Lifestyle

Teen sex and privacy, part 2: Media and technology | Amy Johnson

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of educating our children about pervasive cultural messages about sexuality. I quoted research in the significant the positive impact that healthy monitoring has on grades, drug and alcohol use, and sexual activity.

Here is the second installment about navigating the increasingly complex recipe of childhood, sexuality, privacy and technology with children and teens.

Keep televisions and computers out of bedrooms. Teens with televisions in their bedrooms have a higher percentage of engagement in sexual activity and involvement with pregnancy than teens without televisions in their bedrooms. If your child has a computer with Internet access in his or her bedroom, it’s like having a television with virtually unlimited channels.

Monitor television programs, movies, video games and the Internet for age-appropriate content. Pay attention to ratings, and look at websites that give specific information about content, especially sex and violence — before you see the movie or play the game. My favorites are www.commonsensemedia.org, which reviews movies and television, video games, websites, music and even apps. Sort by age of child, and find information for parents about online privacy and managing media. Also, try www.kids-in-mind.com and www.whattheyplay.com (devoted to video games).

Talk to other parents, relatives and adults who care for your children about your rules and expectations. When your child sees something you wish she or he hadn’t, talk about what he or she saw, what your values are about that topic and what to do to avoid seeing it again.

Give accurate, factual information in a matter-of-fact manner. Avoid yelling or shaming. Most parents say they want a child who will come to them with questions and concerns about sexuality. It’s up to us as adults to create a space where that can happen and to be the trusted resource for whom they are searching.

Look at beauty and “health” magazines with your preteen (male or female) and talk about the computer touchups and the unrealistic expectations of ads (i.e., “Muscle Milk: break walnuts with your biceps” or any Victoria’s Secret ad). Discuss what it means to be a man or woman in our society as well as pressures for all genders.

As preteens and teens venture into social networking and cell phones, remember that it is your job to set boundaries. Example: The cell phone is yours, and they can use it if they follow your rules. Check out www.commonsensemedia.org to read whether it’s a good idea to give your child your old smartphone. Check out My Mobile Watchdog for cell phones, Social Shield or NetNanny for social networking sites, or SafetyWeb, which can monitor both phone and Internet activity by your child. You can monitor unapproved emails, texts and calls to be on the lookout for cyberbullying, sexting or anything inappropriate. You can also find out information about who your child’s “friends” are on social networking sites, and decide on the appropriateness of connections and interactions.

While these services can help you monitor your child and teen, be aware of relying on an Internet service too heavily. None of them are a good substitute for you creating and maintaining an open conversation with your child about your rules, limits, values and concerns — and coupling that with human monitoring and limits. While there are no guarantees that your child will be safe from all harmful sexual experiences, these tips can help tip the odds in your favor and equip your child with skills to navigate the maze of technology in which they are growing up.

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