Talking to Your Kids about Porn: Tips on Dealing with this Uncomfortable Topic

Talking to Your Kids about Porn: Tips on Dealing with this Uncomfortable Topic
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How to Talk to Your Kids about Porn

Being a parent to a tween in this age of technology can be challenging, especially with content, including the r-rated sort, all being readily available. I can honestly say my parents never had to have a ‘porn’ conversation with me. Yet the other day, as I searched for a lullaby for my youngest on YouTube, my search showed porn sites right there amongst my son’s favorite goodnight songs. WTH? No one in the family utilizes this TV- this is how much porn has evolved. Sneaky, sneaky. And the thought of having this conversation with my oldest is right up there in my most significant parent stresses.

So how do you talk to your kids about porn? I touched base with Jennifer Kelman, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in parenting and children’s mental health issues, relationship and body issues for advice on this tricky and yes, uncomfortable subject. 

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How can a parent have a conversation with their child about porn before it is introduced (usually by social media or friends)?

It is crucial for parents to talk to their kids about pornography. If they don’t, someone else will and the information their kids receive might be inaccurate or just down-right scary. Many parents worry that if they introduce the topic of pornography, it will spark curiosity and give their child reason to seek it out. The reality is, they may already be seeking it out or may very soon when someone else introduces the topic in a less safe environment. It’s better to have information about this sensitive topic presented to them in a way they can understand and from someone who knows what they can handle.

This conversation can be a tough one to have, but parents must not shy away from it just because it’s difficult. Be open with your child to ensure they feel comfortable enough to ask questions and speak openly at any point in the future when they may have questions.

Start the conversation by asking your child if they know what pornography is. If they say they do, ask them to fill you in on what they know. This is usually met with giggles and some discomfort. Reassure them that it’s okay to talk about and acknowledge how silly it may feel. Giggle with them, too.

If they say they do not know what pornography is, begin with what love and intimacy is like in a relationship and the healthy ways that love and intimacy are expressed. After that, move toward letting them know about pornography and how it is not a healthy way for people to relate. Women are often demeaned and treated poorly, or violence is sometimes a part of pornography. While it may feel exciting for them to see this, it is important to stress that this is not how people who care about one another treat each other in real-life intimate relationships.

What are the potential adverse effects pornography can have on children, and how can it impact their mental health and relationships down the line. 

Pornography may teach a child that this is how people relate and connect. Boys may learn that power and dominance is the way to treat a girl. They may lose any sensitivity in how they treat girls and expect them to always say yes. For girls, they may learn to be submissive and that they cannot say no to a boy.

The young mind isn’t yet ready to have this jarring view of intimacy. Viewing pornography during childhood can cascade into anxiety, depression and social isolation. It can also lead to a serious addiction that begins in childhood, resulting in more social isolation and damaged relationships.

Because pornography distorts a child’s view of relationships, it can damage the ability for them to truly connect in a way that is healthy. It can also leave them feeling bored and disconnected if pornography is not part of the connection.

What mistakes do parents make when they react to their kids watching porn

This is such a scary topic for parents that frequently they “freak out” if they catch their child watching porn, become angry and issue a harsh punishment. While the first instinct can be to “teach them a lesson,” this type of harsh reaction can likely lead to the child becoming more private and secretive about it rather than stopping the behavior. Many parents react by locking down access to devices and internet connection, but this may also lead the child to sneaking around and hiding their pornography viewing.

Parents need to take a deep breath before any conversation to remain calm and avoid a harsh reaction. Kids are curious and that is normal. Try to come into the conversation from a place of understanding, rather than a place of fear and anger.

If you find out your tween is looking at porn, what steps can a parent take? How do you talk to them on this subject while avoiding belittling them. 

Many kids are introduced to porn by a friend, so talk openly with your child about that possibility.  They often aren’t ready when they are first exposed to pornography, but once they see it, they cannot unsee it. This is why pornography viewing for children can often lead to anxiety, depression, and social isolation. It is important for parents to watch for these signs.

Let your child know that you understand their curiosity and you are not mad at them at all. Belittling them and making them feel bad for natural curiosity could shame them, which closes any possibility of open and wonderful conversations about sex.

Offer to search Amazon for age-appropriate books on sexual intimacy that highlight beautiful ways to connect intimately. Remind them how much you love them and no matter how silly the conversations feel, you are always there to listen and respond to them without judgment.

Jennifer Kelman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for more than 30 years and maintains a private psychotherapy practice specializing in relationships, parenting, and children’s mental health issues. Since 2012, Jennifer has also been an expert on JustAnswer.com (“Therapist Jen”), providing online support to those in need. Jennifer has lectured extensively around the country and appeared on news and television programs covering a range of issues including relationships, parenting, body-image, eating disorders and children’s mental health. A mom to 11-year-old twins, Jennifer enjoys tennis, golf and coaching her children’s sports when not working.