By Jennifer Geller, Savvy Cyber Kids Contributor
Even if you don’t subscribe to the magazine, your kids have easy access. From social media to school libraries and the house next door, to this article has been delivered to your child. This means that parental controls NO MATTER HOW GOOD are not enough to control what your child is exposed to by mass media. I’m talking about house rules, family contracts, software and hardware controls, you name it—not good enough.
Don’t let a false sense of security soothe your inner voice of concern. Digital parenting—when done right—is an active process, from the moment you pass a device to a toddler to distract him or her until your young person has a fully developed brain that can reasonably guide them through impulse control and decision-making, say at 25-ish years old. It’s GAME ON until then.
Internet-enabled devices are pervasive and accessible around the clock. So, the front door to a nonstop barrage of information, misinformation, influence and values that WILL shape your child’s view of themselves and the world around them is open and nothing you do can truly shut that door.
While I remain concerned about our kids connecting with strangers, potentially dangerous ones, through the games and apps they frequent, technology addiction and cyber bullying, I would be reticent not to talk about the other ways our kids are being shaped by their experiences in the digital world. Screen time in my home has come to mean time spent watching a program, movie or YouTube video, engaging in social media and playing a game of one kind or another. Reading the newspaper, a blog, a magazine online or a book on their Kindle has come to have a different status, perhaps more productive but certainly labeled more positively. Great, with an inner sigh of relief, I have thought to myself. But what are they reading? Is the mass media really a safer playground of information?
Take a recent article in Teen Vogue, titled Anal Sex: What You Need To Know. Whaaaat? Who says my child needs to know about anal sex? In fairness to the article, the premise for it – which Teen Vogue defended vigorously online—was less a ‘you should try this’ point of view and more a ‘health class sex education’ real information, if you need it, approach. After all, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. If you google anal sex, you pretty much are not going to be exposed to anything good or real (AKA porn). For young people who need safe sex information and are not getting the information elsewhere, this article could be an important one. But the article — only after backlash and criticism—added an emphasis on safe sex, an irresponsible omission given the health risk of this sexual activity. Equally important, the article is only clinical in nature. It lacks a discussion of the emotional decision-making that a mature, sexually-active person should consider before sex, of any kind. That means the article is only part of the conversation and you would want your teen, if they are going to be exposed to this information or if they need this kind of information, to have the full picture. In other words, to be parented.
Don’t let the internet and the mass media do your parenting for you.
The question on my mind is not if this article or if anal sex is good or bad. What we need to be asking ourselves as digital parents: Do I have something to add that I believe my child needs to know after receiving this information, especially sexually explicit information?
This summer Teen Vogue featured an article on the mechanics of anal sex. Your child may have read it. As parents of teens who have online lives, you should know about this article. Ask them about it and be prepared to talk about it.