Preserving and shaping a child’s values, attitudes, and behaviors towards sexualized content. Who is responsible: parents, educators, or the media?
Sexual messages and highly sexualized content are not only prevalent but increasingly visible everywhere we look: in advertising, television, magazines, and music. Young people engage with media constantly throughout their day, although the explicit messages they interact with may be misleading and inaccurate in many ways. Sexualized storytelling appears to have become the norm, and acts as a primary source of information for young children and teenagers- what’s seen on screen is often accepted as normal or the truth. There is evidence that watching sexual content on TV is linked to sexual behavior in adolescents, with a strong association between consuming sexualized media and teen pregnancy. Although the media’s role and power in disseminating sexual messages which influence the values, attitudes and behaviors of young people is well documented, what role do the adults in a child’s life play in ensuring exposure to sexual content is understood and explored in a healthy and appropriate way?
As with most sexual education, abstinence is not the answer. Avoiding all media is an impossible target, with 92% of teens reporting using the Internet daily. There are a number of resources demonstrating ways that parents can teach and share with their children their values, beliefs, and expectations when it comes to sexualized content and media engagement. Not only is it important that parents provide a safe environment for their children to discuss sexual material, but also to question sexually explicit media and messages. If your child cannot turn to their parent or guardian with questions – they are left to turn to the media and mainstream culture for answers and navigate unguided through a whole new world of sexualized content they are not ready for.
Parents typically are not the only source of information in a young person’s life outside of media. However, promoting sexual health and education continues to be a controversial and sensitive issue, despite it being of vital importance to children’s health and wellbeing, as well as the health and wellbeing of our society as a whole. In the article Sex Education and Sexual Socialization: Roles for Educators and Parents, the following statement showcases the complexity of the issue:
“ Underlying the social conflicts that surround sex education programs are disagreements about the role of government in family life and sex education; parental control of the content of sex education; core values to be included in sex education, such as gender equality and personal responsibility; and, fundamentally, what constitutes appropriate adolescent sexual behavior”.
Unfortunately, teen pregnancy is highest in states with abstinence-only policies. These attitudes and behaviors persist into adulthood, with low contraceptive knowledge also being associated with unintended pregnancy in adulthood. These statistics highlight the need for sex education to be addressed in a variety of contexts, both inside and outside the home.
In line with this article, I believe both caregivers and teachers need to take on roles in providing information about sex education and sexuality. Just as parents can support schools providing sex education, educators also need to support the parents’ and caregivers’ beliefs and values regarding sexuality and healthy sexual behaviors:
“Both parents and educators have essential roles in fostering sexual literacy and sexual health. We believe that parents should play the primary role in imparting to their children social, cultural and religious values regarding intimate and sexual relationships, whereas health and education professionals should play the primary role in providing information about sexuality and developing related social skills”.
Parents can use the media’s explicit and implicit messages as an opportunity to teach children behavioral expectations and shared values. In doing so they can work to provide a strong foundation so children are less susceptible to blindly accepting mainstream society’s normalized sexualized content without the appropriate critical thinking and judgment to make good choices for themselves. It is not realistic to think that you can count solely on prohibiting or monitoring media and Internet access at all times. Parents often think they can forbid their child from certain websites or from watching a particular show, but relying on such simplistic tactics will only fail to protect children from inappropriate exposure or learning misleading information. For more specific strategies the following infographic offers suggestions and guidance.
Here- let’s look at an example!
If your child wants to learn how to make a woman crave to have sex and become obsessed with them, they can simply master the skill by typing in Triggering Sexual Chemistry . This website offers advice and even a specialized program that will show you exactly how to activate sexual attraction within minutes of talking to her. The website claims: Everything in this revolutionary program is about ACTIVATING the sexual part of her brain. Once you know what you’re doing, you can make nearly any woman become obsessed with you, fantasize about you, and crave to have sex with you.
Now, do you think your child understood and explored this website and program in a healthy and appropriate way? Do you want your child following this advice? The reality is, with the internet, your child has access to millions of programs, advice, and information at just the click of a button.
So, who is responsible for providing children with the tools and information to grow into healthy adults? It takes a village. As a therapist I feel parents and educators need to stop avoiding the issue of sexual beliefs, values, and normal developmental curiosity and embrace these lessons head on, because if it’s not taught by trusted adults, then be prepared for porn, media, and internet to teach your children instead!