Hi, I’m Galit. I’m the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online, and the TEDx Talk, Raising A Digital Kid Without Ever Having Been One. I’m here to help you handle tricky conversations with your kids about things like sexting and porn searches like you’re totally ready for the conversation—even if you’re so not.
P.S. There’s a free workbook to help with this at the end of this post. Don’t miss it!
“Help! I think my kid just searched for boobs dot com!”
It’s probably not a surprise to you that as our kids get older, our conversations with them can feel … different. Uncomfortable, even, especially when they catch us off guard and are about topics that we’re not all that ready to discuss with them.
For instance …
Having your kindergartener ask where babies come from? Stammer-worthy, but manageable.
Having your older kid ask the same thing? Blush-worthy. Totally.
Walking in on your kid holding hands with someone? A-okay.
Picking up their phone and seeing some sexy texts? Omg!
Seeing that your kid just searched for, “what is sex?” Might stop you in your tracks for a minute.
Seeing that the same kid (and a friend!) just searched for “boobs dot com” might make you ask, “What do I do about that?!”
While the list of topics that you may be faced with is long, today I want to focus on the last two in this list. Because I think that if anything makes us parents and teachers react on a whim and say, “not my kid!” it’s the thought of them searching for porn or sexting.
There are so many things to consider with topics like this. We want to parent them, teach them, and help them maneuver and learn without scarring them, shaming them, or making them feel like they can’t talk to us about what they’re curious about!
I’m going to tell you the honest to goodness truth here, I absolutely did NOT know what I was going to say to my kids in any of these cases. In fact, I (probably purposefully) didn’t put any thought into my kids doing these things at all. Like ever. Because, “not my kid,” right?
This was, of course, me parenting with blinders on and forgetting something really important: if I don’t talk to my kids, I can’t actually teach my kids anything and they’re left to getting all of their information from their Google searches and their friends. Talk about pause (and cringe) worthy thoughts!
Once I realized that I did, indeed, need to take my blinders off and talk to my kids about what they might need to know, I still didn’t really have an idea of how to approach them or what to say about topics like this. Enter: Vikki.
Those of you who know Vikki well, know that she is incredibly funny and incredibly thoughtful all at the same time. This is a pretty magical combination!
But what you might not know, is that she also has a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Counseling and Psychological Services, and worked as a Senior Social Worker for 15 years.
All of this means that when it comes to thoughtful and purposeful parenting, she is a goldmine of information.
And because her kids are a bit older than mine, I have been able to follow her lead through some of these more unnerving (to me) stages.
Through the years she has taught me:
Parent for the moment, not the future. As in, what’s going on in this exact moment? Respond to that, not what it may mean forever from now.
Sometimes you have to meet kids where they’re at and connect with them over what they’re interested in. As in, Vikki plays (and now loves to play) Minecraft with her kids. No nay-saying from her. Just learning and connecting.
You are an adult with a credit card. As in, of course you can handle what tricky situations come your way! When it comes to parenting, no conversation is too scary to have.
Once you place a value-based rule down, you have to stick to it. As in, value-based rules are the most important rules that you create and are non-negotiable. When you show your kids what your belief system is, be ready to back it up.
Accountability is everything. As in, owning, learning from, and fixing mistakes is the ultimate goal. Punishment never is.
The combination of these five lessons from Vikki is eventually what helped me understand what I wanted from conversations with my kids about sexting and porn searches.
In the moment, sexting and searches like this are about curiosity and exploration, nothing else.
If this is what they’re curious about, then this needs to be what I’m discussing with them.
As the adult in their lives, I can and should be the one to discuss these kinds of things with them.
I needed to clarify what I really thought about sexting and porn searches, before I reacted in a way, or placed a rule down, that wasn’t consistent with my beliefs about sex and sexuality.
And as for accountability? I realized very quickly that my kids would never be “in trouble” for making mistakes, but they would be for lying to me! And I needed to communicate this clearly to them if I wanted them to talk to me openly and honestly (which I did!).
When this topic came up, I didn’t want them to feel “caught” or shamed. I wanted to be able to show them how far reaching the consequences to these actions can be and that they can talk to me about any questions they might have.
Coming to these two conclusions helped me so much, but it didn’t change the fact that this conversation didn’t come naturally to me! So here’s what I did to make it seem like I was ready, before I ever was. The basic idea is to think about and clarify your most important messages and take-aways before you ever enter these kinds of conversations with your kids.
Here are the exact steps I took:
Step 1 for me was, of course, to have a friend who has older kids to bounce ideas off of. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, I recommend Vikki (or your partner!). Discussing this with someone else will help you unload your thoughts, zoom out a bit from your initial worries and gut reactions, and clarify your thinking. It will also help normalize (for you!) discussions about topics like this.
Step 2 was to write down what messages I wanted to send to my kids about things like sexting and searching for porn.
In this case, I answered these four questions:
- What did I want them to know about how permanent their “sends” were?
- What information did I want them to have about the reality versus fantasy of porn?
- How do I want our family to discuss sexuality and sex?
- What messages did I want to leave them with about their own sexuality and curiosity?
I actually wrote this all down!
Step 3 was to write down what my bottom lines were. The value-based rules that I wasn’t willing to negotiate on.
I thought about:
- What I defined as porn
Step 4 was to plan for how I was going to communicate all of the above to my kids and to create a skeleton or an outline of what the consequence and fix would be if one of the bottom lines were broken.
This whole process didn’t actually take very long, but it helped me feel so much more comfortable and prepared for these conversations!
I’ve created a printable workbook for you so that you can put all of this into practice today. Get your FREE workbook HERE.
These kinds of conversations don’t have to be stammer-worthy. Having a plan for what messages you want to send your kids about these topics and a system in place for how you discuss them takes the unknown and the stress out of these situations. You’ll all know how to start and where you’re headed so that you can teach your kids what they need to know to make wise choices online.