This upcoming school year, our family transitions to all of our children in school full-time. My two oldest, both daughters, will both be in middle school. Yikes, please pray for me. With more than a decade of experience in youth ministry, I have some idea of the challenges that lie ahead. The area I am most concerned about is technology in the hands of kids with always-everywhere access to the internet. Pew’s 2018 research study on teens, social media, and technology found that 95% of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one. This access has greatly increased the use of the internet, with 45% of teens reporting they are online “on a near-constant basis.” This includes apps, social media and unfortunately pornography. With our teens online at such a rate, the question we must consider as parents is not if my child has been exposed to pornography, rather, when.

Seeing this reality, my wife and I realized we had to start the sexuality conversation early, integrating the physical, social and spiritual perspectives. We have had several conservations with each of our children, although each conversation looks different and is age appropriate for that child. However, when my sixth grade daughter found the book “Every Parent’s Battle: A family Guide to Resisting Pornography” by Dan S. Spencer III in my car, I was given the opportunity to discuss this honestly with her. Although I wasn’t prepared for that question in that moment, I am so thankful that we had lines of communication open. She trusted me to ask, and we were able to have a conversation and speak truth.

Here are some helpful hints as you navigate these important conversations with our children. Whether you are just starting the birds and the bees talks, the sex talks, or the pornography talks these will encourage you:

Pray: Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom. Ask for the opportunity to talk to your children. Ask the Lord to give you courage.

Start early: You can begin the sexuality conversation with your young child. Try this: “Mom and Dad loved each other so much, God gave us you as a baby.” As they mature, the conversation should as well. The book “Wonderfully Made! Babies” by Ellen Giangiordano is a good resource for 9-12 year-olds. (I suggest using the book as a guide, as you lead the conversation).

Don’t wait: Get started today. If you don’t teach them, they will be taught by the culture, the internet and their friends. 

Relax: It’s normal for your children to be curious about sexuality. They don’t bring the baggage you might have on the topic, unless someone else has started the conversation before you.

Lead with beauty: Sex is more than just a “no” or “don’t do that.” It’s about pointing toward the beauty God created in our sexuality and growing in holiness. It is a gift and has a unique purpose within matrimony.

Ask questions: Be empathetic and invite a conversation, not a lecture. “What are you hearing at school?” “What questions do you have?” “How can I help?” “Have you seen a photo that made you uncomfortable? When/where?”

Teachable moments: It’s not about “The Talk,” but rather a series of age appropriate conversations as they grow up. Make sure you reiterate God’s love for them, your love for them, and God’s mercy, which is new every day.

Get educated: Get online and learn for yourself. St. John Paul II’s theology of the body is an antidote to the ambiguity the culture offers. There are also many Catholic blogs and apostolates that speak on this.

Proactively protect them: It’s imperative to set up boundaries, accountability and filters on all technology, but this will only go so far. Remember, it’s not a matter of if your child will encounter pornography, but when. So make sure each conversation includes, “when you encounter pornography, please come talk to me.”

What are some other pointers you would add to this list? Please write a letter to the Catholic Sentinel. When it comes to talking to our kids about sensitive issues, it can seem overwhelming. The key is to pray, prepare, and begin the conversation.

Kidd is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Portland.