Parents Talk To Children About Sex Before The Age Of 11

When did your parents sit you down and talk to you about the birds and bees? Never? Me neither. And thank mercy for that because it means I've never had to imagine my mum and dad getting it on, if you catch my drift.

But everything's different now, isn't it? We're all modern parents, savvy and talkative, hands-on and educational.

And our children are bombarded with a lot more, er, information than an over-thumbed copy of The Joy Of Sex.

There's the internet now, with its access to a world of sexual images. There's sexting. There are Selfies and Belfies and GodKnowsWhaties.

So it's a fact of modern life to say that our children are more curious - and probably know a damn sight more - about the issue of sex than we ever did.

Should we be worried? Should we be having the dreaded 'facts of life' conversation even before our children have had the chance to see what's available online?

Should we – shudder – even be talking to our children about sex and puberty and pornography even before they've had their first period or sprouted their first bum-fluff i.e. when our children are still at primary school playing tag and making potato prints?

Yes, yes and thrice yes, says a depressing new survey, which concludes that our children's childhoods are being robbed by the internet.

Research carried out by online security firm AVG Technologies found that, by the age of 11, seven out of 10 children have had a frank discussion with their parents about sex, puberty and pornography.

Most parents – 97 per cent - plan to have the chat about adult topics including pornography, sex and puberty by the time their kids are 10 years old - five years earlier than they had the same chat with their own parents.

But 42 per cent of mums and dads didn't have any birds-and-bees chats with their parents.

The survey of more than 5,000 parents found that many of us feel forced to have these chats because of our children's curiosity about things they have seen online.

And the majority of parents say their children know more about the internet than they did by the time they were 12.

One dad of a 10-year-old girl in Cheshire told Sky News his daughter is already asking questions. He said: "I think it's down to social media, Twitter and Facebook and things like that now, and they're more inquisitive now than my generation."

A mum-of-two said that although her eight-year-old son had not yet asked any questions, her 13-year-old daughter began discussing the facts of life while still in primary school.

She said: "It worries me a lot but I've got a policy of being extremely open with her. I do try and find out where she gets it from but I don't always get to the bottom of it."

According to the study, the topic most parents dread discussing with their children is pornography. Almost half said their biggest concern is children seeing inappropriate content online.

Dr Leslie Haddon is a senior researcher at the London School of Economics, who has studied how children use the internet.

He said the 'loss of innocence' among children has been under way for decades, as more sexualised images become available in newspapers, on TV and the internet.

He said: "You wouldn't say that all these things are attributable to the internet, but in that particular case nowadays you can come across more things."

AVG is now launching a series of safety guides aimed at two to four-year-olds and calling for tighter parental controls on internet access.

But we have another solution: instead of sitting your kids down for a grand buttock-clenching chat in which neither of you can look each other in the eye, talk to them casually and gradually about sexualisation and the internet and staying safe.

Talk to them when things crop up without making a big deal about it. Answer their questions when they ask (before quickly changing the subject!).

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