What happens if parents don't talk to their children about sex?

  • Awareness
  • 24/06/2016
  • Latvian Safer Internet Centre

There's a proper time for talking to your child about things related to sex, as appropriate to their age. 

Some may argue that this word sounds too rough, but one should bear in mind that the word ‘sex' attracts children, especially if they have heard it being used somewhere. If young people don't receive information from their parents they are likely to start looking on the internet for answers, and so may encounter materials that they should not see – namely pornography.

Some may argue that this word sounds too rough, but one should bear in mind that the word ‘sex' attracts children, especially if they have heard it being used somewhere. If young people don't receive information from their parents they are likely to start looking on the internet for answersRecently, therefore, Latvian experts have come together to consider questions surrounding the importance of proper sex education for children, how to avoid them encountering potentially harmful online content, and what to do if the child is too sexualised for his or her age, or overly interested in this topic.
Parents should understand that children may have questions about their body and sexuality at an early age, even if adults may think that their kids are still too young. However, in today's era, when the internet is widely available, children may encounter this topic at a very young age. That is why parents should discuss issues of sex education with their kids to help them to receive proper and reliable information.
There is no need to dwell upon details if the child has read or seen the word ‘sex' and asks their parents: "What is sex?". The parents should answer their children's questions in a language intelligible to his or her age… but the answer should certainly be given. If parents avoid answering questions, children may not dare to ask similar questions in the future, and this is where it becomes dangerous: they will instead be likely to look for the information that they are interested in on the internet.
Advice for parents
  • Do not approach the issue with the expression: "Sit down, I need to tell you something!" Instead, when your child asks, give an answer speaking in language your child understands.
  • If the child is telling you details of a pornographic nature, be sure to inquire where he or she has learnt or seen it: on the internet, television, from friends, or maybe some adult has told or shown it to them? 
  • Take into account that children will look up words on the internet which they have heard or read. Don't be angry with your child because of their curiosity – instead, customise safe search settings!
An EU Kids Online survey asked children, aged 9-16, the question "Who did you speak to when you felt disturbed after seeing pornographic material?". Unfortunately, 61 per cent of Latvian children confessed that they did not speak to anyone, 28 per cent discussed it with a friend, only 18 per cent spoke about it with their parents, and 4 per cent spoke to their teachers or a helpline.
During the study, children also were asked the question, "What materials on the internet could disturb your peers?".  27 per cent of children and young people think that pornography, sex and eroticism could disturb children of their age, 21 per cent think that it is bad and inappropriate for children to see graphic or extreme information, photos and videos, and 20 per cent say that children and young people are disturbed by violence on the internet. Only 17 per cent think that their peers are disturbed by the fact that a stranger may contact them, and 10 per cent believe that their peers could be disturbed by offensive information.
Parents bear direct responsibility for inaccessibility of pornographic information to their child, and if it was found that such information is freely available in children's homes, their parents may be punished in accordance with the regulatory enactments. Therefore, do whatever it takes to ensure that this kind of information is not available to children on your home computer and television. Usually, parents naively hope that the kid will not find the 97th channel that shows pornography out of the total of 101 television channels, but experience has shown that children notice and find everything.
Forensic psychology expert Dr. psych. Dace Landmane has made a conclusion, based both on her own work experience and studies performed in various countries, that age-inappropriate information about sex results in a number of problems in children's psyche, behaviour and attitude towards relationships:
  • Frequent viewing of pornographic material by teenagers and young adults (at the age of 13-20 years) increases their sexual uncertainty and leads to a more positive attitude towards sexual experiments (Peter & Valekenburg, 2008; Peter & Valkenburg, 2010).
  • Viewing of pornographic material by teenagers leads to a positive attitude towards premarital and extramarital relationships (Lo & Wei's, 2005), as well as towards casual relationships (Haggstrom-Nordin, Hanson, & Tyden, 2005).
  • Viewing of pornographic material facilitates teenagers' comprehension of relationships as a physical contact rather than as a sincere expression of feelings (Peter & Valkenburg, 2010).
  • The more teenagers watch pornographic material, the stronger they begin to perceive a woman as a sex object (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007; Peter & Valkenburg, 2009).
  • Viewing of pornographic material by teenagers leads to a positive attitude towards violence against women (Hald, Malamuth, & Yuen, 2009).
  • Frequent viewing of violent pornographic material by boys and young men strengthens their welcoming attitude towards sexual coercion and increases the possibility of use of violence in relationships (Flood, 2009).

Age-inappropriate sexuality

Teachers often complain that primary school pupils are already over sexualised – both girls and boys. How does it manifest itself? Girls usually tend to dress provocatively, exposing different parts of their body, as well as placing provocative photos and leaving ‘racy' comments on photos of their friends in social networks. Boys, in turn, increasingly try to draw girls' attention by using inappropriate words.
Twenty years ago, in teachers' views, things were much more innocent – for example, children pulled pigtails or took books to get attention. Nowadays, children are so much more sexualised that sometimes teachers get confused. For example, going on a school trip, boys walk behind girls and comment, "What a cool botty" or sometimes a boy tries to kiss a girl on the lips. It should be noted that these observations are made by primary school teachers.
Forensic psychology experts agree that age-inappropriate sexuality may have a variety of reasons, and these are certainly individual; but if we look in general, then it can be influenced by family relationships, accessibility of sexually-explicit material or even other reasons. What to do? Teachers have to report the behaviour of particular children to a school psychologist and their parents. When all parties are ready to cooperate, then the problem will be solved more easily. However, if parents consider that there is no issue and further assistance from the school is limited, then child protection specialists must be invited to help in the case.
Find out more about the work of the Latvian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

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