My parents didn’t really talk to me about pornography when I was a kid. They didn’t really have to, it didn’t seem like it was as prevalent back then. There were kids who had “dirty magazines” or who had watched “x-rated” movies, but it wasn’t everywhere like it is today. Because more than 90% of kids today have access to the Internet, you need to have the pornography talk with your children. It’s not a matter of “if” your child will come across pornography, it’s a matter of “when.”
As a parent, I feel this overwhelming need to protect and warn my children about the pitfalls of life, including pornography. About a year ago, we had our first (of many) discussions about pornography in our home with our two eldest children (5 and 9 at the time). While it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss, we took it head on. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it, just start talking about it. In our house, we chose a more religious (over medical) approach to teaching this topic. In no way am I recommending you have the conversation the same way we did. Use whatever approach works for you and your family, in conjunction with your own religious and personal beliefs. If you want to check out the resource we used to start the conversation, I listed it below:
General guidelines (adjust as age appropriate for your child) to having the conversation:
- Clearly define pornography for your kids (e.g., You may tell your 6 year old that pornography is pictures of people wearing little or no clothes. You may give your 10 year old a more precise definition of erotic or sexual displays that are intended to cause arousal in the viewer).
- Explain what it does and how it can make them feel (this is part of what makes it addictive).
- Warn them that they will see it (so they don’t feel ashamed when it pops up on a screen that they can’t control).
- Empower them to know what to do when they encounter it (I borrowed these steps from the video we used)
- Call it what it is
- Turn it off or turn away
- Talk to your mom, dad, or trusted adult
- Help your child navigate the feelings they have as a result of the images they saw. Be careful not to come across as judgmental or make the child feel ashamed. Celebrate the fact that they were smart enough to recognize it for what it is and had the courage to say no.
Tips to safeguarding your house:
While everyone knows that locks and alarm systems won’t prevent every burglary, those extra steps are certainly better than nothing. Preventing pornography exposure is the same way. Even the most diligent parent can’t prevent every exposure, but there are many things you can do to help safeguard your children.
- Keep the family computer in a public place.
- Take advantage of your Internet service provider’s parent-control options or consider a filtering program that helps block certain sites.
- Follow your children on social media.
- Bookmark kids’ favorite sites. They are less likely to wander into sketchy sites and mistype their favorite sites’ URLs (some sites prey on kids’ common spelling mistakes).
- Spend time navigating sites online with your child (especially in the early years), so they learn appropriate online behavior.
- Don’t allow your child to enter “private forums.” Warn them about chat rooms and forums, which can be a common place for pedophiles to lure children.
- Monitor your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
- If adults in your house are engaging in pornography, extra care must be taken to ensure children don’t just “come across it” (e.g., clear Internet browsers, etc.).
Statistics from American College of Pediatricians, “The Impact of Pornography on Children.” June 2016
- 85% of adolescent males and 50% of adolescent females report being exposed to pornography
- 67% of young men and 49% of young women found pornography acceptable
- Nearly 1/3 of 14-16 year olds report their first exposure to pornography was at 10 years or younger
- Children younger than 12 who have seen pornography are statistically more likely to sexually assault their peers
What to do if your child is already involved?
There are countless resources available for parents to help their children overcome pornography. How you should approach it, largely depends on your child’s involvement. If your child has happened across pornography once, a simple conversation may be enough. If your child is addicted, a 12-step addiction recovery program may be best. Whatever the level of involvement, acknowledge there is a problem, be supportive/show love, and get help. Depending on where you live, resources may include your doctor, community centers/support groups or religious groups. There are also many reputable online resources.
Hopefully, your willingness to have the early, tough conversations with your child will prevent a lot of heartache later. Good luck!