How To Educate And Empower Kids

How To Educate And Empower Kids

Dina Alexander is the founder and president of Educate and Empower Kids, organization determined to strengthen families by teaching digital citizenship, media literacy, and healthy sexuality education, including education about the dangers of online porn. She is creator of Noah’s New Phone, a story about using technology for good, Petra’s Power to See, a media literacy adventure, Messages About Me, a journey to healthy body image, How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, and the 30 Days of Sex Talks and 30 Days to a Stronger Child programs.

She received her master’s degree in Recreation Therapy from the University of Utah, and her bachelor’s from Brigham Young University. She’s an amazing mom and loves spending time with her husband and three kids. Together, they live in Texas.

How To Empower Kids As Parents

Anne: We used your books in our home. They’ve been floating around. I leave them out. My 8-year-old has read all of them. He just picks them up and starts reading them, and then I try to process the information with him, and read them together, as well. I’m really grateful for the work that you do. What motivated you to start your non-profit, Educate and Empower Kids?

Dina: A few years ago, I was reading a Facebook article about teen porn consumption. I couldn’t believe it, it was so shocking and just so surprising to me, the accessibility, the level of pathetic sexual knowledge that these teenagers had a huge lack of intimacy education that they had received, the inability to talk to their parents, that it just shocked me into action.

I started researching, I started looking for parent resources. I felt like there wasn’t a lot out there, if anything. I felt like most of it was either very fear-based, very shame-based, and just not practical. At that time, my oldest was in middle school, I had two in elementary, and I just felt like, “I gotta do something. I just gotta talk to every parent I can.” I made this promise with myself, I was going to do anything I could, even embarrass myself, do things I’ve never done before. That’s just snowballed into our part of this movement in helping people understand what true, healthy sexuality is, warning parents, but also empowering them with simple tools.

Use Words To Empower Kids

Anne: I appreciate that about your books, especially 30 Days of Sex Talks. I’ve actually done 30 Days of Sex Talks with my two sons. They are eight and five now. But, at the time that I did it, they were six and three. It was awesome. They loved it. Just the fact that my kids can say sex, I’m really proud of that. Also, the other morning, my five-year-old got up really early. I was just sitting with him and talking, and I said, “We can talk about anything. We could talk about sex. We could talk about baseball. We could talk about the sandbox. We could talk about your friends at school. We could talk about masturbation.”

I just threw in random different words, but, from the look on his face, and his body language, he was completely relaxed as I went through every single one of those topics. He decided he wanted to talk about Legos, which is fine.

I just loved that he had heard those words before, it’s an ongoing conversation in our home. It’s that way, thanks to the work that you’ve done, and the fact that I’ve been able to use some of your programs in my home, so thank you.

Dina: That’s exactly how it should be. It should be that simple. Having a conversation about masturbation should be as simple as talking about Legos. That’s a really helpful frame for a lot of parents, who just haven’t even conceived of that. Our parents were not taught to teach us that way, so it’s a little bit of a leap for a lot of parents to realize that, “You know what, this doesn’t have to be awkward. This can actually be a great conversation.”

Empowering Kids Through Conversation

When we first started writing the books, all of our board members were trying them with their kids. Every board called me, “We cannot believe the conversations we’re having. We’re planning for five and ten minutes, and this is turning into a 45-minute, amazing discussion.” That was a reconfirmation to us that we were doing what we were supposed to do and that it was a needed resource.

Anne: The other thing I like about it is that you can talk about it at any time. You can talk about it in the car. You can talk about it while you’re walking down the street. You can talk about it while you’re folding laundry. It gives the impression that this is something that we can talk about at any time.

It doesn’t have to be this particular set, perfect time to have a talk with our kids about sex. Which means that they would also be like, “When can I ask these questions?” or, “When can I talk to my mom? Is now the right time? I don’t know.” In our house, it’s always the right time. Any time is fine.

Dina:   We do encourage people if they want, and if they can, to plan ahead for, maybe, a few minutes, but to not create an event, because it needs to be simple enough that our kids can recreate it. Yeah, maybe it does happen in the car on the way to dance practice, or maybe it is on the way home from school, maybe it’s walking to the park, maybe it’s family night.

