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How To Talk About Porn and Sex With Your Tweens and Teens

Does talking about sex with your kids make you uncomfortable? Do you know what to do if you find out your tween or teen has been looking at porn? You’re not alone. My guest today, Amy Lang, is ready to help!

Amy has been a sexual health educator for over 25 years. Amy’s books, website, and podcast show parents that talking about sex doesn’t need to be totally uncomfortable and can actually be fun. She helps parents become their kid’s go-to birds and bees resource. We talk about what our teens and tweens need to know about sex and porn. You’ll find this episode highly engaging and ready to talk about the birds and bees. Let’s dive in!

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed.

What You Will Learn: 

  • What to do when you find out your child has been exposed to pornography.
  • How to talk about sex with your teens and tweens to help them make good decisions.
  • Statistically how young kids are being exposed to porn and the effects.
  • What does it look like for you to be a safe person for your child to discuss anything sex-related?
  • Best types of internet monitoring software and how to have these conversations with your kid’s friend’s parents.
  • How to explain to your child that porn is not good for them.
  • Plus, Amy provides scripts you can use to talk to your children about porn and sex.  

Where To Find Amy Lang: 

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you’re failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well, and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our family and to impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and to become more of the mom and the woman that you want to be welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL: Welcome, Amy, to The Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. So happy that you’re here.

AMY: Me too. I’m so excited to talk to you. I love your show.

SHERYL: Oh, thank you. I am so excited to have you here because I haven’t had anybody on to talk about sex. I am just loving reading all of your stuff and listening to you and listening to your podcast. And you’re funny. You’re open. You’re honest, and you don’t hold back.

AMY: I don’t. I might for y’all. If you want to see the unedited, listen to my podcast. I’m so excited. You have such good ideas for what we can talk about. 

SHERYL: Well, let’s just dive right in. It was funny, I was preparing, and I was getting all nervous because of having the conversation about sex. I’m thinking, how did you become the sex expert in helping parents talk to their kids? 

AMY: I did not think, in high school, what do you want to do with the rest of your life? I actually fell into it. I volunteered to do pregnancy, abortion, birth control, counseling, and STI counseling when I was in college, and I just fell in love with it.

I loved helping people deal with really difficult, uncomfortable circumstances & situations. I loved talking about sexuality and educating them. And that is where I developed my love of sexual health and sexual health education. And I just assumed I would be an amazing sex talker when I had kids. I just figured I knew so much. It was so comfortable, confident, and talk to all kinds of people. Nothing much fazed me.

And then Milo, who’s my son, was getting ready for a bath, and he grabbed his penis, and he said, “Hey, Mama, did you know?” And I stood there, and I thought, “oh, no, please do not tell me it feels good to touch your penis.” Because I got nothing.

And I’m standing there, and I did the poker face. And I said, “What?” And he said, “I can see the veins where the blood goes.” And I said, “Great. Get in the bathtub.” That was a moment when I realized that I did not have a clue how to talk to a person about their body or sexuality. I thought, “Alright, I gotta sort this out for myself and my spouse and him and Milo.”

I started doing some research to sort out when we have these conversations? What’s the best age? What should they look like? And that just led me down this path. I learned all about early childhood sexual development, sexual abuse prevention, and how to talk with kids – the best practices.

This was 16 years ago, so things have changed. I also have a master’s degree, and my focus was on adult education. So I had all this information. And then I thought, “Oh, hey, I love teaching adults & love talking about sex. So how about I just combined these two things?” And so I did. And here we are “Birds and Bees and Kids” 16 years later. My child was five when I started my company, and now he’s 21. And, of course, he was just mortified by my work for years and years and years. Now I think he’s just really proud of me and finds it entertaining. 

SHERYL: I suppose, especially now, he’s okay. We’re going to mostly talk today – gotta have you back talk about dating and how to talk about sex – but mostly going to be talking about how to protect them from pornography online, huge.

Moms are freaking out because their kid has been exposed to pornography. They find out they’ve been watching pornography, but they didn’t know about it. And I mean, there’s no good pornography, but there’s a lot of really bad stuff out there. And maybe they haven’t even talked to them about sex yet. So what would you say to the mom that is in that place, and they’re finding out their kids have been exposed?

AMY: It’s such a problem. And it’s really hard. And it’s hard on everyone. And it is something that I think parents really have their heads in this in the sand about. They think, “my kid would never.” And they don’t think, “Oh, when I was 12, I was really curious about this.” When I was 12, or 10, or nine, I would have been googling everything because I was curious.

