Talking to Kids about Sex in the Digital Age

As if explaining sex to your kids wasn’t difficult enough, here comes technology to make it even trickier. A Henry Ford Health pediatrician offers expert advice.

For most parents, talking to kids about sex isn’t something we look forward to doing. Besides having the potential to be cringe-worthy for both parties, parents have a new worry: technology. Constant access to online platforms, smart phones and laptops has given kids more access to sexual content than ever before.

In a blog on the Henry Ford Health website, pediatrician Stacy Leatherwood Cannon emphasizes the importance of educating kids about sex from an earlier age than in the past. 

“By 12 or 13, they know a lot more than you realize. Waiting to talk about sex until then may be too late. Start the conversation around 9 to 11 years old, so you can help your young person get the correct information and establish standards around their sexuality,” says Dr. Leatherwood Cannon.

So how do you get your message across to your kids in a way that’s comfortable for you both? Dr. Leatherwood-Cannon has the following action steps:

Use everyday opportunities

Sometimes “The Talk” is more beneficial for all if it’s worked into everyday conversations. This could be during a TV show that includes a relevant scene or a question prompted by something your child hears from friends. These moments can provide a more comfortable environment for open dialogue.

“The conversations you do have should be guided by each child’s individual level of curiosity. Find out what [your child] wants to know to help keep things age-appropriate,” says Dr. Leatherwood Cannon.

Discuss things in stages

Don’t feel the need to explain every single thing to your child in one go, recommends Dr. Leatherwood Cannon. Every child is unique in their level of curiosity and comprehension. Provide information that is appropriate for their age and maturity level. 

“Start with basic information when kids are young, like body parts. Then move on to the changes we undergo when we go through puberty. As your kids get older, include deeper topics about sexuality and responsibility,” she says.

Educate yourself

New slang, trends and technologies emerge constantly, so stay informed, says Dr. Leatherwood Cannon. “See a text message, acronym or overhear a term your child uses with his or her friends that you don’t know? Chances are it’s well-known among kids,” she cautions. 

Don’t hesitate to look up terms you don’t understand or ask your child to explain things you might not know about their digital world.

Preempt peer pressure

Kids are going to face peer pressure so discussing sexuality and online behavior before your child encounters these situations may prevent a lot of problems. 

“Talking about sexuality, responsibility and appropriateness should always start at home before the outside world has a chance to test your kid’s mindset. By keeping them informed, we help them to make the right decisions even when we’re not there,” Dr. Leatherwood Cannon says.

New slang and trends are emerging. See what a pediatrician thinks.

Discuss body image in the media

The pervasive nature of digital media means that children are constantly exposed to unrealistic body standards and sexualized content. Open discussions of sexuality will help combat negative messages about kids’ bodies and appearance, says Dr. Leatherwood Cannon.

“The imagery your kids see online, on television and on their phones is constant and ever-changing, so making sure they have the right mindset early on means they won’t be as influenced by what they see.”

Check your child’s social media activity

While respecting their privacy, it’s important for parents to engage with their children’s online activities. This can include being “friends” on social media or following their public posts and reading their comments.

“Kids are entitled to some privacy, but you can also get to know your child better through his or her online behavior. It’s your right as a parent,” says Dr. Leatherwood Cannon.

Keep the conversation going

Talking to kids about sex in the digital age is multi-layered and complex. Don’t shy away from revisiting topics as your child grows and their understanding deepens. Your kids will appreciate the support, even if they don’t admit it. Dr. Leatherwood Cannon recommends keeping the conversation going as your child gets older.

“Healthy living means teaching your kids to live well when they’re young and sexuality is a part of that. Don’t miss an opportunity to prepare them for the future.”

For information about your child’s health and to find a doctor, visit henryfordhealth.com. Metro Parent also answers your top kids’ health questions.

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.

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