Addressing Difficult Topics Can Help Empower Kids

Maybe it’s at bedtime, maybe it’s at dinner, but it should be something that they can do, that they can bring up, because they realize it’s just as casual as talking about what shoes to buy, or this new Lego set I want to buy. It should be that simple to bring up with mom and dad.

Anne: I don’t think that makes sex casual. I think it means that it’s a super important topic that we can bring up at any time, right? It’s not to say that it’s a casual thing.

Dina: They’re not going to remember everything we teach. They’re going to remember our tone, and our level of care. I cannot remember a word my mother said about sex, but I just remember how positive she was, and how she’s able to talk about it in just such an excited way, even after my parents were divorced. They had a very ugly divorce, but my mom was able to still talk about sex with her values that she wanted us to wait for it, that it was worth waiting for, that it was something awesome and special.

That was something that I was able to take with me my whole life, and use as, basically, the backdrop, so when I did get sex education at school, I still had this balance of how positive that she had been about different things, and that I also knew that I could come and ask her any question.

Educating Kids Helps Empower Kids

At that time, the ‘90s, when I was a teenager, you just usually didn’t ask your parents about oral sex. I remember asking both my parents about it, and they were both very casual, but that didn’t make it seem like it was sneezing or shaking hands. Their tone, and the level of discussion it was, I could realize, “Okay, this is not something I’m going to readily do at the end of the date.” I understood the importance of different types of sex.

We can still have that impact in a casual conversation. If it’s an important topic, you can pull the car over and turn around and look at your kids, and let them know, “This is really important,” or, “This is something amazing and special,” or, “You are amazing and special.” Maybe you’re going to be talking about bodily integrity. You’re not going to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, or because somebody pressures you.

I’ve had conversations with my kids—and I remember when I told them, “Some day it is not something you’re just going to do lightly. It is a privilege. To be able to share that part of yourself with somebody, they should feel privileged.” This was just over dinner. This was not a planned discussion, but it came where I was like, “I need them to know that they’re special people, and that this is a special act.”

Again, it was not planned. But I remember the surprise on their face, because it had never been framed in that way to them, obviously, at school. They were already having different levels of sex ed at school, because they were a little bit older at that time. You can make that impact, even in a casual setting.

Increasing Self-Esteem Can Empower Kids

Anne: Educate and Empower Kids has several new books out. Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write the new books?

Dina:   We have two books on body image, one for boys, one for girls. That’s the Messages About Me book. Then, plus the Petra’s Power to See, that’s about media literacy. Those were being formulated together.

We started out as an anti-pornography, healthy sexuality organization only. That’s all we talked about the first year. We saw the needs of parents and the questions, the fears that were coming with apps, social media bombarding our kids, that we realized, “Okay, we need to address more.”

But then, we were also realizing how these are totally connected to pornography, and the dangers of pornography. How pornography and other media damage our body image, how they just make us feel so terrible about ourselves. Even when we haven’t seen it, what our partners might say to us that can threaten or harm our body image.

The Petra’s Power to See, that one is about reading images and media in the culture. It addresses social media. It addresses pornography briefly, talks about advertising, and books and movies, and what media is, how we can deconstruct it. These are critical, critical skills for kids. One, because we’re living in an image-based culture. We’re no longer living in a print-based culture.

Empower By Encouraging Healthy Discussion

We’re getting most of our information from videos, from images. Our kids need to be able to read those just as readily as they might read a book, or read a comic book, or read a picture book. They need to be able to quickly and concisely break those messages apart.

This is a really tough skill for most of us, because, again, for adults, because we were raised in a print-based culture, our brains are trying so hard to make that magazine ad seem real. We see the woman with no pores, no lines on her face, and we start comparing ourselves to her, even though our intellect, our brains know that is a fake, computerized image, we’re still comparing ourselves and falling short.