So it’s this weird space for most people. There’s this idea that if I talk to them about it, they’re gonna go out and do it. There’s some of that’s going on. “I don’t know how to do it. I turned out okay. They’ll be fine.” There’s a little of that going on.

There is just this avoidance of discomfort. And we don’t want our kids to be uncomfortable. There’s that major pushback, but in the tween and teen years, I just had a mom say “my 12-year-old would not talk to me. He refuses to talk to me. And what do I do with that?”

If you’re in a space where you have not had any kind of sex talks at all, then that’s the very first thing. That is one of the most protective things you can do in terms of exposure. And we used to think about talking to kids in terms of sexuality. In terms of prevention, we’re trying to get them not to do it.

Like most of us, that was what we were taught: Don’t do it, don’t do it. Here are these horrible slides of people with genital warts everywhere. It’s not a thing. It didn’t work. And so prevention, prevention, prevention.

And the reality is, we are sexual beings from the beginning, it’s throughout our entire life, we do sex and relationships in one way or the other our entire lives, it is one of the biggest things we do. And the best thing for your child is to prepare them for this part of life.

We’re talking about porn, so we need to prepare them for exposure. The best thing to do to prepare them for exposure is to talk to them openly about sexuality. All the things: bodies, boundaries, puberty, baby-making, consent, different kinds of sex, birth control, how to have a healthy relationship, LGBTQ stuff, all of it openly because when they see porn if they don’t have a basis and healthy sexuality that’s values-based that’s factually correct, they learned a bunch from porn. They use porn as sex education.

SHERYL: Using porn as sex education because they have not been talked about or educated about it.

AMY: They say this, “how do you learn about sex? I learned about sex from porn.” And so, if you think about it, what are they learning about? Relationships, bodies, intimacy, how you do it from porn. Nothing anyone wants their child to take away, right? Nothing, literally nothing.

The bummer is that no matter what, even if you are the best sex talking person on the planet, your kid’s super well informed, they’re still going to see it, chances are high, they’re going to use it, but they will have a container for it.

They’ll understand that it’s not real, that nobody looks like that, acts like that, says that say things like that, they don’t look like that. They don’t do those things. Without that explicit conversation, they can’t make healthy sense of it. I don’t think young people should watch porn, but I believe that knowledge is empowering. And if you’ve empowered your child with fact-based, evidence-based correct information, given them tips and tricks, things that work, how to understand when someone has given consent? What consent looks like, that kind of thing, then they feel better. And when they feel better, they do better.

SHERYL: And they make better choices. That was one of the things that I was really struck by with your whole mission is talking about sex in order to help kids to make good decisions and grow up to be healthy with sex and in their other relationships. And a lot of that stems from how we see ourselves too.

We don’t want our kids to be taught what sex looks like from porn. That is very powerful. So tell our listeners what’s happening out there with our kids being exposed to porn? And why is this happening? How young – what are the statistics around it?

AMY: So statistically, what we know is the average age of first exposure is about nine. Now, we don’t know for sure. Because every seven-year-old that sees it isn’t coming and saying, “Hey, Mama, I just saw some naughty business.” They’re not doing that. So we think it’s nine.

Absolutely happens younger, for sure. It happens accidentally. So I had a client whose daughter was seven, and she Googled horses and made her way to porn. So if you’re bored, Google horses, go to images. Wait until you see a horse with an erect penis – you can’t unsee things. And then pretend you’re nine. Pretend you’re seven.

And where are you gonna go? Where are you gonna go with that big penis? You’re gonna Google big penis. You’re gonna imagine you’re in that headspace. So it happens accidentally. They’re seeking it out. They misspell something, they want to say beep, and they put boob or whatever.

So what’s happening accidentally, most kids, especially when they’re in elementary school – kind of pre-puberty, you’re barely into puberty -when they see it, they’re like, “Oh, gross, I don’t want to look at that.” And they stop watching. They don’t look at it anymore. They don’t necessarily seek it out again.

But for some kids, it’s like picking a scab. They get back. Because it’s, it is stimulating. It’s fascinating. It is weird. It’s uncomfortable. It’s so many things. And some kids just get drawn into it. And you don’t know if your kid’s gonna be like that. When kids are older, and puberty is on the march, they see it, and they’re more likely to go back to it because it does give them more adult-like sexual feelings. So it feels good.

But again, picking the scab. Because it’s such a gross analogy, but it’s like, “oh, this is uncomfortable. I don’t like it. I can’t stop looking because I feel this good feeling.” And then they may use it. They may watch it more compulsively.

