How to talk to your child about sex in the media

I just finished my spring session of Time for the Talk. As usual, I was blown away by the amazing families I got to work with and their thoughtful discussions in class.

On one of our last nights, I received this question from a parent:

“I would like to know some strategies to speak with my daughters regarding the messages they get around sex and their bodies in the media.”

This is a great question and a HUGE challenge. Whether you are raising a son or daughter it can feel like an insurmountable challenge combating the unhealthy media messages around sex, body image and relationships.

Whether it’s from the magazine covers they see in line at the grocery store, listening to songs on the radio or watching tv and movies, kids are saturated with sexual messages. The internet adds fuel to the fire.

Most parents agree, that they want to be the primary source of information when it comes to teaching  kids about sex, love and relationships but it is a challenge combating the onslaught of media messages.

For example, “Bikini Girl” (a young woman who wore a bikini to her American Idol audition)  thought (and sadly was right) that her chances of getting on the show would be better wearing her swimsuit instead of clothes. What message does this send to our kids? Most of us want them to focus on their intelligence, values and character qualities, rather then using their looks or bodies to get what they want. However, it’s a challenge with messages such as this one.

The good news: It is not impossible.

I highly recommend looking for “teachable moments.” There are many.

  • Whenever you see messages about girls/women, boys/men, relationships, sex, etc that you don’t agree with point them out to your child. One example I use with my classes is the Katy Perry Song: Teenage Dream. The lyrics, “Let’s go all the way tonight, no regrets just love…You make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream…Let’s run away and don’t ever look back don’t ever look back.” This is a great message to discuss. Is it true that teenage sex is risk free with no regrets? Studies show just the opposite. Over 50% of teens who have had sex wish they had waited. Teen pregnancy is a pretty real consequence.
  • Ask your son or daughter why companies use sex in their messages. Are they trying to sell something? Make money?  For example, why is this man half-naked in a salad dressing ad? Why does the company think this will help them sell more of their product? Your kids will get good at recognizing these messages (and noticing the absurdity of this strategy) and may start pointing them out as well.
  • Many kids (and adults too) don’t feel good about themselves from comparing themselves to celebrities or the “ideals” we are taught via the media. Help them recognize that most of these pictures are an illusion and don’t represent real people, bodies or relationships. The documentary Miss Representation does a great job covering this topic. (You can stream it on Netflix.)
  • Have kids brainstorm people they know in real life that they admire. Why do they look up to them? Is it for their sexy bodies or for different qualities?
  • Discuss what a healthy relationship looks like and how real-life romance is very different from media sex and relationships. Twilight is a perfect example of dangerous Media Romance. The main character Bella, is willing to give up her SOUL to be with her boyfriend. Kids recognize the absurdity in this message when it’s highlighted.
  • Challenge your kids to find healthy media messages around body image, sex and love. For example, Dove has a great campaign about self-acceptance and positive body image. You can learn more here: Dove Self-Esteem Project
  • The magazine New Moon is a great resource for girls. They provide positive messages and articles written and produced by girls.
Our kids need our help analyzing and interpreting the many messages they get around sex. Even though it’s a challenge, we can do it!