This upcoming school year, our family transitions to all of our children in school full-time. My two oldest, both daughters, will both be in middle school.
With over a decade of experience in youth ministry, I have some idea of the challenges that lie ahead. The area I am most concerned about is technology in the hands of kids with always-everywhere access to the Internet.
Pew’s 2018 research study on Teens (13 to 17 years of age), Social Media, and Technology found that 95% of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one. This access has greatly increased the use of the Internet, with 45% of teens reporting they are online “on a near-constant basis.” This includes apps, social media, and unfortunately pornography.
With our teens online at such a rate, the question we must consider as parents is not “if” my child has been exposed to pornography, rather, “when”.
Seeing this reality, my wife and I realized we had to start the sexuality conversation early, integrating the physical, social, and spiritual perspectives. We have had several conservations with each of our children, although each conversation looks differently and is age-appropriate for that child.
When my 6th-grade daughter found the book, Every Parents Battle: A Family Guide to Resisting Pornography by Dan S. Spencer III in my car, I was given the opportunity to discuss this honestly with her. Although I wasn’t prepared for that question at that moment, I am so thankful that we had lines of communication open, she trusted me to ask, and we were able to have a conversation and speak the truth.
Beginning the Conversation with Children
Here are helpful ways we navigate these important conversations with our children. Whether you are just starting the “birds and the bees” talks, the “sex” talks, or the pornography talks, I hope these will encourage you:
Encouragement 1: Pray
Ask the Holy Spirit for His wisdom. Ask for the opportunity to talk to your children. Ask the Lord to give you courage.
Encouragement 2: Start Early
You can begin the sexuality conversation with your young child, simply… “Mom and dad loved each other so much, God gave us you as a baby”. As they mature, the conversation should as well.
The book, Wonderfully Made! Babies by Ellen Giangiordano is a good resource for ages 9 and up. (I suggest using the book as a guide, as you lead the conversation).
Encouragement 3: Don't Wait
Get started today. If you don’t teach them, they will be taught by the culture, the internet, and their friends.
Sign up for Covenant Eyes to begin teaching the importance of accountability online and offline.
Encouragement 4: Relax
It’s normal for your children to be curious about sexuality. They don’t bring the baggage you might have on the topic unless someone else has started the conversation before you.
What does the Catholic Church teach about our bodies, human sexuality, and pornography? Read Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture.
Encouragement 5: Lead with Beauty
Sex is more than just a “no” or “don’t do that.” It’s about pointing toward the beauty God created in our sexuality and growing in holiness. It is a gift and has a unique purpose within matrimony.
What does beauty have to do with it? Read Transformed by Beauty.
Encouragement 6: Ask Questions
Be empathetic and invite a conversation, not a lecture. "What are you hearing at school?" "What questions do you have?" "How can I help?" "Have you seen a photo that made you uncomfortable? When/Where?"
Encouragement 7: Teachable Moments
It’s not about “The Talk,” but rather a series of age-appropriate conversations as they grow up. Make sure you reiterate God’s love for them, your love for them, and God's mercy, which is new every day.
Encouragement 8: Get Educated
Get online and learn for yourself. Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is an antidote to ambiguity the culture offers. There are also many Catholic blogs and apostolates that speak on this.
What is the Theology of the Body? Start by reading Theology of the Body: Sex and the Meaning of Life.
Encouragement 9: Proactively Protect Them
It’s imperative to set up boundaries, including accountability and filters on all internet devices. However, this will only go so far. It’s not a matter of if your child will see pornography, it's only a matter of when. So make sure each conversation includes, "when you encounter pornography, make sure to come to talk to me that same day”.
Pray, Prepare and Begin
What are some other pointers you would add to this list? When it comes to talking to our kids about sensitive issues, it can seem overwhelming. The key is to pray, prepare, and begin the conversation.
Confident: Helping Parents Navigate Online Exposure
When a parent discovers his or her child or teenager has been looking at pornography, it can be alarming, hurtful, even frightening. Confident provides a full step-by-step guide for parents who want to navigate these unchartered waters.
Language: English and Spanish
Resource Type: Ebook
Cost: Free download or $2 per hardcopy