And then, when we get into high school, those kids watch it pretty regularly. They use it as sex education. They talk about it. They share links with each other. So do middle schoolers. 

SHERYL: My daughter went over to a friend’s house. And her friend was like, “You got to watch this. Have you ever seen this before?” She just told me. And she’s 22, and I didn’t know. 

AMY: When they get into high school, they use it for what it’s made for. And it’s just part of their culture. Sure some kids are really well sex educated. Some kids know that porn is not a good thing. And they have a different relationship with it, but they still might use it.

When we’re looking at tweens and teens, what’s happening with the tweens and up until, 10, 11, 12 into about 14, 15 they share links. They’re much more interested in it. It’s fascinating, and it’s titillating. They tease each other with it. They use it as a bullying tool. I call that sexual bullying somebody, and they’re teasing. 

One of my good friends & her daughter were playing best and worst at dinnertime. It was the first week of middle school. The best part of your day. The worst part of your day. Everybody goes round. And it gets around to Arden’s worst part of her day: “Oh, well, some kids showed me porn on his phone on the bus.”

And that happens all the time. They don’t have a filter. I had another mom whose kid was really young, and he’s hanging out a little bit with some older boys. And they were showing him porn on their phones or iPad or something. And so he told her. So they don’t have any filter about it. 

And then the other big problem is that parents aren’t talking about it. They don’t know what to do. Arden, during the first week of school, on the school bus, knew to say, “Dude, what the hell? No, thank you.” Or my favorite line is, “I think looking at porn as a solo activity. What’s wrong with you?” Like the sassy and shame? Such a good way to manage that, including your daughters, and ask them if they had “dick pics.” Be like, “Excuse me, What the eff is wrong with you? Like, no, thank you. I’m blocking you.” 

SHERYL: Yeah, being able to take care of yourself in a self-respecting way. Like what is wrong with you, rather than them being a deer in headlights, I imagine you see that a lot.

It can be a slow erosion to top your self-esteem, feeling like you just have to do the whole consent thing. So we’re gonna get into all that. But it’s important, and you have a voice.

AMY: You have a voice. And the good news is, you’re not going to be in person. A whole lot of time, it’s going to be over text, or DM, or whatever. And that’s a really safe place to say – you don’t have to do it face to face. That is super hard. 

So that’s the trajectory of things for kids, this sort of sweet spot. Again, not the best way to describe porn. Initial looking at sharing, maybe getting hooked into is around 11 to 14, or 15. And again, not every kid is going to go down the rabbit hole. But you’re really doing your kids a disservice if you’re not talking to them about sexuality, but also not really being clear with them about, “Hey, this is the stuff that you can see, and it’ll mess you up.” 

Especially for girls, we always meet people who have told us, in our culture, identity as women, we are so objectified and have so much pressure put on us. And it’s worse now with the porn culture among young people. Because if that’s what partners expect them to look and act like- that’s a lot. There’s a lot of pressure.

Not talking with our “penis havers” about how porn is not real. And your expectation of your partner, if they’re a girl or woman, is unfair, and it’s not real. Which circles back to giving them that foundation of what healthy sexuality looks like? And figuring out for yourself? How do you want to have these conversations? What should they look like? How do you want to talk about them?

What are your values about sexuality? Values are really just what you believe. When we say values, it’s always so laden. We all have values. And for me, that is the place to start.

So if you’re late to the sex talk conversation, and if you have not had a conversation with your child, honestly, by the time they’re seven, you’re late to the conversation. And if you’re dealing with a tween, absolutely, if you have not started conversations, you’re late to the conversation, and most people don’t know that.

I don’t want people to feel bad but maybe feel a little bad. But if you didn’t know that that fifth grade is the time and when they ask us questions, that’s the time, but it’s not because if the average age of porn exposure is nine and your child does not know about healthy sexuality, then they’re going to have this period of time, where they’re getting all the wrong information, and they do not see you as their resource.

That’s the other reason to talk to them. You want them to see you as a resource. And the longer you wait, the harder that is. Which isn’t to say that can’t happen. 

SHERYL: Start today, no matter where you’re at.

AMY: You can absolutely start today. I have a new book called “Sex Talks with Tweens: What to Say and How to Say It.” And one of the biggest stumbling blocks for parents is what to actually say. What words do I use to explain what porn is or periods are or the different kinds of sex.

It’s primarily scripted for parents to use with some sex talk and tips. It’s that way, on purpose, because it’s so hard for us to find the words.

SHERYL: Especially when we’re so charged, it’s just gonna be awkward, but it’s so good to be talking about it. There’s freedom in that. But we didn’t have that modeled for us. 

