by Collett Smart
(Update: I have added the * so that this article gets through your filters)
Young people are naturally curious and innately want to know more about love and sex, yet porn has the ability to destroy everything that is good about romance, love and relationships. There is nothing empathic or kind about p*rn.
Neither sex nor sexual attraction is inherently bad – it is part of normal, healthy development – in the right context. We ought to be encouraging young people to be safe, healthy and confident about their bodies and sexual development. The problem is that the sexualised wallpaper of society does not allow for this natural development to occur. It forces our teens into unhealthy beliefs and practices, before many have even had their first kiss.
We know that children (both boys and girls) as young as nine have been exposed to p*rnography, even when they did not intend to access it. So as a start, it is safe to assume that teens already know what it is. The flood of p*rn, so easily available online, has become our kids’ primary source of sexual education, forcing them into an early awareness of unhealthy, risky, violent and dangerous sexual practices.
If not specifically addressed, it is likely to erode their emotional, mental, physical and relational development.
This is a public health crisis. Like smoking or other public health issues, this will have long-term consequences – Dr Joe Tucci, CEO, Australian Childhood Foundation
In fact, p*rnography worries young people themselves, so the adults in their lives must absolutely engage in this conversation with them. Remember: just because your child does not mention it, does not mean they have not been exposed.
Often, kids ‘don’t tell’ because they are worried about their parents finding out what they have been doing online, are afraid they will have their devices confiscated, or felt they were to blame if someone showed them something.
Ok, so how do you talk to your tween about porn?
We will need to have lots of small talks, at every age, stage or level of exposure. This is why it is so important for young people to have someone to talk with when they first encounter porn.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Avoid shame – When we discover a child has seen p*rnography, we must not shame them! Shame often leads porn viewing to become a secretive and potentially a more compulsive behaviour.
- Explain to them, “Your body’s response is normal. To be curious or even aroused when first encountering p*rnography is our body’s natural inbuilt physiological response, but it’s what we choose to do after our first encounters with p*rnography that put us onto a healthy or destructive path. Do you continue to look for more and more opportunities to watch porn, do you tell a trusted adult about it or do you find alternative healthy activities to engage in?”
- Talk about p*rn as a poisonous script for sexual behaviour versus lessons in intimacy. “P*rnland” sex contains distorted messages and is filled with myths and stereotypes, and is often violent and abusive. It is the opposite of healthy intimacy.
- P*rnography normalises treating people as objects.
- Make them aware that consistent viewing of p*rnography leads to negative biological, psychological and social effects. There is growing evidence of the negative effects on the brain and young men struggling with Erectile Dysfunction.
When you discover that your t(w)een has seen p*rn:
If we talk with our children about the harms of p*rnography, does that mean they will never see it or even seek it out? Unfortunately, no! We’ve already ascertained that they will see p*rn, sooner than we feel prepared for – young people are curious and p*rn is everywhere. But we are in this for the long haul. We are obligated to inform our tweens of the grave risks they face if they choose porn. We have to teach them not just the biological truths, but also about their own emotional vulnerabilities and to value the highest standard of care for others. (More on this in upcoming articles.)
The BREATHE method (in brief), which I developed for my book.
Be ready and breathe. Be armed with knowledge about this topic. Take some time to work this out if you need to, but don’t avoid talking about it.
Reassure your child that you are not angry. Explain calmly what you found and tell them that you are there for them and you will now work through this together.
Expect initial denials or promises, because kids are embarrassed or afraid of your reaction.
Activities. Ensure your child’s life is filled with lots of healthy online and offline activities.
Technology check. Have you set up blocking software and parental controls on children and teens’ devices. Is technology out of bedrooms? What is the screen time balance in your home? (Note: Social media is not recommended for children under the age of 13.)
Have a plan. Sit with your child and draw up a plan for what they can do when future exposure occurs—because it will!
Enlist support. If viewing has become compulsive, seek the help of a child psychologist.
One last thought
No matter how prepared you think you are to talk about this topic, when it infiltrates your own family you never feel ready. It is natural for parents to want to protect their children from harm, and most parents I speak to believe porn is harmful. It’s okay to feel confronted by the fact that this ‘statistic’ is now a reality in your house.
It’s okay to take a little time before responding. Don’t jump straight in and blurt out your fears and concerns. Go for a walk, if necessary, to calm yourself down and think about what you might say next. If you messed up, clammed up, stammered or even yelled – apologise and try again! Your teen won’t remember the one or two times you fumbled your parenting ball. They will remember the over-arching atmosphere of your relationship – that you were open enough to say sorry, that you cared and that you were prepared to talk to them about anything!
So, be ready to listen, then talk, then listen, and then talk again…
Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.
Adapted from Conversation #13 – Pornography: ‘We need to talk about porn.’ in my book, They’ll Be Okay: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times (Hachette, 2019). All research papers are available in the book.
A fantastic online resource, for parents, has been developed by Culture Reframed.
My thoughts on talking to children and teens about pornography, on The Morning Show below: