It is distressing for any parent to find out that their child has encountered pornography. Take a moment to calm yourself down first. Remember that your response—which includes your facial expressions and the tone of your voice—is very important in assuring your child that he or she can talk more with you about it.
If you have not already done so, this would be a good time to define what pornography is. You can explain that pornography is any kind of material (whether printed or digital) that shows people fully or partially naked and in sexual situations. It causes people to feel sexual excitement in unhealthy ways.
You may want to talk with your child about their feelings when he or she has stumbled on pornography. Explain to them that the excitement or confusion they feel does not mean they have done something wrong. However, it is good to talk about what could have led them to discover it by accident, and how such situations can be prevented in the future.
At another time, bring up with them the importance of modesty, and why it is not appropriate for people to show their nakedness to others on videos or images. The nakedness of our bodies is a very special thing we reserve for the person we marry.
This could also be a good time to talk about the purpose of sex, including for reproduction. Help your child to understand that sexual acts are not meant to be displayed to cause sexual feelings in others. Rather, it is one of the ways a husband and wife express their love to each other.
Let your child know that if he or she comes across such images or videos again, he or she can always come to you for help.
When your child is at this age, you can explore further with them why pornography is harmful to themselves and others.
Whether your child came across pornography accidentally, was exposed to it by friends, or sought out pornography intentionally, it is important to explain to him or her that pornography can lead us to we see ourselves through an unrealistic lens, which may cause us to have a low self-esteem and body image issues. It creates the idea that our bodies need to look a certain way in order to be attractive. Pornography can also "train" us to see others as sexual objects, which affects our relationships with them.
There may be a need to review your child’s media consumption habits. It may be that certain content he or she has been viewing more easily leads to access to pornographic content. Talk about the importance of practising good media discernment and discuss with him or her what a healthy media diet looks like.
You may need to explore drawing up an agreement for media usage, as well as consequences for breaking it, with your child. Other practices that can help is to have your child use their laptops or digital devices only in common spaces at home, like the living room, where their media usage can be open for all to see and monitored. In cases where your child may be struggling more with digital device usage, it can also be helpful to ask them to hand their mobile and digital devices to you every night before they turn in for bed, and you will only return the devices to them the next morning.
No matter what approach has been decided on, it is good to engage your child to help him or her understand that these practices are put in place to help them, because you love them, and not simply about controlling them.
Remember that this conversation about pornography is not a one-and-done chat. Continue to have open conversations about it—and assure them they can always come to you to talk about it—so that you can help your child in this area in a timely manner. Pornography addiction thrives in shame and secrecy, so it is important to bring it up to the light.
You can afford to go deeper in your conversations with your child when they are older. Talk to them about the purpose and best time for sex, and how pornography distorts the beauty of sex, such that it becomes an act of excess, degradation, and violence.
Your child is now at an age when she or he may be more conscious of their looks and bodies, as well as how others view them. Revisit your chats about how pornography impacts our self-esteem, and may cause us to have unrealistic expectations of attractiveness—for ourselves and others.
Share with them—or encourage them to find out for themselves—the neurochemicals that are involved in pornography consumption and how they work together to lead a person very easily into an addictive habit. It may be good to remind them that the more a person watches porn, the more their brains are wired to crave it.
Explore with them how pornography is not just a personal or private matter, because it trains us to see through the lens of sexual objectification, which leads us to treat ourselves and other people disrespectfully—as tools for our own sexual pleasure.
Help your teenager to understand that a pornography addiction can chip away at a person’s ability to be satisfied with relational and sexual intimacy in marriage. It is not just a harmless activity to release pent-up sexual energy, but can very easily become an addiction that makes a loving relationship (and eventually sex in marriage) more difficult to establish.
You can also bring up how pornography is not just a guy’s problem; girls, too, can struggle with it. Most boys and men, who are more visually-stimulated, often turn to visual pornography. Most girls and women, who are more relationally-oriented, can turn to emotional pornography, like erotica.
Encourage them to do some research on the links between pornography and sex trafficking to allow them to see a bigger picture of the complexities of the pornography industry. Get them to discover and think about the social injustices that are present in this multimillion-dollar business. This can open up their eyes to consider yet another aspect of pornography that is harmful. Ask them what they think they can do about it—for themselves and to help their friends who may be battling pornography addiction.
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Check out the Talk about Sex series for more essential conversations with your children.