That is also what is happening with our kids as they scroll through social media. All the increased depression, the increased suicide, the increased loneliness, the lack of interpersonal skills, these are all part of that parenting in the digital age that we need to deal with.

Empower Kids By Showing Them

These books are really important so that when kids are exposed to pornography later on, as well, they can deconstruct it. They can take the power away from pornography by saying, “Okay, wait a second, that’s not real. That’s not really what women want. That’s not really how sex goes down,” because we’ve had those conversations and, also, because they have learned to deconstruct media.

Also, with the body image books, we’re hoping that they’ve built up their own positive body image. All of our books have discussion questions. We’re huge on discussion questions. These discussions, that we can reiterate over and over again, about what makes us beautiful, what makes us special and important, again, so that, as we’re getting bombarded throughout our lives, we’ve had that foundation with our families, with our parents, with our mothers, of building that positive body image, addressing the needs that we see from the parents that we interact with.

All of us have been affected with negative body image concerns, and that we all are, again, trying to make sense of all this media that is just surrounding us. That is the impetus of those books.

Using Technology To Empower Kids

The other book, Noah’s New Phone, we wanted to take a more positive approach, because we have done a lot of work in warning parents of online dangers. We don’t want people to be scared. We want people to realize, as we’re practicing these things, and as I, myself, am practicing these things with my family, that it’s not enough to just warn people. It’s not enough to just say, “No, don’t go to that website. Don’t download this app.”

It’s time for us to turn this tide. We have got to start thinking about and instilling in our kids that these phones are not just toys and pacifiers, but that these are tools. That these are agents of change. I, recently, went to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, and I saw this amazing speaker from Iran.

In Iran, it’s mandatory for women to wear the hijab. They have to wear it all the time, so one of her movements is, basically, to try to get that changed. It’s a symbol of a lot of different things, of a lot of the oppression that the women have there. She held up her smartphone, and she said, “This is my weapon.” She came from a town of 200 families, and now she has 2 million Twitter followers.

Empowerment Can Be A Skill

That is what I want. That is what I want all of our kids to do, is to see these phones as tools, that they, literally, can change the world, that they can reach thousands and millions of people, and make this world a better place. To me, again, that’s what the focus of Noah’s New Phone, he has a simple experience at school that’s negative, and how he turns that around.

Then, of course, there’s discussions in there are about like, “What are the things that we can create online? How can we turn the tides?” It’s not just like, “Okay, I know how to avoid pornography. I know how to avoid bad apps,” but now it needs to be, “Okay, how am I going to lighten someone’s day? How am I going to make someone happy? How am I going to build somebody up? How am I going to show support and love and kindness?”

I, recently, even just was telling my kids about the BTR Facebook page, how this is such an amazing place for women to talk, give each other advice, share their pain. Imagine if we could have more of that authenticity everywhere on social media, that we could have that level of care and concern and community. This is what I’m hoping that we can start creating within the movement.

Three Things Parents Can Do To Empower Children

  1. Safety first always. We must teach safety.
  2. Start inspiring our kids to turn this around for themselves, for their future.
  3. Teach doing good. There’s just so much good out there that we can be doing.     

 Anne: I read Noah’s New Phone to my 5-year-old, who, literally, has zero access to devices. We are very locked down at our house. I thought, “This is so cool. I’m having this discussion with my 5-year-old long before he ever gets a phone.” I also talked to him about when I’m on the phone, what am I doing? I explained to him that, most of the time, I’m working.

Pretty much, about 80 percent of the time I’m on the phone, I’m working. Then, 20 percent of the time, I’m connecting with friends or family, or other people that I care about. Zero percent of that time is looking at pornography or surfing the internet. I do read the news every day, and I talked to him about that too, just so I can be informed.

Empowerment Is Necessary For Children

I thought, “What a good conversation,” because, when he looks at me on my phone—and I am conscientiously trying to reduce the amount of time I spend on my phone when I am in his presence—he doesn’t know what I’m doing on my phone. He can’t see my phone. He doesn’t know. So I realized, “Wait a minute, I also need to tell him, these are the productive things that I use my phone for. This is how I use my phone as a tool.”