AMY: If you need to start the conversations, no matter how old your kid is, if your kid is over the older of 10, then it’s really important that you apologize and say, “I am really sorry, we haven’t been talking about this. I didn’t think you were ready. I didn’t think I was ready. I’m uncomfortable. No one did this for me. But I know you need this information. I want you to feel better about who you are as a sexual person, have healthy relationships make good decisions. So here we go.”

You just boot the door open. And I’m a super fan of books. There are now safe websites with great videos for kids about sexuality. And once the doors kick open, you have permission to just start talking. And don’t be afraid of the conversations, and it is absolutely okay to say, “I’m really uncomfortable. It felt really awkward to say that.” 

SHERYL: Yeah, that brings a vulnerability to the conversation. That we don’t know what to say, but we’re gonna say it anyway, and it won’t be perfect. But that’s where having the conversation.

AMY: And do-overs are fair. You have the masturbation conversation, and you forget, “Oh, man, I didn’t say that. You know, people with the clitoris are masturbating.” You gotta go back to that or whatever you missed or that it’s a safe sex practice. And you just say, “Hey, by the way, remember, we were talking about masturbation the other day, I forgot to mention.”

I’m being kind of silly, but it’s like, “Hey, how’s the weather going?” talking about the weather, like a really calm tone, which just practices that when you’re talking about other stuff. You kind of get it in your bones. So you get get the ball rolling. 

If your kid is in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade, you don’t need to screen. Just talk about all of it. You don’t need to be careful. You don’t need to pussyfoot around talking about oral sex. You don’t need to pussyfoot around birth control. You don’t need to pussyfoot around anything because porn, chances are high, they’ve seen it, their friends are going to be talking about it.

They’re going to be talking with each other about how you do sex, and they’re going to be talking about anal sex, and they’re going to think, “okay, that’s just where you start, right?” Lots of kids think that’s just part of getting it going. No, that is not where we start. Ideally, especially with heterosexual couples, or even gay couples, we just don’t start there.

That’s not a beginner, and so if you’re in there giving them all this information, you’re trustworthy, really important. You’re going to be accurate. Really important. You’re going to share your values like what I just said is a value – my value is that we do not start out our sex lives with anal sex. That’s not where we start. We start by hand-holding and caressing and that yummy warming up stuff. That’s where we start. And, and then also, if your partner wants to do that stuff off the mark, then that’s a red flag. 

SHERYL: Yeah, to think, Is this something I want to be doing?

AMY: Yes. Knowing for yourself. Am I comfortable with being strong enough to say I don’t want to do this? And then, on the receiving end, consent is a two-way street. You want your partner to say yes. I’m sure I want to do this. And any “okay,” that’s not a yes. Drinking, drugging, sleeping, tired.

Anything where they’re like, “Okay,” that is not a yes. You want full conscious consent. And especially at the beginning of a relationship, when you’re getting to know each other better less because you get to know your partner. I think that this can be overwhelming. And also, if you think about it, if you had had this kind of frank, open conversation with your trustworthy adult, where would you be now?

SHERYL: I would have been much more in tune with myself. And trying to get the attention of a boy, in a way, wasn’t healthy for me. 

AMY: For me, too, I would have been more confident in myself, and I also would have had healthier relationships because I would have known sooner that areas weren’t for me. Like this person isn’t for me, but I’m just gonna hang in there because I have a boyfriend.

But if I didn’t know that those were red flags in terms of a healthy relationship, or how do you kindly break up with someone? How do you navigate all that? And we don’t have to be all things. We can’t be all things. But I believe every parent is capable of engaging in some kind of conversation.

My mission is to help every child grow up to be a whole, healthy, happy adult. Just think of yourself as a parent if you’re the kind of parent who really is showing up for your child, talking openly about this. Really, honestly, talking openly about porn, your kid is telling their friends, “oh, my God, my mom wouldn’t shut up about the porn or the sex.”

And then the friends were like, “Well, what did she say?” And they’re like, “well, masturbation is a safe sex practice. What the hell is safe sex? Well, that’s when your…” Your kid has been a little sex educator. That’s happening, which is fine because it’ll be accurate. 

But the other pieces, those kids will see you as a safe adult. And so if they are having an issue with a partner, they’ve been looking at too much porn, they’re worried that they have pubic hair, or whatever or something really yucky is going on, they’re going to be likely to come to you because you’ve demonstrated that you’re open to having these conversations and every child needs an adult that’s not their parent that they can come to.

