Talking to Our Kids about Porn

Last week I got a call from a parent.  She was beside herself as she explained that she had discovered that her barely 7 year old daughter was looking at porn.

Kids can easily find or stumble upon porn.

Kids can easily find or stumble upon porn.

Many of us might have a judgey thought or two about monitoring computer time or using parental controls but let’s face it, today, all our kids can find porn.  It’s about  two clicks away from any Weird Al or funny pet video.

I don’t want to pretend that I’d be cool and collected.  I’d be upset too.  But this is a really important moment because I think our response will have a greater impact than the actual viewing of the porn.

In fact, we best empower kids (and feel somewhat in control) if we introduce the topic of porn rather than wait to discover that they sought it out or stumbled upon it accidentally.   And let’s be honest, our chances of knowing if our kids have seen porn increases if we are engaged in open dialogue with them about sex.

I think most parents would agree that the prevelance of porn is a big deal.  That’s a reason to confront it and not hide.  That’s a reason to proactively communicate rather than take a reactive approach to talking to our kids about it.

I can’t say what the right age for talking to kids about porn is. You know your kids best.  What I can say with certainty is that we delay conversations about sex well past when we could offer information, knowledge and values to our kids on the topic in ways that will serve them well.

Ideally, when it’s time to talk about porn, we have already had many conversations with our kids about how sex is a wonderful part of the human experience.  This ‘sex as a healthy and positive thing’ is the earliest perspective that kids can hold.  With the fundamental belief that sexuality is a force of good in the world, they can learn and understand that it is also complex and can be used to hurt themselves and others.  It’s from this place that people can be good decision-makers.

Last year I talked to my (then) 9 year old about porn.  Leading up to the conversation was nerve-racking but it’s important to me that I’m their first source of information on the topic.  My children are too important to pretend that porn won’t eventually reach them.  And to me, it’s complicated and  carries substantial impact that I can’t disregard.  I want to inform their perspectives on the subject.

So in a quiet and relaxed space, I asked my kid if he had ever heard of the word porn or pornography.  He said no.  Then I launched in.  Here’s what I covered in my (maybe) 4 minute introduction to porn:

  1. Porn is pictures and videos of naked people and/or people having sex;
  2. There is a lot of porn on the internet and it’s pretty easy to find on purpose or by mistake;
  3. Porn is made to turn adults on (make them feel sexy) which is fine since it’s perfectly okay for adults to feel that way.  Looking at porn, like engaging in sex, is adult activity. It’s not for kids at all;
  4. Porn isn’t trying to teach people things.  It’s not a good place to learn about sex and sexuality; and
  5. If you see any porn or friends want to show you some, I’d like for you to not engage and want you to let me know so that we can talk about it.  And, if you have questions about sex, I’m really happy to answer them for you or offer you resources that do a good job at teaching kids about the topic.

When talking to kids who have already seen porn, these are still the fundamental points to communicate. We need to not be alarmist or punative.  We should tell our kid that they’re not in any trouble but that we are concerned about what they saw.  We can highlight (and celebrate) their curiosity while still messaging that porn isn’t the right response to that curiosity.  We can reassure them that porn is so easy to find that having a parent or other trusted adult help out with that curiosity is a really good idea.

Future conversations will tackle things like the limited perspective and body types in mainstream porn, as well as the near absent intimacy and communication depicted.  We’ll also talk about the concerns associated with frequent use of porn, sexual exploitation, gender roles in porn,  and so much more.

I won’t wait too long before I get brave and initiate the next conversation.

When will you initiate a chat about porn with your kid?

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I also wrote about telling my kid about sexual assault and about wanting to be the person who offered him his first lesson on the topic.

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