Friday, April 29, 2016

Talking to my Four Year Old About Sexting

Last night I talked to my 4 year old daughter about sexting. 

Like many 21st century moms, I am terrified of the Internet and what it might do to my darling little girl. I am determined that she will be fierce about protecting herself and defending her boundaries. And I know that part of that fierceness must come from my teaching.

A lot of people might think my daughter is too young for a discussion about sexting, and in a way, they are right. She doesn’t even fully understand what texting is, much less sex! However, she does understand about her body.

And in the end, the real problem with underage sexting is not sex or technology. It’s a lack of understanding about sexuality and body boundaries.

For a few months now we’ve talked, on occasion, about “private parts.” I’ve taught her what her private parts are and who is allowed to see them. Last night, to begin our conversation, I asked her “what are your private parts?” After she successfully named them*, I asked her who could see them. She replied, “You, Daddy, and the doctor.” Then I asked her what she would do if a friend asked to see them. “I say no.” So far, so good.
My follow up question was this: “What do you say if an adult asks to see your private parts?”
There was a pause, followed by “Say yes.”

And THIS is the problem. My daughter is a well behaved girl. She is polite. She is a people pleaser. She respects authority (although sometimes I don’t see that at home!). She knew which adults were allowed to see her private parts, and she knew that kids aren't allowed. But apparently, there was a gray area for her. She didn't know that she has the right to say NO to any person in the world (except me, Daddy, and doctor. And as she ages, that will change too).

I told her that she would say no, that unless the person is me, Daddy, or the doctor, if an adult asks to see her private parts, she says no, and then she tells me.

The directive to tell me confused her a little. Why tell me? What would I do? I admit, at this point I had to think fast, because I hadn’t exactly planned all this out. I took a deep breath and told her the truth.
“I would go and talk to the adult.”
“What would you say?”
“I would explain that he can’t see your private parts and should stop asking.” 

After a moment, I tested her. I mentioned a trusted adult and asked her what she would say if that person asked to see her private parts.
“I would say no, and then I would tell you.”

I am not so foolish as to think that this conversation has guaranteed my beautiful girl’s safety. 

No pedophile is going to walk up to my child and ask to see her private parts: pedophiles invest a lot of time and energy grooming their victims. But this conversation wasn't about abuse, it was about sexting. Because apparently, asking for pictures of private parts is exactly what is going on in the dating world right now. I want my daughter to know in her core that this is inappropriate: that viewing of her private parts is 100% in her control and no one is entitled to it. And I believe that that core knowledge can only come if I start now, when she is just 4 years old and has zero body shame.

Why am I sharing all this on my blog? Because many of the moms I know understand the need to talk to their kids about sex and privacy, but aren’t sure how to handle it. Or they aren’t sure what age to start out. As a child of the 80’s, who learned the word “virgin” and “sex” on the school bus in first grade, I can tell you that if your child is potty trained, s/he’s old enough to talk about privacy and sex. Just keep it simple. Follow their lead. And most importantly, make it an ongoing conversation. If you read the articles below, you'll see my conversation doesn't cover all the topics. And how could it? It would take forever and be boring! Instead, I chat with her several times a year, working these themes into our regular conversations.

Talk to your kids. Here are some great articles to get you started!

I like this kid's book, which I have read many times to my daughter: Because It's My Body!

*I have made sure that she understands that private parts are not just 1 unit: there are distinct parts with proper names. 

Final note: I have disabled comments on this post. If you want to discuss it with me and you have my contact information, please contact me. If you don't have my contact information, then I don't want to discuss this with you.

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