The Globe’s Sept. 23 editorial on the drive for inclusive sex education (“Legislators need to get real about sex education”) rightly identified the factor that turned the sexual development of young people upside down: the Internet. Children grow up online, especially during puberty. Normal sexual exploration looks different from a generation ago because developmental behavior overlaps with modern technology.
As the CEO of Thorn, a technology nonprofit dedicated to defending children against online sexual exploitation, I’ve spent years understanding what motivates children’s online behavior in an effort to protect them from abuse on the Internet. What I’ve learned is that puberty and technology are on a collision course. Exploration is normal and healthy for young people, but they need education to minimize new digital risks.
Both teachers and parents should talk to children about using the internet during puberty. In our survey, kids as young as 9 report being asked for nude photos online by strangers, but 58 percent of parents feel unprepared to talk to kids about digital safety.
Sex education in schools should complement conversations that take place at home and recognize that children are growing up in a digital world. We need to equip our young people with knowledge of how to navigate through this in a healthy way. Thorn has created an online information center for parents and carers on how to talk to children about being safe online.
As a mother, I understand that these conversations can be uncomfortable and difficult, but for the safety of our children, we need to have them sooner, more often, and without judgment.