They know you’re safe, you’re trustworthy, and you’ll get them help. If there’s an abuse situation, we always say we’ll get that other person’s help because that person is nearly always known to the child in the family.

I actually had an agreement with one of my youngest’s best friend’s parents. That Bob could talk to Milo about and speak openly. And I could talk to his kids about anything openly because we trusted each other. And so that Milo knew if he had something going on, he could talk to Bob or me or my spouse.

They might test drive with you, “hey, I’m thinking about having sex with my boyfriend.” But if you say, “Why do you think this is the right time? What’s up?” No pressure, then you’re gonna make them think, and you’re gonna be trustworthy, and then if it’s penis and vagina sex, it’s off to the birth control department.

SHERYL: We can have our heads in the sand. And the just saying no, and the freaking out and don’t do it. A lot of times with kids that’ll just make them want to go and do it more. Because there’s that judgment. 

AMY: Their natural inclination at this age is to just push back against everything. And then oftentimes, kids will say they knew everything about whatever. Then we come back to the conversation. And it turns out he did not know everything. Maybe I knew something.

SHERYL: Back to the porn, What should parents do? 

AMY: So, first of all, this is something that is taking up headspace and anxiety space in your brain and your body, and your heart. So the first thing you can do for yourself is to know this is all for you. It’s for your kids too, but a big chunk of this is to help relieve your anxiety.

You have to talk with them openly about sexuality; that’s the first thing. It’s protective. In terms of prevention, you need to use monitoring and filtering. Think about it like this. It’s the seatbelt of the Internet. And if you think about how we protect our children when they’re in cars, they’re in a rear-facing car seat in a bucket for too long; then they get switched around to a regular car seat forever, then they have a booster until they’re what 19. And then they finally get to be in the backseat with just a seat belt. And then eventually, they’re in the front seat. And then they’re in the driver’s seat.

You did not put them in the driver’s seat. You didn’t even put them in the front seat until a whole lot of time had passed. So monitoring and filtering are the seat belts of the Internet.

The Internet is a place, and it’s not just porn. You can search it how to kill yourself. You can search for how to sneak alcohol; You can search for how to self-harm. You can search for murder, and you can search the crime scene; you can search how to become anorexic.

So monitoring and filtering are the seatbelts on the Internet. And they are required; your child should not be able to get online on any device that they use without some kind of protection. And the problem with tweens and teens is that if you haven’t done this yet, and you’re going to do it, they are going to push back. And so, I am a believer in the parenting tool called bribing. And so, you might need to do some bribing to let this happen.

Also, it’s a privilege, not a right, to have a phone or an iPad, or even a computer. It’s a privilege. And so the price of admittance is that you install monitoring and filtering. 

The two things are this monitoring & watching. So you see where they go online, you see what apps they download, you can see what they’re going to see when they’re online. Filtering is blocking terms like all those nasty things we just talked about and the monitoring you do all the time. Families have different rules about the monitoring, as long as up until 18 is my recommendation. Once they turn 18, they’re a legal adult. Good luck out there.

The monitoring stays on your family rules, so when they’re really little, everything’s locked. As they get older, you bump-out, and then you loosen the reins, you loosen the reins, and then by the time they’re in seventh or eighth grade, they should be able to go anywhere they want, but they know you’re watching. So the filter is off. You’re watching. And what happens is that they learn to flex that muscle of self-control.

We had monitoring and filtering for Milo, and one evening he was having an adolescent fit about how everything sucked. And then he said, “I hate the monitoring.” And I said, “Oh, yeah, why?” I was all calm. Because I knew what he was doing, he was like, “I hate it. Because I can only go to like three or five websites because I know you’re watching.” And I said, “Wow, that must be fair, must be frustrating.” And he said, “Yeah, it sucks.”

He goes storming off. But that’s what we wanted. He was thinking before he searched because he knew we were watching. And, as far as I know, he’s been great. I’ve only had a couple of times where I was like, “hey, porn is like, no.” Of course, he’s looked at porn. He’s human. And it’s out there. It’s unavoidable.

So you want these in place because this is about the only prevention you got. We’re gonna do preparation by talking with them. But this is the only prevention. 

And so there are great products and links in the show notes. Bark, in particular, is great. You can install it on every single device, and then you control it from an app, and everybody’s devices are on it. So you can control when they’re able to be online and not online. It’ll alert you when they’ve gone someplace they shouldn’t. And it works really, really well. It’s pretty robust.

Again, if your kids are 14, and you haven’t done this yet, they’re gonna be pissed. But it’s the price of admission, and it’s your fault. It’s your fault. 

