Q: On several occasions, I’ve caught my 8-year-old son going on YouTube and searching for “black butts that are twerking” as well as “Chinese characters with big breasts”. How do I handle this? I’ve taken away his devices that can go on the internet, should I punish him too?
~ Twerk Trouble, USA
A: Dear Twerk,
Great question – one that many parents have when looking through their children’s online search history. Our society has a double standard when it comes to sex: we are intrigued by and attracted to sex so much that it is a commonly used advertising tool – but we also feel that it should be hidden away and shameful.
Because we live in a day and age when 8-year-olds are able to freely search YouTube (even if you remove his personal devices, chances are he can search at school, with a friend, or even at a public library), we need to shift our focus from shielding them from all potentially negative content, to teaching them how to best handle the content to which they are exposed. And the best way to do that is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your son.
When you find that your son has been visiting these sites or conducting these searches, take the opportunity to have an open, non-judgmental, non-shaming discussion with him about why. He obviously heard “big black butts that are twerking” somewhere (it was a big news story after the 2014 MTV movie awards) and most likely was exposed to what sounds like anime characters. In Japanese anime as well as Western comic books and video games, there is a long tradition of overly sexualized women, and whatever exposure your son had to these was enough to spark his curiosity.
What is most important when speaking with your son is that you validate his curiosity – let him know that it is normal to be curious, especially about something many adults are fascinated by. Remember, most children are fascinated by beer and wine, cars, and R-rated movies – all things that they are not developmentally ready to handle. That said, it is very important to his healthy sexual development that these aren’t treated as bad things, but as exaggerated, objectified, and unreal things.
So talk to your son about what he is searching for and why. Give him the opportunity to explain his fascination and to share with you how he discovered this kind of content. Explain to him that the images he is seeing are fantasies, and that he is not yet old enough to understand all the meanings behind them. Above all, let him know that he can always come to you with anything he has seen, that he is curious about, or disturbed by. You are the best mentor and guide he has. Establishing open, honest communication about sex now will help him grow into a healthy, adjusted tween, teen and adult.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,