Do you remember when “the birds and the bees” were first explained to you? Sex education still might be one of the most intensely uncomfortable situations a child encounters. While the talk remains as necessary today as it is insufferably awkward, a lot has unsurprisingly changed with today’s students.
I was born in the 1980s, so computers were just starting to become a common household item when I reached that dreaded age. My conversation had nothing to do with technology. Rather, the standard checklist of items was covered while reinforcing the importance of caution with strangers, why it’s healthy to postpone sexual activity until the right time… the list goes on.
At some point in recent history, however, the necessity of the “Sex Talk” has started to include components of a “Tech Talk.” What I mean is that it is no longer sufficient to educate the youth on sex without reference to modern technology.
In some cases, old lessons simply need to be rehashed to become appropriated to modern times. Three examples come to mind: exercising caution with strangers; teaching that clothed areas of the body are private, personal and intimate spaces; and teaching about the risks associated with pornography addiction.
It’s crucial, however, to realize that these conversations must now be adapted to online environments. While most instances of child abuse still occur within a student’s social circles (family and friends), there remains the issue of online predators who engage students through social media, email and chat. These individuals specialize in convincing children that they are not “strangers,” but friends.
Be sure that a conversation about caution with strangers includes the imperative of avoiding conversations with strangers (and even peers) in an online environment. Similarly, we teach students early that their bodies are private, personal and intimate spaces, but this message needs to be adjusted for the Digital Age.
Our Safety Management Team has observed a startling trend of young students sending nude photos of themselves online, starting as early as elementary school. Often, these photos aren’t even requested by predators, but casually sent to other students.
It’s important to teach your students that when they send content online (whether by text message, email, Facebook Messenger or other means), they aren’t only making it available to the recipient, but often to a much larger audience. Also, although a bedroom or living room feel like private spaces, the monitor on a computer or tablet is as much a window as the physical windows on the house. For all intents and purposes, exposing your body on a webcam needs to be thought of as no different than exposing it outdoors.
Pornography is a more difficult topic to breach because there are individuals who are not necessarily morally opposed to it. Nevertheless, there are risks that are associated with “pornography addiction” (beyond the risk of malware), most of which center around debilitating effects on the brain (especially for youth). These risks are exacerbated in online media, in which case a student can access an endless supply of digital content at a mind-bogglingly rapid pace.
The “Sex Talk” has certainly also become the “Tech Talk,” and the conversation will continue to evolve as online environments continue to change.
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