SHERYL: Don’t get mad at them that they’re mad about it. 

AMY: Yeah It’s on you. It’s totally on you. And again, apologize and all of that. And the other thing is this: When kids come to your house, it picks up their phones, and you can set it so they can’t get on the Internet. It’s a really cool product. And so there’s lots of good about it.

And the other thing that’s good about it is that it’s really uncomfortable to have a parent say to you, “Hey, your kid showed my kid porn, at your at your house, on their phone.” And this is not a good moment. And so that’s another reason. If you don’t want that to happen, it’s also really hard to say to another parent, “Hey, my kid was at your house, or your kid showed my kid porn.” Because it’s, it’s not okay; you’re putting other kids at risk because of your bubble of they would never or whatever. 

The other thing I recommend is when your child goes to somebody else’s house, and this is easier when they’re younger, but even in middle school, you just say like, “Hey, what monitoring are you using?” Not “are you,” but “what” are you using? Because if you say, are you? They’ll say, oh, yeah, sure.

You don’t know what they’re doing. They could have some button pushed on the whatever. And they think that’s protecting them, and it’s not so when you say what are you using? They’ll say I’m using Bark. I’m using Circle, I’m using Custodio, and I’m using Griffin. And then you’re like, excellent, you’re good. You’re good to go. Your kids gonna be safe there.

If they say, Oh, I’m using the Apple thing, I think, and I have the thing on the apple and then also on the Chrome. That’s not right. You want a confident yeah, we got this.

SHERYL: So what if you ask that and they say, I don’t really have anything,

AMY: Then you have to make a choice. You can say, “okay, great. Thanks for letting me know. I’d appreciate it if the kids were not actually online at all. I’m just a freak show about porn exposure. I heard about a kid that Googled how to be anorexic.” and just throw shit out there.

I just say, “it worries me. But if they can figure out something else to do, that’d be really awesome. I’d really appreciate it.” And then this, if your kids are younger, I was like, “Hey, can they just not be online? At all?” I know the rule at our house was that they could not do any kind of movies, Internet, anything until they’d been hanging out for at least three hours. Then they can do one thing. What are you going to Minecraft? Awesome. 

SHERYL: I know some people that have their kids put the devices in a basket. But then sometimes they’ll say, “Well, then I’m not going to have anybody come over to our house.” Then moms feel like they have to give in versus being able to do it in a more playful way.

I think it’s the judgment, and it’s if we come across as really judgmental, our kids are going to feel judged and not be as likely to want to invite their friends over. But if you can do it in a more playful way, say, “Hey, everybody, we’re going to put your phones here or stay off for three hours.” It’s a different kind of energy.

AMY: You also have to be firm in your convictions. I was. Nobody batted an eyelash. Milo wasn’t allowed to play violent video games. And I was like, no, not happening, please. And they have no problem. And then he started getting ostracized from birthday parties because he couldn’t play violent video games. Carry, and I was like, alright, you can play them in other people’s houses. 

You have to be confident; you have to be competent. And then you have to say, “hey, phones in the basket. This is how this rolls; you all get a king-sized Snickers bar for your inconvenience.” Something that makes it sort of a game, a little bit makes it fun.

Make your house as fun as it can be. Maybe there are other cool things that kids do there that they don’t do anyplace else. Forget how to play, like we had massive amounts of Legos. Just get the Legos out and see what happens; turn on the music up to 12. Find other things for them to do.

It’s hard because they may not want to come over to your house. But if you always have the snacks and the cookies in the cookie jar, and the bribes and if you have fun stuff to do there, then they’re going to be more likely to want to engage because – I think they’re tired.

SHERYL: Yes, they’re tired. And they know what’s good for them. They’re just not used to it. And they’re used to being more on their devices. And so they need some help. Like with porn, they need help not seeing it.

AMY: And making sense of it. And one thing we did with Milo is that we watched the entirety of That 70sShow, throughout middle school. And I highly recommend it, there’s so much that goes on, and they don’t have devices. And so they have all this kind of shenanigans and fun. They’re teenagers, which is fine for the little people to see the teenagers.

It was really good. Because we had a lot of different conversations. There’s dating, romantic relationships happening, the relationship between the families. It’s a sitcom, but it was really good. It was a really good connecting time. And it was good for him to see another way of being, just hanging out and talking.

They would just hang out and talk, they aren’t constantly on their phones, but they’re pretty much on their phones while they’re talking. So helping them to see another way, I think, is important. And finding those TV shows is a great way to have conversations about sexuality and relationships.

