Recently, a parent asked, “ We are being asked to be open with our children about sex. Can we permit them to access explicit sexual material? If so, how much exposure can be allowed? ”
There is no simple answer.
It is not advisable to throw a young child into the deep end of a pool or, worse, directly into the ocean. On the other hand, preventing kids from going near the water altogether is not the wisest solution either. Exposure to sexual stimuli follows a similar path. Step by step exposure can be introduced in an appropriate manner, and in a systematic way.
Often what happens is, due to the uncomfortable nature of initiating such conversations, parents avoid them as far as possible. Children’s curiosity and exposure, however, are still in full drive and they resort to satiating this curiosity either by surfing the net or asking their friends. Accuracy of information tends to drop at this stage.
When we protect our children from any information related to sex, our intensions are to preserve the innocence in them for as long as possible. In reality, they often grow to be unprepared and feel uncomfortable with sexually related issues which can affect their future sexual relationships.
Alternatively, in some households, children are treated like adults from a young age. They are expected to think, emote and behave like adults because of the exposure given to them. Sex talk occurs in their presence. Most of the time, children believe that because they are being treated like adults, they can and must act like them. This can lead to early sexual experiences as well as uncensored access to sexual stimuli via internet. As emotional maturity and chronological age do not match, the development process of such a child may be adversely affected. In simple terms, let kids be kids.
The key is to strike a balance between the extremes of too much and too little information. Today’s youngsters face a complex and fast changing world. The emotional and physical wellbeing safeguarded by the joint family, age old customs and values are being eroded by urbanisation, rapid industrialistion and the media revolution. They are being exposed to a variety of lifestyles. This is confusing. In such an environment, parents can help by preparing youngsters to cope in these situations.
Children have sexual curiosities and sexual pleasures. It becomes the responsibility of the parents to deal with these curiosities and sexual behaviours of children. They learn through observation. They also ask questions about things they do not understand. Parents feel embarrassed to talk about sexuality while they can talk easily about war, the nature of the universe and other topics. This is because they are neither comfortable about the subject of sexuality nor their own sexuality.
In a world where exposure seems to be growing at an exponential rate, parents can take additional effort to regulate what their child may see. Movies reveal an array of inappropriate content to children including language, violence and, of course, sexual content. Adults may screen these movies in front of their children, who watch it innocently. Similarly, access to internet usage can be monitored in the house. The attitude of parents is crucial in how the child responds. The skill lies in being open to clarifying doubts and firm when we realise certain topics are not age-appropriate.
Sexual exposure is an inevitable process in today ’ s world. Avoiding it is only temporary, while blind-sighting is dangerous. Balance is the key.