Esther, a parent and former Parental Helpline Adviser, shares some perspectives on this topic, and also welcomes yours.
Good parenting advice dictates that parents take adequate steps to prevent young children, tweens, or teens from being exposed to pornography; However, don’t be altogether surprised or freak out if, despite your best efforts, you discover your child has indeed seen such material. Even if kids were never to actively seek out explicit material per se, it is an unfortunate fact that they will be exposed to it at some point. Nowadays, sexual imagery is everywhere—television, advertisements, street hoardings, internet, mobile phones, and local shops/newsagents.
Parenting to Negate the Harmful Effects of Viewing Pornography
There is ongoing debate about whether or not young children should be educated by their parents and/or school specifically about damaging effects of pornography in addition to telling them about the “birds and the bees”, sex and relationships, conception, pregnancy and contraception.
With the reality being that in this digital age sexual imagery is easily visible and readily available to the masses and it being too late to, so to speak, “close the gate after the horse has bolted” children need to be educated as to how to deal with exposure to X-rated material at a much younger age than previous generations.
Negative Effects of Early Exposure to Adult Material
This can include, but is not limited to
- Girls developing self-image issues when they do not resemble the likely airbrushed and/or surgically enhanced “glamour girls” depicted in the pornographic films/magazines etc.
- Boys wanting to be thought of as superhuman predatory sexual “studs”
- Developing unrealistic demands in terms of how a woman/man should look and act
- Predilection for the body-shapes most frequently depicted - e.g. fake breasts being deemed to be the norm or being more attractive than “real breasts” by girls as well as boys.
- Unrealistic and/or unreasonable expectations of sexual acts
- Addiction to pornography and/or escalating need for more bizarre or harmful sexual practices
- Altered views of morality, fidelity, promiscuity, submissiveness and/or dominance
Most parents want their kids to have a childhood that is innocent and free from sexual concerns, but many parents will concede that this is becoming more and more difficult in the face of the internet and smartphones. Even if a parent manages to shield their child from sexual imagery whilst they are at home, nowadays it is a massive challenge to protect that same child from such exposure on the way to the shops, in the school playground, or at a friend’s house etc.
Whilst we might be more comfortable coaching our children on grammar or multiplication, it is also important to lay the right foundations for future positive self-esteem and happy, safe, respectful intimate relationships.
Viewing porn can be related to the growing practice of sexting (taking and sending of explicit photos via mobile phone). Many pre-teens and teenagers have regretted participating in sexting which has consequently been a starting point for bullying, often leading to isolation or depression.
It’s important that young people realise that images they send of themselves to a particular/trusted individual can wind up being forwarded to all and sundry, even ending up on the internet. No matter if the person receiving the sext intended to keep it private, he or she might lose their phone or leave it unattended, in which case who knows who will see the images stored on it and pass them on. If such images get posted on the internet, future relationships and even job prospects could be adversely affected.
Young people need to be helped to realise the potential negative consequences of certain actions, no matter how uncomfortable it is for a parent to impart such information.
Talking to your kids about Porn!
Shying Away From Difficult Conversations
Most of us are guilty of doing this but it's better for a parent to be embarrassed now about giving information on how to avoid conception than to be embarrassed by a future unwanted pregnancy. Likewise a parent will need to put aside any discomfiture about talking to their child about pornography to try to ensure that the child develops a healthy attitude to sex and relationships, with awareness of what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour.
This aspect of parenting children is very testing but, thankfully, it can be made considerably easier to start the process at an early age with a well thought out book on the subject which you can share with your child. Good Pictures Bad Pictures (linked to below) is a little book which the writer of this article believes to be invaluable in broaching this important subject in a way which children can take on board.
Is it Ever too Late to Have the Talk?
Better late than never! You might want to prepare yourself for the conversation by thinking through your views about the bulleted points above, and more. Some parents find it helpful to bring up the subject when there is something sex related in the news or on a TV programme, rather than making an appointment to sit face to face with the child and have the sex talk or porn talk.
Alternatively you might want to weave the subject matter into a general conversation whilst you and your child are engaged in another activity such as cooking or fishing, as having a “side” activity can take away some of the embarrassment for both parents and kids.
During the talk, encourage your child to ask questions of you but, if the child has none, you might want to be prepared and say something like “you may be wondering about ... xyz. Well, ..... (and give your answer to the question). Even if they totally clam up through embarrassment, older children especially will still be hanging on to your every word on this emotive topic.
Sometimes a mother will assume/hope that her son's father will talk with their son about these matters, or a father may assume/hope that his daughter's mother will have taken care of it, and not act. Parents need to communicate with one another if they want to ensure such tasks have been taken care of - and of course there is no law against mothers talking to sons/fathers talking to daughters or indeed both parents for that matter. Just be sure to think things through, decide on the best approach based on your knowledge of your child, stop being overwhelmed with embarrassment and make sure the child is given the information you deem necessary and be prepared to answer their questions.
Finally, it should be borne in mind that such discussion should not be a once-only talk.
Even if a parent has had this conversation in the past, it is advisable to come back to the subject from time to time.
Since the previous talk, a child may have developed physically and/or mentally and may have encountered new situations which put a different slant on your words of wisdom.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Esther Strong
Comments - Are you comfortable with talking to your children/teenagers about porn?
Esther Strong (author) from UK on September 24, 2013:
Hi Moon Daisy - It's good you were nearby and noticing what was happening at the time. Sadly, as parents, we can't be everwhere so some form of preparation, for what is almost inevitable nowadays, can help.
Moon Daisy from London on September 22, 2013:
Voted up. This is a great hub, and I'm glad you wrote it! And thank you for linking to mine.
My daughter recently ended up on a Russian porn site while flicking through Dora videos on YouTube. Luckily I caught it before she really noticed what was on the page. All she asked was why there was all foreign writing.
This is sadly a subject that we all need to think about.