Children today are more exposed to more sexualized content from more unfiltered screens than they have ever been. There is a tsunami of explicit photos, videos and texts out there, all of which they can carry around in one device that fits right in their pockets.
We have all heard stories of kids stumbling across online pornography while researching a science project; or the child who receives a naked photo – or worse – or is pressured into sending one out on social media.
Parents can’t keep their kids cocooned in a bubble. Here are some things parents can do:
The toddler years are when children develop a sense of themselves as separate from others and learn about personal boundaries. Potty training is a natural time to start using correct terms for body parts and a good time to start answering questions using language that’s appropriate for the child’s age. Try and avoid the birds and the bees-type of conversation. Here’s an example:
Child: Is there a baby in that lady’s tummy?
Parent: Babies grow inside a woman’s uterus, near her stomach. It’s a special place that is just for babies to grow in.
Child: Why do I have to wear pants/underwear?
Parent: We have to wear clothes to protect our genitals from germs and also so that nobody else can see or touch them because they are private parts of our bodies.
This type of conversation can be adapted as the child gets older. If you’re not sure about what’s age-appropriate, it’s always better to veer on the side of giving more information rather than less. It’s best and safer for kids not to be misguided by all the other information they can access that’s out there.
Give unconditional love
Parents are the number one influence in a child’s life. You should be your child’s go-to person. Your unconditional love is the strongest validation you can give your child when he or she starts looking for answers to life’s big questions.
Try and treat each mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow and never give your child the silent treatment or shame them or induce guilt as a form of discipline.
The pace of change is so fast these days that it’s hard enough to keep on top of your workload, never mind your kids’ latest interests. But if you can keep up with what’s going on in your child’s world – especially teenage trends in social media, videos, music, games and so on – it will help you to steer them away from trouble if problems arise.
Set smart boundaries
Every child needs to know and learn that their personal space is sacred and that his or her body should never be touched inappropriately. They need to know those boundaries extend to others, too, and should also be respected. Having a clear understanding of their personal boundaries means children are better able to assess situations and know what to do when boundaries are crossed.
One big consequence of our digital society is the absence of interpersonal connection and intimacy. Children are spending more time in front of their screens than in face-to-face interaction with their families and friends. Child psychologists are seriously concerned about how the lack of real life relationships is affecting children’s ability to build empathy.
Explain to your children what they need to know when choosing their friends, who to allow into their lives and how to cope when their feelings are hurt. Teaching children from an early age about healthy relationships will help them in their romantic relationships later.
Resilience is what enables a person to withstand and cope with difficult or traumatic circumstances and challenges. It goes from being able to bounce back from getting a bad grade at school to dealing with bullies or enduring poverty, injury or illness.
Nurturing resilience in your child means encouraging behaviors and mindsets in real-life situations that will help them cope when they find themselves in difficulty or when they come across people who don’t respect their boundaries.
Remember that parenting is a long game. Take every opportunity to develop your child’s character and deepen your relationship and no matter the struggles, don’t give up.
Dr. Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher in Abu Dhabi with a health promotion background who advocates for parents and children to have a healthier lifestyle. Her current research is about E-learning and child psychology. Through radio appearances, her profession and writing, she wants to change the world of children’s health one healthy tip at a time.