How to Talk to Your Kids about Essena O’Neil

EssenaOneilYou’ve likely heard by now of Essena O’Neill and her recent transition to post more honest content on her social media accounts. The GOV team has been speaking to a lot of youth in Singapore lately, and we have even started including some pieces of Essena’s story in our sessions about social media. If you’re a parent wondering if this would be a good story to share with your tween or teen, here are a few thoughts to help you form a conversation:

1. Even social media can be staged – Often we expect advertisers to use things like photoshop, perfect lighting, etc. to make their models look stunning. We realize this and we’re prepared for it. But it’s harder to wrap our minds around social media that’s been altered. Think about it – when you take a selfie, do you adjust the angle at which you’re holding your phone so you look better? We all do. But we don’t always stop and think that maybe our friend has 11 other shots on her camera roll that are not as flattering as the one she just posted. We often scroll quickly through our feeds, see how great everyone looks, and never stop to wonder why we all of the sudden feel so fat and ugly. What I appreciate about Essena O’Neill is she explains some of the tricks she used to get the images she posted, thereby exposing the fact that social media is not always as spontaneous and natural as we assume it is.

2. There’s no such thing as a free meal – This is a true statement, even in social media. If you look at a picture of a celebrity/friend and think more about the clothing he or she is wearing, the thing being eaten, the makeup used, etc., that person might have been paid to take that picture. In Essena’s opinion, this is fine in and of itself, as long as the person tells you he or she is advertising something. I think this is good food for thought when you talk to your kids. No one wants to be deceived, and kids especially need to know when their emotions are being manipulated to make someone else money. That’s only fair.

3. You are responsible for the content you post and share – One thing I appreciate about Essena is that she realizes she is responsible for the effect her posts have on other people. And because she realizes this, she wants to start posting honest things. Kids need to know that even if they are just sharing something created by another person, they are still responsible (at least on a small scale) for the effect that post will have on their friends. Which gives them incentive to share positive things instead of negative things. I am friends with a lot of people who are younger than me on my social media networks (the consequence of speaking to so many youth over several years!). I’m really careful about what I post because I don’t want them to see something I share and get the wrong impression. Here’s a practical example: I live in Colorado. The sheer amount of funny memes that have circulated over the past few years about legalizing marijuana are enough to choke an elephant. I think some of them are really funny, but I don’t think smoking marijuana is a good idea. Hence, I haven’t shared any of the marijuana memes. I just don’t want to risk it being taken the wrong way.

The bottom line when guiding your tweens and teens toward healthy social media use is to communicate that social media is what we make it. We can be honest in the things we post, we can consider others before we post, and we can choose what to view. There are several advantages to social media. However, if we don’t discern the messages coming at us (whether they be from a friend or acquaintance or even an advertisement), we are in danger of allowing social media to have more control over us than we do it.

One guideline we like to share when speaking to youth about social media is T.H.I.N.K. before you post. Ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to post
T rue
H elpful
I nspiring
N ecessary
K ind

It’s a good rule of thumb for anyone – adults included!

– Megan Briggs

Megan joined the Generations of Virtue team to become the Product Manager, a position which keeps her busy researching, reading resources, managing inventory and speaking to young people.

iPod Porn + Sons


Dear GOV,
Please help! I recently found pornography on my son’s iPod touch. His father has talked to him a little bit about pornography before, but I am heartbroken to see it on his iPod. What do I do?

– Heartbroken in Minnesota

Dear Heartbroken,

First of all – this is not the end. Your son is not condemned to a lifetime of pornography use. Pull yourself out of that heartbreak and prepare to have a much-needed conversation with your son.

The unfortunate fact of our day is that pornography has a wide grip on our culture. But the good news is that people are really starting to talk about it, and realizing that it is something that needs to be (and can be) overcome. Your son can absolutely overcome this and come out stronger on the other side.

One of the first steps you need to take is to figure out if this is a recurring pattern, or if it is a one-time occurrence (maybe an accident) or something that has just started. Get this information, then sit down with your husband and figure out what you are going to say to your son. One thing to keep in mind is that every person has a natural curiosity about sex – and this should not be used to make him or her feel ashamed. Shame is the enemy’s territory. So please start your conversation out in a spirit of love and a desire to understand. Let your son talk – don’t overwhelm him with words and feelings of disappointment. You really need to pray before you have this conversation. 

A couple things your conversation should include: 1) We love you. God loves you too. You are not condemned. 2) Porn is something to avoid. It’s harmful and dangerous and we do not want you to use it. 2) Pornography does not give an accurate portrayal of sex. If you are curious about sex or have questions, we will answer your questions and help you understand what God’s design for sex is. 3) Pray for your son. Ask the Lord to break any ties with pornography and to remove the images from his mind. 4) We are going to put practices in place to help you avoid pornography from here on. This is not to punish you or make you feel like you are inferior. It’s to protect you. 5) We love you and God loves you.

After you have an initial conversation with your son, consider going through a resource with him. A couple we recommend are Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle (for boys 10-15) and Tactics for young men 15-30. May the Lord bless you and guide you as your prepare to help your son! 

Because Boys Shouldn’t Hit Girls

During our recent exploratory trip to Thailand, our team was blessed with the opportunity to minister at a few orphanages. Due to the nature of the trip being just about meeting people, we hadn’t anticipated this and therefore we went in without a solid plan on what to present to these kids.

What message can you give a child who will soon understand from their culture that their body is only worth as much as they can rent it out for? Where does healthy sexuality fit into a culture where sex can be bought for $5 a night?

At one particular orphanage we ended up presenting a modified version of our “lies” skit. We had Eddie stand tall and represent a young boy seeking to be a man. Megan and I stood on either side of him and alternated giving him advice.

“If you want to be a man, you need to stand tall and speak the truth” Megan would say. Eddie would comply and stand tall and say “Jesus loves me”. Then I came in and said “No Eddie. To be a man you must lie and steal, that is what real men do.” Eddie would sink down a little and consider this advice while the children indicated with a shake of their heads that this wasn’t good advice.

The youth (ages 4-30) were really getting into the game of helping Eddie decide what was truth and what was a lie. He would offer hints by sinking lower or standing taller depending on the advice given. The last piece of advice I offered was that real men hurt women. You could have heard a pin drop as the room waited to see how Eddie would respond to this message. With valor Eddie stood tall and declared “No. Real men do not hurt women. They protect them and they love them like brothers should love their sisters.”

Our translator took the stage after the end of the skit to follow up on that note. He is an American friend of ours with a lifetime of experience working in Thailand. While he spoke, you could see each young man in the room stick his chest out a little farther and sit up a little taller. Each young lady looked around and began to relax in the presence of young men who (we found out later) were being admonished to be valliant protectors of women.

God has a beautiful calling for each child that was present that night, and we know that we were privileged to deliver a piece of it to them through a counter-cultural message. Those orphans now know that they are not alone or abandoned, and that they actually have an opportunity to be family to each other. And family members don’t abuse each other – they protect one another.

What would you give to help a child in Thailand hear this message? We’re going back to deliver this message along with 3 days of additional content about healthy sexuality to children at an orphanage. Can you help us? Just $30 will provide this material to an orphan AND his or her caregiver.

-Courtney Alberson

Courtney is Generation of Virtue’s lead solutions specialist. Which is a fancy way of saying she handles the team’s many IT needs and spends a lot of time in Photoshop. When she’s not finding solutions to problems, Courtney enjoys communicating God’s truth about love and relationships to teenagers and…drinking coffee.