The Globe’s Sept. 23 editorial on the push for inclusive sex education (“Lawmakers need to get real about sex ed”) rightly identified the factor that upended young people’s sexual development: the Internet. Children are growing up online, especially during puberty. Normal sexual exploration looks different than it did a generation ago as developmental behaviors overlap with modern technology.
As the CEO of Thorn, a technology nonprofit dedicated to defending children from online sexual exploitation, I have spent years understanding what motivates kids’ online behaviors in an effort to protect them from abuse on the Internet. What I’ve learned is that puberty and tech are on a collision course. Exploration is normal and healthy for young people, but they need education to minimize new digital risks.
Teachers and parents alike should be talking to children about navigating the Internet during puberty. In our research, kids as young as 9 report being asked for nudes by strangers online, but 58 percent of parents don’t feel prepared to have conversations about digital safety with children.
Sex education in schools should complement the conversations happening at home and acknowledge that children are growing up in a digital world. We must equip our youth with knowledge on how to navigate that in a healthy manner. Thorn has created an online resource hub for parents and caregivers on how to talk to kids about being safe online.
As a mother, I understand that these conversations can be awkward and difficult, but for the safety of our children, we need to be having them earlier, more frequently, and without judgment.