Helping Kids Understand Our Sexually Disrespectful Culture

Tip:  Alert tweens and teens to the media’s unhealthy portrayal of sex and sexuality. Kids of all ages today are caught in a crossfire of mixed messages about romance, sex and violence. Although we parents may say we’re opposed to casual sex or sex outside of marriage, too many television programs, video games, movies and magazine features about celebrities portray sex as fun and exciting. Boys are encouraged to be sexual aggressors. Girls are told that looking “sexy” will   make them popular and attract boys.

Worse yet, the Internet has made dangerous "sex education" available to almost everyone. Even if you’re not looking for pornography, you may be surprised with the images and text that an innocent online search can bring up.

The message of many web sites is as bad as the pictures and videos: X-rated and porno sites too often create the impression that women and girls are sexual objects to be used for someone else’s pleasure, reports Sandy Wurtele, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and the author of several guides to keeping kids safe. And much of the sex shown on such sites is disrespectful, brutal and violent.

How can you as a parent or teacher fight back?

  • Be aware of how many sexual messages are bombarding your children: on the radio, television, billboards, in DVDs, video games, magazines, advertising and on the Internet and even the slogans on kids’ clothing.
  • Help your kids recognize unhealthy behavior and decode the messages in clothing, music, dance and gestures.
  • Talk about what attire and behavior is appropriate in each situation and what can cause others to behave in a disrespectful way.
  • Point out how advertising manipulates people to make judgments and purchases. Even paging through old magazines can help you bring up the topic: for example, when you see toothpaste or mouthwash advertised as a way to “get the girl” or “get the guy,” you can talk about how that  theme is more aggressively used in today’s ads.
  • Discuss news reports about sexually disrespectful behavior and help kids understand how vulnerable people have been taken advantage of.

You’ll find more realistic suggestions for rearing sexually respectful and healthy kids in Wurtele’s Safe Connections: A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Young Teens from Sexual Exploitation    

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