Support Notes

These support notes help families with the commonly asked question, ‘when do we talk to our kids about sex?’ as if it’s a ‘one off’ awkward conversation about the birds and the bees. However, hypersexualised culture forces us to change our thinking. In other words, we can either be one step ahead or let culture teach our kids how to think about sex. 

Perhaps there is a better way to frame it. If I want my child to have a positive attitude towards their body, sense of self and relationships, what sexualised messages do I need to counteract?

A barrage of sexual content confronts our kids daily. Regardless of how this makes us feel, either inadvertently or out of curiosity, children regularly learn (mostly unhelpful messages) about sex. Advertising, music, clothing, TV, movies and the internet offer a version of “sex education” that most intuitively know is harmful. Much of this content is objectifying–portraying people as nothing more than sex objects. Families and educators are well-positioned to offer positive alternative messages that instil value for self and respect for others.

Young and Aware tip #1: Increase protective behaviours in children.

Protective Behaviours education provides a strong defence against child sexual abuse. Essential foundational learning related to wellness, safety and autonomy includes helping kids to:

  • Understand private body parts and the difference between public and private behaviours.
  • Listen to their body as a way to stay safe.
  • Be aware that some people are not good and may do unkind or violent things to others.
  • Know what to do, who to speak with and where to go to feel safe
  • Have an awareness of healthy boundaries.
  • Be aware of how to express relationships respectfully and positively.
  • Exercise responsibility for self and show respect towards others.

There’s nothing scary about this kind of learning – it’s practical information that lays a foundation for life and relationships. Thanks to PB West, you can find Parenting Tips for Protective Behaviours here.

Young and Aware tip #2: Extend Protective Behaviours to include online content.

Some children will inadvertently access explicit online material at a very young age. Therefore, education needs to extend beyond teaching kids to develop boundaries that prevent contact abuse.

“The growing ubiquity of mobile devices means those targeted or indirectly implicated are getting younger and younger — with children as young as 5 or 6 years of age now exposed to cyber bullying and online pornography — sometimes of the most extreme kind. In some contexts online culture represents the worst form of gang violence.”

Such exposure can have a range of troubling and often traumatic impacts. Letting kids know where to go when they see upsetting online content is an essential component of life with the internet.

Young and Aware tip #3: Porn access has led to an increase in child-on-child sexual abuse.

Sadly, we also need to have an acute awareness of the growing number of children who have seen pornography and then act out those inappropriate behaviours on other children. Over the past ten years, there has been more than a ten-fold increase of children presenting to clinics with problematic sexualised and sexually abusive behaviours, with much of this increase attributed to online pornography. This provides an even greater need for all children to have comprehensive protective behaviours education that includes online safety.

Whatever children are exposed to, they have to find a way to manage. They absorb, transform, reject and imagine on the basis of experience or fragments of experience.

Exploiting Childhood: How Fast Food, Material Obsession and Porn Culture are Creating New Forms of Child Abuse. Edited by Jim Wild. p110

One study found that physical aggression in pornography such as gagging (54% of porn scenes); choking (27% of scenes) and slapping (75% of scenes) is overwhelmingly (94%) directed at women.

The potential behavioural outcomes from children accessing this content mean that these conversations have never been more critical.

Young and Aware tip #4: Filters are no substitute for conversations.

Unfortunately, online porn has become the dominant sex educator of our time. Parents often believe they have adequately protected their children by diligently installing home filters. Some also do their best to keep up with the apps and never-ending technological influences. BUT many parents still haven’t had robust conversations because they’re not sure how to approach it. Despite the best intention of diligent carers, the sheer volume of explicit content available means it’s not a case of if kids will see porn; it’s a matter of when.

Young and Aware tip #5: Kids need help managing what they encounter.

Suppose kids have a gentle and safe conversation BEFORE they see explicit content. In that case, they have a grounded framework to process that information. 

This is the purpose of our books–they prepare kids for the inevitable or give them context to know what to do. Most importantly, our books teach kids that they won’t be in trouble when approaching a safe adult and sharing what they’ve seen.

The alternative – not talking to children about porn – leaves kids unprepared. A child can very quickly let feelings overwhelm them. Responses can range from curiosity, disgust, confusion, guilt and arousal. “I hated this, but I liked it”. “Part of me doesn’t want to look again but part of me does”. “This seems bad for me but I don’t know why”. Internal conflict without knowing why porn is not safe or helpful for them can quickly lead to shame, a life of secrecy and an unhealthy foundation for future relationships. 

Our books provide essential information to help kids make sense of their experiences of seeing images that are often violent and extreme.

We invite you to utilise Milly’s MessageHamish and the Shadow Secret, and Junk in the Trunk and read them with your kids. You can also find links on our resources page and gather more insight from our blogs – Positive Sexuality Messages is an excellent place to start. Above all, use this information to move you forward to action – now more than ever, our kids need you to parent strong.

Additional resources

For additional practical tools to facilitate these conversations and keep kids safe online and off, consider these links: