How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn

Underage access to pornographic material is nothing new but the ease of accessibility afforded by the digital age has accelerated the rate at which children are viewing this content.

Deciding how to talk to your kids about porn is never easy or clear-cut, as it’s not simply a case of forbidding access to technology or devices (thus creating a ‘forbidden fruit’ style scenario). The widespread prevalence of this cultural phenomenon means that, as parents and educators, we must establish open communication with children about pornography to ensure that they are equipped to navigate an increasingly “sexualised media environment” [10].

In Catherine Manning’s thought-provoking piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, “How and why to talk to your children about pornography”, she suggests  that it’s not necessarily the viewing of sexual content that poses the greatest risk to young people, but the “never having conversations about sex, pornography or relationships at all, especially when a lot of what they’re exposed to delivers problematic narratives about sexual relationships and expectations” [2].

Working Against The Problematic Narrative

Many, if not most, children will be exposed to pornographic material at some point in the course of their childhood. For young children, this is often accidental and involves them encountering images and content that they are too young to adequately process [5].

Signs That You Need To Have This Conversation

Signs that your child may be  accessing age-inappropriate material:

  • They have deleted their Internet browsing history on their device or computer
  • They are accessing your streaming accounts
  • They become very secretive about or protective of their device
  • They’re using phrases or language that leads you to believe they are accessing adults only content

It may be tempting at this point to completely shut down or police your child’s access to any digital content. This can be counter-productive as the most likely place your child will see this material is when they are out of the home in an environment that you cannot control [4]. Please be aware, however, that the importance of this lesson about how to talk to your kids about porn lies not in the content they view but in the conversation they have with you.

Here are some empowering questions [4] you can ask to get this conversation started:

  • What is respect? How is it shown to us? How do we show it to others?
  • How can we show respect towards bodies (our own and others)?
  • Have you ever seen pornography? Do you know what it is?
  • What would you do if you did see it? Here is where you can begin to strategise with your child about putting a plan in place that will assist them to leave a situation they feel uncomfortable in [7]
  • What messages about bodies, sex, gender and relationships does pornography send?

Check with your child’s school as to when they will begin sexual education and whether or not that will include discussion about the impact that viewing pornography will have on their social and emotional development.

The Internet is an interconnected network that makes it possible for individual users to create and share content. This has led to a plethora of unregulated, unmoderated material being created and dispersed all over the globe and becoming easily accessible to children; even when filters are in place. Jessica Zurcher, a former middle-school teacher, was motivated to study the effects of pornography on adolescent children after she noticed a student being exposed to pornographic material whilst playing a children’s computer game;

“Although this student didn’t appear to be paying attention to it, I was alarmed – a child encountering pornography intermixed with children’s entertainment that was being accessed in an educational environment where filters were supposedly ‘in place’.” [10]

This is particularly concerning given that there is evidence to suggest that viewing pornography can lead to warped ideas surrounding sex and the prevalence of outdated beliefs surrounding gender.

It is critical that we begin a dialogue with our children at a young age so that they are equipped with the critical thinking tools they need in order to be able to address this situation when (not if) it arises [9]. The way you broach this topic will depend on the age of your child. It is advisable to begin these conversations as early as possible (in age-appropriate ways) so that this open-ended discussion around tough topics becomes a natural part of your parent-child relationship.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn: Pre-Teen Children 

The questions listed above are a great place to start with younger children in addition to other open discussions about sex in general. The goal here is to establish a dynamic that is non-confrontational, respectful and encourages your children to open up about their experiences in the hope that their honesty and candour will continue into their teen years.

There is a four-pronged goal with these early conversations [3].

  1. Build trust between yourself and your child. This will form the foundation of a relationship where they can open up to you about their concerns.
  2. Prepare ahead of time. Engage in reading, talk with your peers and be prepared for this conversation to go a number of different ways. You may even like to plan ahead with dot points on pieces of paper that your child can follow along with. Ensure that your conversation takes place in a calm, neutral space with no interruptions.
  3. Take the time and talk one-on-one. Sometimes going for walk or a drive can be the best way to engage in such conversations. Being in a calm and neutral space with no interruptions can make your child feel more at ease to discuss this difficult topic.
  4. Ask and listen rather than lecture. Your child may expect to get in trouble and may clam up. Calm, gentle and responsive questioning is best.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn: Teenagers

This is where your conversation will shift towards more serious discussions about how we form relationships and sexual identities. Here are some talking points [7].

  • Viewing pornography can lead to unrealistic expectations about body image
  • The sex depicted in pornography is not safe or protected. It also often blurs lines to do with consent.
  • Porn is a performance and is a misrepresentation of pleasure. Viewing pornography can make you feel like you ‘must’ perform certain acts in order to fit in. Real sex is supposed to be a physical expression of intimacy.
  • Porn often represents violence and humiliation as part of sex. This may have a negative impact on their own relationships and adult sex life.
  • Pornography reinforces negative stereotypes to do with race, gender and sexuality.

It is important that you share your concerns in a non-judgemental way and speak to your teen in a way that shows them their opinions and feelings matter to you.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn: A Vital Conversation 

Our goal as parents is to protect and with that, we must adapt to the circumstances. Beginning these conversations with our children early will establish an environment of trust and respect in your home. Denying or trying to silence the problem is not the answer, nor is expecting your child to navigate this rough terrain all on their own.

References

  1. Talking to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography
  2. How and Why To Talk To Your Children About Pornography
  3. Talking to your 8-12-year-old about pornography
  4. Talking To Your Kids About Pornography
  5. Pornography: Talking About It With Children
  6. Do we know whether pornography harms people?
  7. What’s the issue? It’s time we talked
  8. TEDx: 4 talks offer new ways to think about porn
  9. What can you do? It’s time we talked
  10. Talking to children about pornography
  11. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/talk-primary-school-age-children-pornography/

Related Articles