitchen table. Try actually talking to one another while eating or actually concentrating on the food you’re eating. It’s kinda nice.
3. Limit access. You have to install computer monitoring software. I’ve had several parents tell me that they talked to their child about the internet, so they don’t need to install monitoring software. This is wrong. You do need to install it. And re-install it. Or filter the router. You can explain to your child that the monitoring software is not about their behavior, it is about the behavior of others….how others can find them online, or how pop-ups and viruses can occur when visiting certain sites, or how you can accidently end up on violent sites while doing research via google. There is software that can monitor PCs, tablets, and smart phones. There is also software where you can manually allow certain websites (e.g. sexual health sites) that may be automatically blocked. You can find more info here. Of course, there are ways for your child to get around most software, which is why you need to stay on top of passwords, scan for ghosting software, and re-install frequently. However, the more difficult you make it, the less likely he/she can be exposed to content for hours on end. And for younger children, the less likely they will come across bestiality while googling “my little ponies”. If you are concerned that your child is in consistent contact with adult strangers or is consistently visiting sexually explicit sites, you can always have your computer “read” by a professional and no amount of ghosting will be covered up…but I recommend being honest about that. Secretly recording a kid’s internet usage will likely do more harm to the parent-child relationship than good for the development of the child. Explain that they can do what they want on the internet once they’re an adult….but for now, because of the dangers online, it is important that you do what you can to keep them safe and healthy.
4. Teach accountability.When teaching your children about appropriate behavior at school, church, at a friend’s house, at home, or on the basketball court, make sure you also include the web. Cyber behavior should be thought of as an extension of the self…..or representation of the self. If you wouldn’t do it in-person, you probably shouldn’t be doing it online. Little kids understand this better than big kids who can think more abstractly and can rationalize their bad behavior online. One way to get your child to think about his/her online behavior is to have him/her make a contract. Here’s an example:
I won’t post mean comments/send mean texts
I won’t “like” or “favorite” mean comments or posts
I won’t visit websites that I wouldn’t visit with you behind my shoulder
I won’t post my address or phone number online
I will not friend someone I don’t already know in person
I will not distribute nude or sexy photos of other people
I will not send nude or overtly sexual pictures of myself
Now of course, I don’t actually believe that every kid will stick to everything in his or her contract, but at least you will have something in writing, so that everyone is on the same page about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
5. Show respect for your child as a sexual being. This can include providing privacy (e.g. tell them you will always knock before entering their bedroom or bathroom); providing a diary or voice recorder to record their thoughts and desires; providing access to sexual health websites (have to manually allow if filtering); providing them with books about bodies and sexuality; allowing them to have private conversations with their friends on the phone and/or private time in-person, etc. This step is perhaps the most important one because it sends the message that your computer monitoring efforts aren’t about stifling their privacy or keeping them from figuring out their sexual self, it is about protecting them from all of the %@*! online.
6. Fill in with fun.Now that you’ve carved out some time where everyone won’t be glued to their devices, you can try some the following: paint, read a novel, play a board game, hang out in the backyard, take a walk, learn a musical instrument, grow a garden, get a basket-ball hoop and use it, set up a mini-golf course, visit a mini-golf course, organize a community garden, take dance lessons, meditate, go to sleep, write in a journal, make a collage, take up photography, floss, learn massage, volunteer at an animal shelter, adopt kittens, make your own yogurt, collect Fall leaves, go to a sports event, go to the theater, have a bonfire with s’mores, wash the car, write a poem, go to the zoo, ride a bike, bake cookies and give them to the neighbor, hand write letters and send them to friends, go fishing, make model planes and cars, de-clutter a closet or room, visit an assisted-living facility, make giant bubbles, have a yard sale and let the kids decide what to do with the profits, stargaze, make photo albums, build a snowman, go to the farmer’s market, learn magic tricks, put a puzzle together, take in a concert, do a fire drill, teach your kids about money and entrepreneurship, paint a room, adopt a family for the holidays, adopt a classroom and donate art supplies, learn how to change the oil in a car, go to a trivia night at a local pub/restaurant, fly a kite, research your family heritage and track down your ancestors, find shapes in the clouds, or play in the sprinklers.
I know, changing the tech environment is easier said than done. I have to constantly “get back on the wagon” once I notice that I’ve started bringing my iPad to bed, or we’ve started watching TV every night, etc. Just dust yourself off and try again! I hope you’ve found this 3-part series helpful. Please comment or email me about your experiences trying these techniques out and any experiences you had from initiating conversations in Part 2. Remember, usually kids (and adults) are irritable or even down-right angry with less tech, and then they start to realize how great reality can be. Let’s take the time to be mindful of how we as a culture raise our children and teach them about themselves, their identities, their relationships, and their sexuality. They deserve better! We can raise sex-savvy kids!
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
About this Blog:
I'm here to help us discuss sexuality, gender, sexual media, and social media by integrating information from academic and mainstream sources. I do this so you can be informed about what is going on in the sex research world and apply the research to your life. I hope this process produces more sexually competent people who raise sexually competent kids.
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