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Parents say they monitor children's exposure to media

January 19, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

The 3-year-old boy squirmed in the stroller, where he lifted up his shirt from time to time, exposing his chest.

"See, there he goes," said his mother, who recently took the tot shopping at a local shopping center.

"These kids don't know what sex is. Sometimes he'll just go up to a kid and kiss them," said the woman, who is married, has a total of three children and lives in Big Pool. "So we told him that he's only allowed to kiss family members and his two sisters."

Psychologists say sexual development begins well before children hit puberty. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children generally know what sex is by the time they are 8.

But experts say that problems arise when children are uninformed about sex and begin to adopt problematic depictions of sexuality they see and hear elsewhere. Consequences range from inappropriate behavior as young children to regretted sexual experiences as teens.

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Parents, child experts say, are key when it comes to a child's healthy sexual development.

Like many other local parents, the woman from Big Pool, who has two older girls, treats the topic of sex delicately. While she knows she cannot control everything her children see and hear, she, like most Tri-State area parents interviewed for this story, said she does her best to control what her kids are exposed to.

The Herald-Mail approached 10 parents at random last week to see whether they were willing to discuss - on the condition that their names would not be printed - how they handle the topic of sexuality with their young ones. The parents also were asked if the reporter could ask their children if they knew what sex was.

Of the 10 parents approached, two declined the interview altogether. Seven parents agreed to the interview, but only three allowed the reporter to talk with their children.

All of the parents said they monitored what kind of music their children listened to and limited what they could watch on television.

The woman from Big Pool declined to let the reporter talk to her 11-year-old daughter, who was with her mother and 3-year-old brother.

The reporter received permission to ask four children - two 5-year-olds, a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old - whether they knew about sex. All but the 13-year-old said they had never heard of sex.

"I don't really know what it is," said the 10-year-old, a privately schooled fourth-grader who lives in Chambersburg, Pa. "I don't hear anything about it. It's all TV shows and stars and stuff."

The girl's mother was cautious about broaching the topic in front of her other daughter, who was 5, and only allowed the reporter to talk to the 10-year-old.

"My girls are very sheltered," said the mother, who is 43. "We try to limit what they take in."

But she said the topic of general sexuality still comes up in her household.

"We've talked about bodily functions, why daddies are different from mommies and why daddies don't wear bras," the woman said.

As for the four parents who agreed to the interview but did not want the reporter to talk to their children, most said they had talked about the body and general reproduction.

"We sort of talk about the reproductive process in scientific terms, but we also talk about unwanted touching," said a Chambersburg man with two children, a 6-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl.

A 25-year-old woman from Hagerstown said she tried to avoid the topic when her 5-year-old girl asked where babies came from.

"I told her God makes them."

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