MGG: I’ve heard a number of adult educators working with youth & teens around sex ed online express that they need support around how to approach youth-centered online spaces. How do you position yourself, as adults, in youth/teen sex education online? What role to you enter into online spaces as — as educators, as parents, as mentors, as one there to listen only and not jump in?
Karen Rayne: It’s important to strike a balance in these spaces. As an adult sex educator, I find myself primarily drawn to sitting back and listening. However, there are two times when it is appropriate to jump in as an educator and as a mentor: when someone asks me a direct question or when correct information is clearly missing.
By and large, teenagers are interested in adults’ thoughts and information. They just don’t want it shoved in their faces when they already have it. I find I do a lot less work and get a lot more respect from teenagers if I listen a lot and talk only a little and only when necessary. It’s the same, really, online or IRL.
MGG: It feels like we need to give more attention to the fact that there are people out there curating and enriching to the body of sex ed available — people like Heather Corinna, and Nikol Hasler, and many others — who could not do what they do if they had to spend most of the last few years they’ve been working in the field getting what some people would consider appropriate credentials first, when working online so intensively has been a form of training itself. What skills make for a good sex educator working with teens & youth, and where can adults go to find those skills supported & strengthened?
I have a really long answer to this question, so you’ll have to go read this answer on Melissa’s site.
Felicia: Between the Internet and television, kids today have a ton of different ways to get information right at their fingertips. Does having so much information at their disposal give kids a disadvantage when it comes to learning about sex?
Felicia: What’s the best time for parents to start talking to their kids about sex?
KR: So by that question do you mean what is the best time to start talking to kids about intercourse? Because of course you start talking about sex with them when they’re babies. Things like helping them name their parts, and the reactions you have about them touching themselves, and the way you talk about your own body (like whether you’re sucking in your tummy and saying “Oh I’m too fat” in front of your three year old), that’s all about sexuality and that’s all sex education.
But typically when people ask that question they’re talking about when do you talk about intercourse with kids. That’s really something that is very cohort-dependant. There are kids that are just exposed to it a young age. And if they’re being exposed to it, they need to have conversation about. So if they’re seeing media or television shows where people are having sex, they need to be talking about those things with their parents.
My kids are pretty sheltered. They’re in a private school where there’s not much media viewing. But even here where isn’t that much of an influence from media, I tell parents, that they need to tell their kids by the end of first grade, beginning of second grade. And environments where there’s much more media, it may need to be even younger.
Felicia: It makes sense that they should be talking about it if they’re seeing it, because it’s pretty much every where.
Felicia: Oh yes, the kids movies the sexual innuendos. [Editorial note: Shrek anyone?]
Felicia: I think television is probably a good way to do that too. I’ve sparked conversations with my daughter during commercials or shows with inappropriate stuff in them.
Felicia: Your blog is very straightforward and you pull no punches (I LOVE that!). Do you find that many parents are frightened by such frank discussion?
Felicia: Are there good books that parents can use to supplement their teaching?
Felicia: Some of us began having sex discussions with our kids when they were young because they asked questions. But now that they’re older, they prefer to discuss things with their peers. How can we keep the lines of communication open as they get older? Should we just push books and websites or should we still try to reach out?
KR: Absolutely still reach out. Never stop trying to reach out. That is what makes such a big difference. Even if your kid isn’t talking with you, you still need to keep that conversational door open; which is really hard to do. I’ve had parents come in and say “You know, I try to go in once a week to talk, and the conversation is entirely one sided and I hate it. It’s exhausting!
But here’s the thing. The perception of those conversations can be very different. The parent may have the perception of being ignored or getting rejected. Whereas the kid can have the perception of “Wow, Mom keeps coming in with these really interesting ideas questions and thoughts and I don’t really know what to say, so I don’t really say anything but what interesting ideas she’s giving me.
Felicia: So they do still hear us, even if they seem not to want to be bothered. They are listening?
Head on over to Felicia’s blog to read the rest of my answers to Felicia’s questions.