Exposure to sexual content is inevitable in today’s society. In addition to this reality, if you have any desire to raise your child in a Christ-honoring way, then it is necessary to deal with the cultural issues that could cause stumbling and result in long-term harm.
Pornography is accessible to every home in America whether through word, sounds, or images. Gone are the days of catching a glimpse of the racy calendar in the local mechanic shop or stealing Uncle George’s Playboy. Pornography today is accessible to any child, at almost any time, in almost any home, all while maintaining anonymity and with little risk involved. It’s a type of exciting, erotic, exhilarating forbidden fruit to the young eye. Heck, even to many older eyes.
Yet, even if your child is not bent towards this temptation, he or she can quickly stumble upon it. A friend recently told the story of his seven-year-old daughter and her friend who heard the word “sex” at school. The friend lived next door, and while they were playing outside, the neighbor brought out an unsupervised iPad and searched for the word “sex.” You can imagine the world to which these young minds were introduced. It has forever impacted this young girl and her family.
The reality is that you and I are surrounded by sexual content and so are our children. The question is not if they will encounter sexual content, but when and how we as parents can ensure it is in a healthy God-honoring way. Either we take on the responsibility of guiding our children through understanding sexuality rightly, or take the risk of having an older sibling, teenage neighbor, or some explicit website assume the role for us.
Sex and the nude form can be both good and celebrated. It is my conviction that it should be done within the healthy boundaries that God has provided within the Bible.
When To Approach the Topic
A good rule of thumb is that by the time your children have entered the fifth grade, you should have engaged them in serious and intentional conversation concerning the idea of sex and sexual content. In our overly sexualized culture, most children have at least been exposed to the idea well before this point. Case in point, I recently had to have a conversation with my third grader regarding sex and pornography because of an incident on the school bus. At times, circumstances may dictate addressing this issue at an age appropriate level before you had intended.
Many websites will indicate that the average age of exposure is somewhere between 9 to 11 years of age; however, I’ve found no credible research that validates those numbers. Nevertheless, from conversations I’ve had with families over the years, that age range at least anecdotally seems to be accurate.
What should be said?
Something. No, really. Please say something. What is said should depend on your personal conviction and your parenting philosophy. Some parents are hesitant to expose their child to ideas of which the child was previously ignorant. Other parents want to initiate those conversations so their child gets the first scoop from them. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, here are some basic tips to help guide you.
Make it about the Gospel. Christianity has the best explanation of and solution for the brokenness of this world; therefore, I’ve found that a gospel-centered approach works wonders for providing a worldview through which your child can understand both why this temptation exists and why it should be resisted. Here is a sample of a brochure that talks about the gospel.
Get advice. See if someone you respect has had this conversation and get advice from them.
Don’t act awkward. The child will feel awkward enough for the both of you. Keep it simple, casual, and conversational.
Keep it age appropriate. Use more generic language with little children and more technical language with older children.
Let them set the pace. Each child has a different level of curiosity and honesty. Don’t push too far or lag behind. Just walk with them through the conversation.
Ask good questions. Again, these questions will range based on the age of your child, but you might ask, “Do you ever hear kids talking about inappropriate things? What are they talking about?” “Do you know of kids who have ever looked at inappropriate things? Like what?” “What do you think that means?” “Have you ever heard the word ‘sex’ before? What do you think that is?”
Keep talking. Occasionally, have conversations with your child about his or her life. Bring personal questions into the conversation as appropriate. Find some good, generic questions that will give insight into any potential dangers. Talk about it in the midst of the entire conversation intermixed with other topics whether while riding in a car, jogging, playing video games, watching TV, or walking in the park.
Of course, a post such as the one above is only able to skim the surface of this question and the many others related to it. Spend some time gathering other good, gospel-centered resources to help you navigate these discussions with your children and seek God’s wisdom on how to engage them in a way that honors Him above all else.