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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Let’s hear it from the kids: young people’s tips for parents on talking openly

Banner saying "The Things I Wish My Parents Had Known: young people's advice on talking ot your child about online sexual harassment"
Words to the wise: digital natives can steer parents in the direction of talking openly. Image: Children’s Commissioner

Because Outspoken Sex Ed is all about getting parents to talk openly with their children about sex-ed topics, we’re over the moon that a new Children’s Commissioner for England report gives parents tips from young people aged 16 to 21 on how parents can discuss online sexual harassment, porn, sexting, body image and sexualised bullying with their kids.

To read how excited we are about how this report provides up-to-date evidence and more validation of parents as the missing link in their children’s sex education, see our blog post Proof positive: how the Children’s Commissioner report validates parents talking openly.

Here are our edited highlights from the Children’s Commissioner’s Instagram tips and landmark 16 December 2021 report The Things I Wish My Parents Had Known…

Card saying: Don't wait for the crisis

Tip #1

Be proactive

• Create a home environment that’s safe and trusting so your child can open up to you

• Be involved in your child’s decision-making early on so you’ll be better equipped to step in if need be

• Be ready to help if something goes wrong

Card saying: Don't mention it once and think that's enough

Tip #2

Keep talking!

• Be vulnerable, share your memories and imagine how different it would have been experiencing things online

• Let your child be the expert – that builds mutual trust

Card saying: Don't scare them with "the big talk"

Tip #3

Talk little and often!

• Keep it casual

• It’s OK to laugh – you don’t have to be serious!

Card saying: Don't punish them before listening and understanding

Tip #4

Focus on your child’s feelings

Be non-judgmental and ready to help your child rather than taking their phone or keeping them offline

Card saying: Don't pretend these issues don't exist

Tip #5

Be aware of what’s happening & what’s out there

Learn about new technologies and trends, including risky behaviours

Card saying: Don't leave your child unsupervised online without using monitoring and filter tools. You wouldn't leave them alone in the park or the street – apply the same level of protection online

Tip #6

Set up safeguarding

• Be honest and explain

• Agree on ground rules, such as time limits, that can change

Talking openly isn’t a walk in the park! So watch an #AsktheAwkward video for kids aged 4 to 18 on Sex, relationships & young people from the always on-target ThinkUKnow resources

Card saying: Conversation starters, with examples of what to ask kids

Here’s more of what young people think will work…

Tips for parents from young people aged 16-21

  1. Apply adult content filters to your child and family devices

  2. Keep it casual – talk when opportunities come up so it’s not a taboo subject

  3. Be reassuring about the confusing emotions your child might have if they see porn

  4. Don’t tell off your child if they’ve seen porn – explain why watching adult content too young can be harmful

  5. Challenge views that might come up from watching porn – for example that the way it shows sex and bodies is not realistic and that non-consensual sex is “normal” or OK

Tips for parents from young people aged 16-21

Be proactive and…

  • Talk about the risks of sexting when you give them a phone

  • Explain that your child might be sent naked pictures – if so, they should not send them on, but they should talk to you

  • Don’t assume your child is not involved – it’s very common

If your child says they’ve shared a nude…

  • Be clear that pressuring someone for a photo is wrong – and talk about how and why it happened

  • Vulnerability is vital: say that we all make mistakes – and the important thing is to be honest and responsible afterwards

If your child says a nude image of them has been shared…

  • Offer practical advice (eg help them contact tech platforms to stop images circulating). Contact Childline/IWF Report Remove and make a report to NCA CEOP if you think the image has been shared with an adult. Check out Internet Matters

  • Be emotionally supportive – your child is probably afraid and embarrassed, among other things, and needs to hear that you love them and will work things out with them

  • Get advice from the safeguarding lead at your child’s school

Tips for parents from young people aged 16-21

  1. Create a trusting and open space at home so your child feels they can talk about bullying, sexualised bullying and harassment

  2. Have regular check‑ins and look out for signs that your child is being bullied

  3. Be open and vulnerable when talking with your child – which also helps build a strong connection

  4. Keep an eye on your child’s social media account and make sure it’s private. Agree with them about the boundaries of your involvement

  5. Be aware that boys can be victims of sexualised bullying too and it may be harder for them to open up about it

Tips for parents from young people aged 16-21

  1. Build confidence in your child and allow them to realise that they don’t need to manipulate an image to feel good about themselves

  2. Start a conversation – and ask questions that allow your child to express their thoughts (eg “What do you think/feel about this?”) instead of giving a yes/no answer

  3. Make your child aware that online images are often manipulated – and filters and editing can be used to mask insecurities. Show them before-and-after pictures

  4. Social media can make it seem like there is one single standard for beauty – explain that this is not true

Tips for parents from young people aged 16-21

  1. Set boundaries, rules, time limits and screen breaks – and don’t let social media become your child’s only reality and influence everything they do

  2. Talk openly about your child feeling pressured into doing something they don’t want to – using your experiences as examples or news stories as a way in

  3. Explain about social-media trends: “Not everyone is doing it!” – and that your child can listen to themselves and make their own decisions

  4. Find positive role models – of the same age or slightly older – for your child to follow and be influenced by. Young people say there has been a positive movement towards discussing mental health, body and relationship issues – so find those communities

  5. Social media/gaming/messaging/video platforms should be a fun extra to your child’s interests rather than dominating their life. Talk about exploring hobbies and interests online (eg crafting, sports, music, dance) then applying those new skills offline

For evidence of the importance of parental engagement in their kids’ sex ed, see our blog post Proof positive: how the Children’s Commissioner report validates parents talking openly

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