Kids may or may not be having sex. But regardless of whether they are or not, parents should be having conversations about sex with their children not just once, but often.
Sex is a natural part of human life.
And curiosity towards sex is a “natural progression of life,” especially as your teen or tween matures.
They will want to experiment with sexual behavior at some point, but these urges are normal and a natural part of their growth and development.
Not all teens or tweens will engage in sex or explore adult behavior in their relationships, as they are still learning ways to communicate their love and affection.
Feeling comfortable addressing sex and your child’s feelings towards sex is essential to their healthy development.
I get it.
Sex may be natural, but talking about it, especially with your budding teen or tween is awkward and uncomfortable.
Not just for you...but for your teen/tween as well!
But talking about S-E-X shouldn't just be the only thing you talk about with your child.
Given the context, it’s not only appropriate but necessary to also focus on:
How your teen feels about his/her developing body,
How he/she understands and expresses feelings of intimacy, attraction, and affection for others,
How to develop and maintain respectful relationships, and
How to make healthy decisions about his/her own body. (src: https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/puberty-sexual-development/teenage-sexuality)
In partnership with Bridger Academy, we have created a four-part video and blog post series that focuses on Sexual Health and Teens (including pre-teens/tweens!) that we'll be rolling out in the next few weeks. So stay tuned!
I sat down with Dr. Kas-Osoka, the only practicing adolescent doctor in Las Vegas, Nevada, to get her perspective on the merging trends with teens and tweens that she has experienced during her practice.
It is no surprise that the number one trend these days is the prominence social media and technology play in the lives of our children.
And it’s not going away.
A report done for Common Sense Media by VJR Consulting in 2019, shows that tweens (ages 8-12 years old) spend almost five hours on their screens daily, while teens (ages 13-18 years old) spend just under 7.5 hours a day on their screens. This does not include time spent online for homework or school.
The report also discovered that over half of kids have their own smartphone by the time they are 11-years old and more than two-thirds of 12-year olds are equipped with one. In addition, nearly one in five 8-year olds have their own smartphone, which is an 11% increase from 2015!
An interesting find that they could not affirm why such a disparity exists was that screen time use among tweens and teens from lower-income families was higher than those from higher-income families. (The study defines "lower-income" as <$35,000; and "higher-income" as $100,000+ per year.)
I’m just taking a wild guess at why this is, but it could be that parents from the lower-income families are working hard and long days to make ends meet. This translates into spending less time at home and thus, less time spent with their kids. It also means less opportunity for their kids to engage in activities outside of school, like an extracurricular sport, or additional tutoring, due to the fact that financial resources are stretched in low-income families.
There are also clear differences between how boys and girls spend time on their screens. By far, boys most enjoy all types of gaming, while girls on the other hand, really enjoy listening to music (73%).
Half of teen girls say that they enjoyed using social media “a lot” compared to about a third (32%) of teen boys. And it’s no surprise that 70% of teen girls say they are on social media every day compared to 56% of teen boys.
Last, but not least, the most drastic change for tweens and teens between 2019 and 2015 has been watching videos online, which is the number one activity for both tweens and teens these days.
Online viewing has more than doubled for both age groups, in addition to the time spent watching them:
24% to 56% among 8-12-year-olds; time spent watching went up from 25 minutes to 56 minutes a day;
34% to 69% among 13-18-year-olds; time spent watching went up from 35 minutes to 59 minutes a day.
So what does all of this mean?
Well, we can gather quite a few insights from this study, but keep in mind that these statistics are merely a representative of the information they collected from surveying a random sample of more than 1,600 8-to18-year olds in America.
This report is NOT all-inclusive, but merely a snapshot of what a small slice of American teens and tweens are doing on their screens.
That said, we may infer that screen time is on a rise for both tweens and teens and thus, presume that increased screen time is also having a profound impact on our kids.
If viewing videos is the top thing that both teens and tweens love doing on their smartphones, what kind of videos are they watching?
What kind of ads are these kids running into?
What type of content is being suggested to them based on the type of content and/or who they are watching?
Although according to Dr. Kas-Osoka, most 12-year olds that she’s worked with are not having sex, most early mid-high schoolers are.
Despite the fact that 69% of 12-year olds have their own smartphone and a majority of them enjoying watching videos online, they have yet to engage in sexual activities.
So there is still hope! And time to have these conversations with your tween.
As mentioned by Dr. Kas-Osoka, regardless of whether or not your teen or tween is having sex, it is essential to teach them these two things on an ongoing basis:
How to take care of themselves. Ask them deeply, thoughtful questions, like what do you love about yourself? What makes you feel good? How do you take care of yourself? What could you do better about that? Why? Because your child needs to know what they deserve and what they don’t deserve.
How to love themselves. You are there to help them grow and nurture their self-esteem. What do they think they are good at? What do they love doing the most? What will make them feel good at the end of the day? By helping them see their strengths, gifts, and talents by adding to what they have to say, they’ll be able to have a greater sense of their value and self-worth - not based on the number of likes or followers they have, but based on something much deeper and foundational. Something they can build upon and grow to ultimately master.
The bottom line is: what kind of influences are your teens and tweens having outside of social media and technology that are teaching them healthy relationships?
Because if it isn't you, then it's most definitely someone else - their peers, the influencers they follow, the content they choose to watch, predators, etc.
As a parent or caregiver, you are their most important role model. They are constantly absorbing and observing how you live out your values and beliefs.
Are you modeling and reinforcing boundaries and beliefs around safety?
Are you behaving responsibly and exemplifying respect in your relationships?
Are you demonstrating open and honest communication in your relationships?
You are more influential in your child’s life than you think.
Although there may be a ton of noise out there vying for the attention of your tweens and teens, you have the power as a parent to set boundaries, to take responsibility and showcase behavior you’d like your kids to inherit, and engage in those hard discussions, not just once, but often.
Because if not you, then who?
Who will be the one that's looking out for your child's best interest greater than you?
Your child wants to share!
I mean that’s what all these social media apps are all about, right?
They're all about sharing what’s going on in people's lives.
So it's up to you - the parent/caregiver to create an environment that is open, safe, loving, and non-judgmental - an atmosphere that invites and encourages your child to share first with you before they blast it out into the internet-sphere where it will last forever.
Love your children fiercely. Fight for them fiercely. And show up for them always.
Your children may not like it at first, but they will thank you in the long run.