SHERYL: Yeah, that’s awesome. So you’re watching a show, and what would you say if they see somebody’s dating relationship?

AMY: So at the moment, you could say, if there’s an interaction between two people and it’s a signal, it’s a red flag of an unhealthy relationship – At the moment, if you can catch it, you can say, “Oh, that was not a good move.” And just mention that it was not okay.

Just that, and then later, say, “Hey, you remember we were watching that thing happen? This is what was uncool about that. Just so you know, that it’s not okay for you to do that to somebody, and it’s not okay for someone to do that to you.”

Or you don’t say anything, and then later, you say, “Hey, I remember we were watching this, and I saw this thing, did you notice? what do you think?” It’s not cheating to plan. So if you have my book, and you’re leafing through, and you’re thinking, “Oh, I haven’t talked about tampons with my son, I gotta do that.” So then, “okay, when am I going to? We’re going to the drugstore.”

And then you have this moment, and you’re like, “Oh, hey, you know what, we never talked about this, you know how girls are gonna have periods, and this thing called tampon, yadda, yadda, yadda?” And they’re so dumb and self-centered, they might be like, “You’re being weird. Why are you talking to me about this?”

That’s gonna last about a nanosecond. They don’t know that we’re cheating. They don’t know that you’re scripted. They don’t know that you have a checklist. They don’t know. They don’t pay attention. They don’t pay enough attention to us.

If they call you out and say, “What the hell was that?” You just say, “I just had to talk to you about that. I didn’t know how to make it easy. So I just thought, I’ll just swing it, no harm, no foul.” And then they’re gonna tell a story about how you were super weirdo and talked about tampons and whatever. 

SHERYL: They’re secretly glad. They will never tell you that, that you are actually talking to them about it. 

AMY: Totally. And if you don’t have a period, it is such a good thing to be like, “some people who don’t have periods have like tampons, and pads and their backpacks for their friends just in case.” Isn’t that the sweetest, or just telling your boy if he hangs around with girls and one of them starts her period, to give the sweatshirt to tie around her waist? If they’re like, “Oh, my God, my period started,” and your son is capable of saying, “Oh, that sucks here. Do you want my sweatshirt?” You coach them.

SHERYL: That makes him more comfortable with that because if a boy hasn’t heard about that and I’m sitting here going, Oh, I never talked to my son about that. But, he had two sisters, so he found out the hard way. But it’ll make your son very sensitive to that because he knows what it is. 

AMY: His partners are gonna bleed most likely. If you’re parenting with someone who is a good friend, and you haven’t sorted these conversations, talk about it. Have a conversation about what do you want to talk about? What’s important to you? What are your values? What do you hope for your kids? But have a conversation.

You don’t have to time the sex talk with your kids; you can just start out talking to your partner or to your best friend if you’re parenting on your own or whatever. How do you want to approach this when you hope for your kids? And then that helps you clear the path. Most of us don’t want our kids to know what happened to us.

SHERYL: One thing that I’m struck by what you’re saying is that you have to really have the conversation first because what I see parents do is rather than have the conversation they’re trying to control. And so they’re using Bark, which is awesome. We recommend Bark, too.

They’re trying to massively monitor things without having the conversation. And so then it feels punitive, it feels judgmental, and they tend to rebel against that versus coming alongside them. And like you said that you’re safe, you’re for them, you’re for them, you’re not trying to control them. I really like to be talking, not just trying to get control, and it’ll feel very different.

AMY: Yeah, and if you use the same communication style that you use with your friends, that works a lot better, so you’re not abdicating your throne as their parents.

My friend’s older brother just had a cancer diagnosis and a bunch of surgeries. And so I was like, “Hey, what’s up with your brother?” Genuine concern and curiosity as opposed to me saying, what is up with your brother? What’s up with your friends? Instead of” hey, what’s up with your friends? What’s going on? What do you think about this? How was school go today? What’s going on in your math class?”

Especially with adolescents, you try to change your tone and practice the easy stuff when they get in the car. I’m sure you talk about this, never say when they come home from school or work, never ask, never ask them a question. Just say, “Hey, it’s good to see you.” 

It’s so hard. Just let them get their snack and go off and chill out. And go hide out under the bed, and then they’ll come out.

SHERYL: Well, as we’re getting ready to close, what are some things that if your kid has seen porn, what would you say to say? How should they explain why porn is not good for them?

AMY: That’s a really great question. If your child is exposed, the first thing when you find out is you need to tell them they aren’t in trouble. That’s the very first thing you need to say, “I’m super sorry this happened. You are not in trouble.”

