Well well well, so the day you’ve been dreading has arrived. You know your child has seen, stumbled upon or willingly watched online porn and now you’re freaking out. Let’s explore how to approach a younger child, and then we’ll get into talking to tweens and teens.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that porn is a sensitive topic that not everyone feels comfortable talking about and that’s ok. For that reason, this article is written from a general perspective that can be applied across the board because trying to shelter your children from seeing online porn is next to impossible. Better to prepare them ahead of time.

Over the years I’ve heard a variety of interesting ways kids have seen porn. Here are two:

“My child came home from school and said Mommy! I saw an adult movie on the tablet at school!”
“My 5 year old was innocently watching Skylanders videos on YouTube when suddenly he got a pop-up of a woman giving a man a B******. He was so scared he came running into the kitchen with the iPad saying ‘I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything!”

You’re not going to like these statistics but here I go anyway:
– 90% of kids ages 8-16 have viewed pornography.
– 70% of children 7-18 years old have accidentally encountered online pornography, often through a web search while doing homework.
(For more: https://www.guardchild.com/statistics/ )

For the little ones:
Goodbye telelvision, HELLO Netflix and YouTube! What’s making our lives easier is also aging our youth faster… and whether you like it or not, whether you feel comfortable or not, your children will find it (or it will find them). For this reason, I suggest keeping all devices within hearing range (without using headsets) like the kitchen or family room for all children under 12. This way, if you hear the volume go down, that’s your cue to take a walk over to see what they’re watching. It’s easier to redirect them from inappropriate sites with bad language now then it will be when they become teenagers.

I would also casually bring up (at dinner or tuck-in time) the idea that we all have a “6th sense.” A feeling that acts as our guide to protect us from being hurt or scared. Talk to your children about trusting their instincts and if something pops up or they see something weird on the side of the video they’re watching that makes them feel uncomfortable, that they should turn if off or change screens. Explain that not everything they see online is real and sometimes there might be naked adults doing weird things that don’t make sense and make them feel icky. If this happens, they should turn it off and come and tell you. Empower them to act on their own.

* If they feel safe enough to tell you they saw something weird (and be aware that many kids don’t tell their parents out of shame or guilt) this is an opportunity for you to check their history to see exactly what it was that they saw. *

For the tweens/teens:
The “when” for this age group will depend on your own experience. From what I’ve learned, it’s very common for boys to start watching porn in the 7th grade (ages 12-13). Now let me take you back to 19-whatever year it was when YOU were 12. How would you go about your sexual curiosities? You would sheepishly walk to the magazine section and glance at the very top shelf where Samantha Fox was starring at you through the plastic wrapped Playboy taunting you – You can’t buy me, you’re too young. But somehow you snuck a peak at your uncle’s Playboy collection or your friend’s older sibling’s collection and looked. And that’s what you did. You looked.

Keep in mind, “an occasional peek at pornography or use of pornography for sexual stimulation is not as much of a mental health concern as are cases where children are obsessed with the material” (Richard Toft, Child Psychologist in Palo Alto, California).

Today’s curiosities are fulfilled for FREE in the PRIVACY of your own home. I am new to the teenage years and learning as I go like most of you but one thing I feel strongly about is the need to give our children the roots to grow and the wings to fly — this applies to responsibilities as well as technology. If you’ve done your due diligence with “The Porn Talk” in the primary years, you can start to trust that your values have been absorbed. Give a little freedom (which means privacy —which means a little bit less monitoring) and see how it goes. (Note: Monitoring is not over, it’s just less often.)

With new privacy privileges, come closed doors. Whether they’re bathroom doors or bedroom doors, a closed door warrants a respectful knock. I don’t think I need to go any further into this…
If you start noticing more and more closed doors, and you’ve deferred having “The Porn Talk” with your teen, you might want to take a look at their browser history to confirm your suspicions that they might be watching porn. (* Side note: teaching your children how to wash their own sheets near the age of 12 1/2 will save you from any “bed sheet mishaps.” 😜 Just saying….)

The important thing is don’t overreact and don’t make them feel ashamed. Assure them that their curiosity is perfectly normal and they don’t need to be embarrassed about it. This talk will be SO much easier if you have the “lighter age appropriate talk” when they are younger. The teen porn talk should include talking about why some porn may be sending the wrong messages about gender equity, violence, respect (or lack thereof) and the roles and expectations of what sex is really all about. Teens need to be informed that they do not need to “perform” what they see, let alone “accept” that a disturbing fantasy is reality.

My take in a nutshell is to teach them to trust their instincts and if something makes them feel uncomfortable, it doesn’t fall in line with their intrinsic values and they need to turn it off. Only real life relationships are fulfilling because they are real and you EXPERIENCE them. “Porn is a fantasy world. And the more time you spend in that world, the more you become isolated. In essence your soul becomes intertwined with something that isn’t real. There’s no connection, just loneliness exacerbated with guilt.” (B.J. Foster, Director of content creation for allprodad.com).

Pornography is a personal topic with many delicate elements and individual situations. If you are concerned about your child’s experience and want to know more, here are some articles you might find helpful:

So Your Kid is Looking at Pornography — Now What?

When Children Use Pornography/When Children View Pornography

Why and How To Talk To Children About Pornography

Natalia reaches out to tweens and teens daily on Instagram. Encourage your tweens and teens to follow @natalia.mcphedran to get Natalia’s daily dose of motivation for tweens & technology: how to use social responsibly and avoid gaming addiction.