It struck me that I was so grateful for that book, because I don’t think I would’ve been having that conversation with my 5-year-old otherwise, because he doesn’t have a phone and doesn’t have access to a phone.

Dina: That is exactly right. That is exactly what I want for parents, because how are they going to know, unless we’ve shown them. I love that you’re like, “This is what I’m looking at. I’m helping people by doing A, B, and C,” or, “Look, I’m having an argument with somebody on Facebook right now, I’m still being polite.” How are they going to know how to have an argument, unless we’ve shown them? How are they going to know how to be positive or to be respectful of people, unless, again, we show them? It’s like when my kids were little, I remember I would mop the floor, and I would be like, “Do you see the beautiful job that mom just did on the floor? Now, we’re all going to be real careful, right, and we’re not going to mess up the floor. We are going to do our best to keep this clean.” 

How Can Parents Teach Empowerment?

It’s the same thing on my phone when I can show them, “Look at what I did.” I can also say, “Look at the mistake I made,” or, “Look at how I thought that this is what the person was saying, but I really misunderstood,” and, “Hey, do you see how misunderstandings happen? So maybe this is a conversation I need to have face-to-face?”

We take it for granted where we just don’t even think about all those steps that it takes to behave well online. They need to see us doing it. They need to see us using it deliberately, that you’re showing them, “This is the point of this tool. It’s not just to play Candy Crush, or to watch a movie, or to watch a YouTube video. It is to be helpful. It is to get work done.” I think that is super helpful.

I’ve been talking with a couple friends who were talking, basically, about just how bad they felt, or how they were sick of seeing certain hypocrisies in their friends and their church friends on social media, just that they were comparing themselves. I remember, at first, I thought, “I don’t relate to this,” or, “I haven’t felt that way in such a long time,” like that frustration with social media. Then, I had to think on that. I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s because I’ve been using it deliberately.”

When I first was on social media, yeah, I was scrolling through. I was saying dumb things. There’s nothing wrong with sharing silly things. Because I wasn’t spending so much time scrolling and comparing, I don’t have those negative feelings anymore. Showing them the difference between when we have too much screen-time and when we use it deliberately.

Empowering By Example

Anne: I only use social media now for work. I still connect with people that way, and I still have personal conversations. When I say work, I mean my life’s mission of helping women. I don’t mean just, specifically, like, “What will help BTR?” I mean my life’s mission of how to help bring wives of porn users the truth. In whatever element I’m using it, that’s my purpose in being on social media.

I think having a purpose is very helpful, especially when the purpose is not to look good. Especially if your purpose isn’t, “I just want everyone to think I’m awesome.” If your purpose is about someone else, how can I help someone else, or how can I help an organization, or how can I progress this truth that I think other people need to know? It makes it a tool. I agree with you. I haven’t had negative feelings about social media in a really long time.

Dina: Yeah, like you said, having a purpose, having a mission, having a reason for going on. That’s something that all of us, every couple of months, we need to think and re-evaluate for ourselves. What am I doing? I have a 17-, nearly 15-, nearly 12-year-old right now. We re-evaluate our media habits all the time.

As things change, as the semester changes, as habits change, as homework, etcetera. I have to really think about, “Well, what am I doing?” If I expect my kids to live a certain way, then I better be doing it as well. What is my purpose? You’re right, it is so important to just have a true connection.

Instilling Responsibility Is Important For Empowerment

I talk to my kids, “It’s not just about scrolling through and like, like, liking people’s post. Maybe somebody really needs our support, and to go ahead and write a private message, or to share a sincere compliment.” We don’t have to change the world in a day. Nobody expects that from us, but it is these—by small and simple needs that change can happen.

Anne: It just came to me to have it be your prayer list. Be like, “Who am I going to pray for today? Let me check my Facebook feed. Oh, I’ll pray for her, and I’ll pray for her. Her makeup is too perfect, something must not be quite right with her. I’m going to pray.” Like I said in the beginning, 30 Days of Sex Talks is one of my favorite series that you have. Tell me about some of the success stories that have come out of 30 Days of Sex Talks.

