From their cell phones to their TVs, teenagers consume more media than any other age group. Kids 8 to 18 average a whopping 7.5 hours a day looking at a screen, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. But real teen Gabe Linderman, 17, explains why the lessons he learns about sex and relationships from a screen can’t compare with what he learns from his parents.
As a parent, you probably don’t want to imagine your kid learning about sex from the media outlet of their choice: YouTube, Google searches, Instagram, watching Girls on HBO GO. But it gets even worse when you consider how absurdly sex and relationships can be portrayed there. I’m smart enough to know that while sex on TV and online is often spontaneous, without communication and totally without contraception, it shouldn’t be that way in real life. Still, violence against women in video games and risky one-night stands on television are the virtual reality.
As a Youth Leadership Team member for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, I have a wish for all the parents reading this blog. Use the seemingly endless bombardment of sex references in your everyday life to talk to your kid. See an image of a half-naked woman on a billboard? Ask your teen what they think about it. Hear a trashy lyric in a song on the radio? Ask your teen what they think. Next time a sex scene comes out of nowhere during family movie night, instead of watching as everyone awkwardly averts their eyes and slouches in their seat, open up a conversation about sex and relationships and what you think a healthy relationship looks like in real life.
We teenagers are curious creatures: hunting down information wherever we can get it and absorbing as much as we can. Of all the things I learn staring at a screen, your values probably won’t be among them. I need to hear about that from you.
Gabe Linderman is a Youth Leadership Team member for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Find out more about the campaign and its resources for teens, like StayTeen.org. To learn more about talking to your kids about social media, check out Family Circle's guide.