Talking with kids about sex is a challenge for most parents, and it's getting harder by the day, what with children exposed to sexually explicit terms and images at younger and younger ages. Diane Levin, coauthor of So Sexy So Soon, gives these six pointers on how to help your children navigate safely through an oversexualized world. "It's much harder for parents now," Levin says. "But there's a lot more they can do than they realize."
1. Stay connected, so your child is comfortable telling you about sex or other emotionally charged issues. When children say or do something that seems inappropriate, a good start to the conversation is: "What have you heard about that?"
2. Protect children as much as possible from exposure to sexual imagery in the media and popular culture. Ban TVs and computers from kids' bedrooms. Set up a schedule that spells out how much screen time your kids have each day. Encourage other activities, including sports, music, and volunteering.
3. Learn about the media and popular culture in your children's lives. Ask them what shows, videos, and games they do and don't like, and what their friends like. Watch shows or play video games with your children, so you know what's in the media and can talk about why sexual or violent images disturb you. Preview shows yourself if you're not sure whether they're appropriate for your child. If you have tweens or teens, join MySpace and Facebook to keep an eye on their online activities.
4. Get beyond "Just say no." If you are too rigid as a parent, your kids will sneak behind your back or be afraid to tell you about disturbing images they see. Try working out solutions with your children. When you do need to say no, say it constructively: "I know you saw that show at Jared's house, and we've talked about how much you want to watch it here. But I've watched it, too, and it just makes me too uncomfortable to let all the [inappropriate content] into our house. But I'm glad we've talked about it."
5. Counteract the narrow stereotypes of boys and girls in commercial culture by helping boys learn alternatives to tough and violent behavior and by encouraging girls to be physically active and independent, rather than focusing on appearance and sexiness.
6. Share your values and concerns with other adults—including other parents and teachers. We're not in this alone.
In a Q&A with a reporter, Levin explains how parents can help kids navigate safely through today's sexualized media.