Dina: Some of the big things that we are hearing from parents is, again, how simple it makes it. That has been my huge thing. Even as we wrote these, there were so many things that I take for granted in my manner and in the way I run my household, that I wanted to give to other people. One of those was breaking it down and making it super simple.

I think, sometimes, people look at the cover, or they see the title, and they’re like, “30 days, oh my gosh. I don’t want to talk about sex for 30 days with my kids,” until they open it, and they’re like, “Oh, oh, that’s simple. Oh, I can do this.” That is exactly what I want people to feel. I want people to look at a few of the layouts and go, “Oh, my gosh, I can totally do this.”

Parents Can Do Many Things To Empower Children

That is how you should feel. That is how we should feel about sex talks, or, “I hadn’t thought about that. That is an important topic to cover.” That is what I wanted from the beginning, and that is what I hoped, what I prayed for, what we focused on. That, I feel like has been a huge blessing that that is what we have heard back from a lot of people. It made it so simple.

I wasn’t sure where to start, because, again, we have so many parents that they think they have to start right with the mechanics. They have to talk about the penis or the vagina right away. For a lot of parents, that’s really intimidating, or they’re just not sure how to do that with a 5-year-old.

Then, we have all these other simple discussions that, basically, help lead up to that, where it is discussions about safety, or a discussion about what does a healthy relationship look like. These are all parts of a sex talk. Helping a child know, “When is it okay to say no?” Okay, you don’t say no to mom when she asks you to do the dishes, but, you can say no to the creepy neighbor that wants to give you a hug. Those can be some of the first conversations, if we are intimidated.

A lot of parents come back to us with, “I was so scared to talk about masturbation, but then I just saw that I can just start with a few simple questions,” because that’s how we framed it in the 8 to 11 and the 12+ book. You just start out with some basic questions, and then you lead with your own values in your home. If you don’t like masturbation, then you let your kids know that.

Empower Kids By Having Open Dialogue

We also have other resources on the website that address some of these topics more in-depth. That happens to be a topic that a lot of parents are freaked out about. We wrote a couple articles on our Don’t Freak Out Page about talking to kids about masturbation and then talking to girls about masturbation.

That’s been the best success was just seeing that it’s simple, that it really doesn’t have to awkward, that this can be a great experience to bond you and your kids, because you’re letting them know, “You can talk to mom about anything.” That’s huge. That’s what we all want as parents, is to know that our kids are close to us, that they are comfortable asking us, and that they know that we care about them.

Anne: One of the days that’s about consent, and it’s been really interesting because I’ve weaved in the issue of consent with things like Legos, with things like, “Did you eat your brother’s chocolate?” Obviously, consent is a sex issue, but it’s also just a general interpersonal issue. I appreciated that about the 30 Days of Sex Talks, too, in that healthy people ask other people for their consent, and they give them all of the information that they need to make a good choice.

For example, with sex addicts, they do not give their partners the ability to give them full consent, because, often, they don’t give them all the information. They don’t say, “I sleep with prostitutes, and I view porn once a week, and I masturbate six times a week. Will you have sex with me now?”

Teaching Consent As Empowerment

Anne: It’s a consent issue. They’re not giving them all the information that they need to make a wise choice. I’m trying to teach my children, and my sons, when you want someone’s consent, “Do you want to come over and play?” give them all the information that they need. “When you come over to play, I would really like to play Legos. That’s what I really want to do. Do you want to come over and play Legos with me?”

Something like that, so they get this idea that, when you’re in a relationship with someone, making sure that they have all the information that they need to make a good choice, is an important part of keeping it a healthy relationship.

Dina: I love that, because you’re not making consent less important, you’re just making it more a part of their everyday life. So it’s obvious when their older, “Well, of course, I’m going to get a for sure, 100 percent.” I don’t know that they understand that, because they’ve had that foundation built throughout their whole lives. It should be really simple to understand what yes means and what no means.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is going strong. I really encourage you to join. It’s the least expensive way to get professional support every single day. Until next week, stay safe out there.

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