How to Protect Traveling Kids from Hypersexualization Abroad

by Ed Forteau /
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Jul 12, 2013 / 0 comments

Traveling with children can be a wonderful way to experience the world. It’s a shared experience. Something to bond you as a family. Something that you’ll talk about in years to come. But there are plenty of risks that as parents you need to manage. And this article is specifically about the risks posed by exposing kids to sexualized cultures and dangers.

The first thing to say about kids and sexual culture is that they’re a more savvy about sex than any of us were at their age. The rise in smartphones and tablets means kids are able to find and consume unlimited amounts of graphic pornography effortlessly - and for free. This has led to what some politicians have deemed a ‘hyersexualized’ or ‘pornified’ culture.  

Many parents might still be relatively naive about the graphic nature of the adult content that young children are able to find quite easily; material that 10-15 years ago could only be found in niche magazines partly hidden from view on top shelves is now accessible within a few clicks online. So many of the sexual aspects of your travel destinations may not be quite as shocking to your children as you might think - depending on how old they are, of course.


Around every corner

So what are the sexualized elements of travel that you may need to talk about with you kids as you travel? Well, the core issue is the visibility of sex within the culture. We’re used to a medium sexualized culture in the West, and in some countries you pass through you might find it’s relatively conservative and lacking in any kind of sexual imagery. This is especially true of deeply religious cultures.

But in other destinations, things are different. Very different. The biggest challenge is usually navigating certain areas of cities. In areas of Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro, for example, there are entire sections based on an adult economy catering to sexual interests. You can find live sex shows, sex shops, brothels, strip clubs, and ‘love motels’ - tawdry neon-lit places in run-down buildings that only rent rooms by the hour.

Back in Europe, while there might not be as much of an ‘exotic’ aspect to the adult areas, most major cities have their own areas dedicated to offering the examples above. Amsterdam, as most people know, has its Red Light areas where prostitutes ‘enticingly’ dance in shop windows to attract customers. But even seemingly clean-cut cities like Copenhagen has Vesterbro - home to sex shops and brothels.

As travelers, we don’t always know when we might come across this sort of thing. We might have read online about the areas with the densest concentration of adult economies, but turn the right/wrong corner abroad, and you can find pretty much anything.


Red light district, Amsterdam

Red light district, Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons:


Talking to your children

This will have an effect on children, whatever their age. They might not completely understand what’s going on, but walking past sex shop signs and streetwalkers they know they’re tourists in a world not designed for them. They understand that something awkward and strange might be happening. They might have even seen enough online to suss out what’s happening around them.

Dealing with this as a traveling parent can be difficult. The first thing to do when encountering sexualized cultures as a family is for you to project an outward impression of calm and togetherness. Children take their cues from you, and if you look like you’re uncomfortable with the situation, they will be too.

It’s important to talk to children about what they’ve seen and experienced. Do they understand what’s going on? And how does it make them feel? Anxious? Nervous? Indifferent? Each child will react slightly differently, so it’s vital to get to the bottom of how they feel. Tell them that there’s nothing wrong with feeling scared or worried by what’s around them.

If your kids are old enough, explain what’s actually happening in these areas - without going into too much detail. Let them know that these areas are part of the areas you’re in, but not places your family wants to spend time in!


Sexual dangers online

There’s also a significant online element to sexual culture and your children when traveling. Kids are curious, and as we’ve already talked about they’re more savvy than many of us would have been at their age.

Just how young are we talking here? Well, a recent study of 19,000 parents worldwide recently found that children are being exposed to internet porn as early as six years old, and begin flirting online from the age of eight. Other studies have found that the average age children engage with online porn is around 11.

This is obviously an issue when you’re traveling as a family. There will be two main ways your kids will be accessing the web: the first is on their own devices; the second is through internet cafes. When it comes to using their own devices, make sure all smartphone, tablet and laptop sessions are supervised, and that your children aren’t using private browsing tools - you want to know if they’re visiting any adult sites.

Talk to them about the things you’ve seen on the road, and see if they’re curiously searching for similar things online. Make it clear that you understand, and that they’re not doing anything ‘bad’. But try to help them understand that these sites are off-limits and dangerous.

Clearly there’s the appropriateness issue of children accessing adult sites, but there’s also a computer security element to it as well. Many porn sites contain a high amount of ‘malverts’ - on-page adverts that contain malware (malicious software). By clicking on these ads, kids can download viruses to your laptop. Try and explain this as non-technically as you can, and make sure your devices are equipped with the latest protection against malware.

These same rules generally apply to internet cafes or using friends’ homes while you’re traveling. Try and find out if they’ve got adequate antivirus software, and if you let your children use cafe computers, be extra cautious about Wi-Fi passwords and clicking on any kind of pop-ups.




About the author

Andrew Tipp is a writer, blogger and editor working in digital publishing. He writes about online culture and web trends, and his work about web security and hacking has been published by a variety of websites, including The Huffington Post. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.