What should you as a parent do if your child sees online pornography?
Ok, its probably not even an ‘if’ anymore…more of a “when”. And yes that’s crappy. But unfortunately it’s one of the crappier byproducts of this hyper connected, access to all content and media world our kids are growing up in.
Many kids may first see pornography in the playground, on the school bus or at home when they search words the other kids at school told them to check out. And for many kids this may well be their first look at sex and sexual relationships.
So, no, we don’t want online pornography being their education about all things sex and adult relationships.
It’s clearly a misrepresentation of the real world and the experience of sexual relationships we want for our children in the years to come.
And pornography is made by adults. For adults. A visual interpretation of fantasy. And for the most part adults have the ability to differentiate between the fantasy and the reality. Our kids don’t. So as parents, we need to help them make that distinction. Which can be tricky, especially when, for the most part, we want to shield our kids from this as long as possible. But certainly there are some conversations that need to happen knowing we want to be in charge of the dialogue our child receives. Certainly there are many putting their head in the sand hoping and possibly believing that their child won’t be exposed.
But we know that looking away is not always the first instinct. We know that it is not bad kids that look or even search. We know that the average age a child first sees hard core pornography is somewhere between 9 and 11 years depending on what research you choose. And we know that porn websites make up over 15 % of all websites on the internet. So I reiterate….it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’.
We can certainly do what we can to block the content from our kids devices and keep the home wifi secure. There are many on the market but the one I recommend is Family Zone. We also want to be checking our settings on Youtube and search engines to help block the worst offenders. But we also need to be aware these strategies offer no guarantee. We also need to be aware that not every family protects and filters their devices and internet access. So we can never be sure they won’t be shown content on other people’s screens.
So aside from doing our best to prevent and monitor the content they consume, what else can parents do to help our kids before they see this content, or if we suspect they may have been exposed?
Explaining the fantasy versus reality
Some conversations to get across the fantasy nature of pornography may be to relate it to the popular media they are familiar with. For example, a Spiderman movie may be enjoyable and we may relish in the escapades of Peter Parker, but we also know that no one can actually leap from one skyscraper to the next and fly through the air completely unscathed. And similarly, Fast and Furious movies portray a vastly exaggerated display of car driving. No one can drive a car from one bridge and leap to another and land on four wheels and keep weaving in and out of traffic relatively unscathed. So these are exaggerations of real life. They are an expression of fantasy that bears little resemblance to the every day. Similarly pornography is a fantastical representation of the average persons sexual relationships and not a true representation (not to mention the often violent and misogynistic nature of the porn movies they may well be exposed to).
Give them some age appropriate explanations of sex
To have conversations about the misrepresentation of pornography, they also need to have some understanding of what sex is in the first place to help them make that distinction. Whilst it is not always an enjoyable, comfortable conversation it is important they have some understanding of what sex is. And yes this may well be happening before we initially thought our kids needed to have this information. But we certainly want to make sure the information they are getting is accurate and something that can be processed at their age. The explanations for a 6 year old are therefore, going to be vastly different to those given to a 12 year old.
Don’t make tech the bad guy
When we try to lock down and hide and ban all technology for fear of what they will see, we risk setting up an “us versus them” scenario. Kids naturally “like” the tech (and very often steer towards things deemed as bad for them). But it’s important they know we recognise the important role the tech will play in their life, we just need some boundaries to keep that use healthy and manageable. We also want them to know that should they need to come to us and talk about something they have seen online, they wont have to fear that all their tech and devices may well be taken away.
Don’t think “not my kid”
I know your kids a good kid. Mine are too. But that alone won’t stop them seeing porn. It doesn’t stop kids being curious when someone asks them to type the letters PORN into the browser. It doesn’t mean they will turn away when someones asks to show them something. Its really important we don’t stick our heads in the sand and assume it wont happen to our kids or that only ‘bad’ kids are exposed to online porn.
You don’t need to have the full blown talk
It doesn’t need to be a sitting down for “the talk” to your 7 year old that goes through every graphic depiction of conception to birth. Just small snippets of conversation will be fine. Sometimes when we set up scenarios and sit our kids down to have the talk it can feel overwhelming or uncomfortable and they may quickly tune out in the hope that the conversation will quickly end. A few simple questions in general conversation may be a much better way to go. For example, “have you seen anything that make you feel uncomfortable online?” “Do you know how a baby gets inside a tummy?” And then a simple age appropriate explanation may help steer the conversation into them either asking more, or leaving it at that for the time being.
Listen more than you lecture
Lectures generally result in an eye roll and a shutting down of conversation. So try and listen to what your kids are saying (or sometimes not saying) in order to have those 2 way conversations.
Look at your individual child
Like all things parenting and like all things that happen in the online world, it is important that we take note of the effects of the experiences on the individual child. There isn’t always a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the way our children process what they see or how it effects their wellbeing. What one child can see and forget about relatively easily, other children may take it on board quite differently and have a lot more trouble making sense of it.
Once again it’s not always a comfortable topic, and it’s something that can cause enormous angst for both parent and child. So if we can get in first and be the supporter and educator, rather than leaving it to the online porn industry, then we can help steer them towards healthy relationships that will always be based on a mutual respect for themselves and for others.
For some more information and great books and resources check out
And to have a listen to a segment I did on this topic on KiisFm, listen here.