Shelter vs. Protect
Sex trafficking is multi-faceted, with many layers of complexity. For prevention to be effective it also has to be complex and multi-faceted.
What we do with Red Light Rebellion is the surface layer of effective prevention: education. Young people can’t stay safe from predators and parents cannot protect them if neither know about the dangers. The danger is not only that a young person might fall victim to something like sex trafficking, but that they might grow to be the person fueling the demand for it.
The more studies being done and personal stories being shared, the harder it is to deny that explicit content like pornography is not only promoting the demand for commercial sex but another avenue in which to exploit trafficked victims (more info here). This is why our programs include education to both students and parents on the harms of porn.
During these trainings, it is inevitable that a parent asks what age they should start talking to their kids about sex trafficking and porn. Our answer every time? 5 years old. Or whenever they get unsupervised access to technology (phone, tablet, laptop). Whichever comes first.
The looks we get are pretty comical. Parents of teens have barely just had conversations with their 11 year olds about sex and parents of 6 year olds have already missed the cut off age. It is not uncommon to start getting push back from the parents:
“My kid is very innocent.”
“As an individual they are not mature enough”
“We have a family computer in the kitchen so anyone can walk in at any time, after all they are only 8.”
When the average age of exposure to porn is 8 years old, our kids are too innocent and immature for us to risk not having these conversations.
The powerful desire we see from parents who do not want to have these conversations with their littles is the instinct to protect their innocence. Might I argue that by having these conversations at 5 years old, that is exactly what will happen? We have seen too many students in the schools who have remained sheltered by their parents for too long. Students whose innocence has been the priority but in which they have been poorly equipped with the kind of information necessary to navigate a culture in which hyper-sexualized content, images, jokes, apps and behaviors are hard not to find.
One of three things happens:
- They go off the deep end in Jr High / High School now that they are exposed to all thing taboo that they’ve always wanted to know about,
- They anxiously struggle navigating a world in which many of the students around them are talking about and sharing lewd and sexually explicit content constantly, or
- They have always been exposed to it but because it was “taboo” shame has taken hold and they feel they can never talk to their parents about it, so it forever remains a secret.
Technology and media today have changed the game in parenting. Conversations about predators, pornography, sexuality and the like are needed earlier and earlier in life. Access to information is so rapid for young people today that it is a race to see how a child will be exposed to sexuality and the perversion of it: media/friends or their parents.
A parent educating their child on sexuality, the harmful ways they might encounter it, and how to make the best decisions when they do is the best method in PROTECTING our kids’ innocence. Sheltering cripples; protecting equips.
The good news is that there ARE age-appropriate ways for parents to dialogue with their young kiddos about all these topics. Things do not have to start with “this goes into that” right away (because that is awkward no matter what! Haha). It starts off simply: good touch vs. bad touch, good pictures vs. bad pictures, understanding the appropriate names of their own body parts, etc. Having the right terminology behind what your child might experience in the future – exposure to porn (which will happen one way or another) or God forbid sexual abuse – will equip them in powerful ways to know how to reach out for help and support. Kids as young as 5 can learn how to advocate for themselves if they simply know proper terms and that they will not get in trouble for being honest.
For some of us, understanding what needs to be said is no big deal and we agree these conversations need to happen at young ages, it is the how that is nerve-wracking. Below you will see a link that will lead you to some of the top resources we recommend to parents looking at how to have these conversations with their kids (no matter the age). When conversations about sexuality and the perversion of it are open and continuous dialogues with both parents at home, the easier it is for a child to come to their parents if they are exposed to something bad. It also equips kids to navigate the real world. Most stories we hear of a child’s first encounter with porn happen because a friend shares some pictures or videos with them. Instilling a healthy moral compass in our kids surrounding these topics empowers them to make the best decisions possible for themselves, not only while they are under your guidance, but as adults as they fly the nest and are on their own for the first time.
Hope this was helpful and not totally awkward 😉