All for a number of reasons. You want them to be connected to you because it can be traumatizing. How are you feeling? What do you think about what you saw? Any questions? And be calm, calm, calm. You are going to need to figure out they’ve been watching a lot for a long time, probably going to need some therapy because not good.

Determine how much they’ve seen. They don’t always tell the truth. So you might say, “Have you seen this before? Where, when? How much, how often have you seen it? How often have you looked at it?”

See what they say; you’re just doing this info gather and then say, “it’s this grown-up stuff, this is adult stuff, it’s for made for adults. Obviously, it’s people having sex, and sex is not for kids; your heart, your mind, and your body are not ready to see something like that to have sex. I’m really sorry that you saw that; just so you know, when real people have sex, it looks nothing like that. And the whole thing about their bodies – they don’t make those noises. They don’t do those things. It’s usually more tender, intimate, etc., etc.” 

That’s about all you can say. You can get them some books about healthy sexuality. “Again, I’m really sorry this happened to you. We’re going to need to talk about sex more now. We should have been talking about it more just so you really understand this. So again, if you have any questions at all, let me know, you can text me, you can write me a note. I just want you to feel okay about this.”

So that’s pretty clean and simple, right? You’re not using a lot of words and then saying, “it’s really normal to feel really weird and gross after seeing this. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your friends probably watch it, and they don’t seem like they don’t have any problem with it. They probably do and are pretending they don’t; this is really not kid stuff.”

SHERYL: Well, and it’s confusing because they feel those sexual good feelings, but it just feels gross. So then they get to have shame around it.

AMY: Acknowledging that to say “it can give you some good sexual feelings, but also, it’s not okay for you to get sexual feelings from something that is so grown up. You’re not ready for that. And again, it’s normal to have sexual feelings, but there are safer ways for you to have those sexual feelings. We do not need to talk about that right now.”

And then keep it short and sweet. Watch their behavior. If they’ve been watching a lot, then they’re probably going to need some therapy. If you suspect your child is watching porn, if they’re sneaking phone, if they are online when they shouldn’t, then probably a problem or any number of problems, but these days, I just go straight to porn.”

SHERYL: Well, that is very helpful. Thank you for putting it out into the world and helping us. There’s so much to talk about around this. You can come back and talk about dating, having the sex talk, talk about consent, and we need so much support around this. 

AMY: Thank you for trusting me with your people. I just want to say, too, that Rome wasn’t built in a day, pick something that feels doable. I like to give a little homework. So there’s a bunch of stuff in the show notes. Go and get one thing done.

SHERYL: Yeah, look at Bark. It’s very good customer service. They can really help you. I think parents get overwhelmed thinking it’s going to be really difficult. But they’re very helpful.

AMY: So pick one thing – go look at a book, go look at Bark. Go look at my website, go buy my book, and do one little thing. Just one, and then make a little plan about what your next steps are going to be. And you’ll feel better.

SHERYL: When we’re proactive, like a book, getting the scripts, these are the things that I can talk about and how to weave them in.

AMY: It makes it a lot easier. And once you get going, you can keep going. And they may hate it at the moment. Who cares? Welcome to life. In the long run, they will thank you. 

SHERYL: Yeah, they’re not gonna like it, though. Especially tweens and teens. “Oh, mom, stop being gross.” But talk about it. Absolutely. It’s awkward. I feel awkward talking about it, too, sometimes. Well, thank you so much, and tell them where to find you.

AMY: So my website is birdsandbeesandkids.com. And you can find all my books and other stuff there. Check out my podcast. It’s called “Just say this.” It’s Q&A style. So people call or email me questions, and I answer them on the show. I love advice columns. So my show is an advice column.

SHERYL: Yeah, it’s great too, because they’re short. 

AMY: So all episodes, I’ll do probably three average of three questions. And they’re all a hodgepodge: preschooler, tween or teenager personal question, or a parent about their own business. So it’s a total hodgepodge. Sometimes I have themes. We just had the penis show, and then in between every other week, I have a chirp, which is just a script. I have one of “what is abstinence, and how do you talk about it? “

Then occasionally have guest stars. So that’s also fun for me. They come on, and they answer questions with me. They do. They talk about their expertise. And then they answer questions with me. 

SHERYL: Yeah, that’s awesome. So Amy, tell them the name of your book again. And when is it coming out?

AMY: It should be out in April, and it is called “Sex Talks with Tweens: What to Say and How to Say it.”

SHERYL: Awesome. All right. Well, we’ll be sharing it all. Thank you so much for coming to the show. My pleasure.

AMY: It’s great to see you and have a great conversation. 

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