Beginning Conversations with Children about Pornography
I didn’t think about pornography much as a teenager or young adult. It was difficult to find when I was growing up. Internet browsers weren’t around (really) when I living in my parents’ home, and I liked to keep rules…no way I was going to look at someone’s yucky magazines.
I was well into my 20’s at my first exposure to pornography. The more I talk to others, the more I realize how rare that is. An innocent search of the comic book characters, X-Men, can shock a poor 10-year-old, and the misspelling of “boobs,” may be all that protects a curious 7-year-old. (“We just couldn’t figure out why there were like 10 entries in the search engine for “big bob.” Who is Big Bob?!)
So, I’ve had hard time figuring out where and when I start to teach my children about avoiding pornography and what to do when they see it. But, more importantly, how do I help them not feel shame, thus making it more likely for them to hide it?
I’m not good at this whole thing…I think about how to approach my kids a lot, I try to separate my own feelings of shame, guilt, revulsion, and complicated internalized lessons about sexuality and desire that I grew up with, but I’m no expert. Just a parent trying to muddle through. But, I’ve found that every time I talk about pornography with someone else, I feel a little more empowered and prepared.
The first resource I ever found that really helped me understand pornography—what an addiction looked like (and what it didn’t) was the Winter 2008 issue of Exponent II. I saw for the first time that the addiction was just as real as one involving alcohol or drugs. I saw women and men writing candidly about what both addiction and casual use looked like, facts about both, and how couples overcame (usually) the husband’s addiction. I’ve given the link above to just about every bishop I’ve had since that issue first came out. It was an amazing piece of work for its time (and is still useful almost a decade later).
We have so many more resources these days to protect young people from pornography, but it is also so much more pervasive. I see my kids with their access to the internet in our house, and I know no many how many filters I throw at them, they’ll find a way around them. As the Church instructs, clear, candid and consistent conversations with my kids seems to be the best way that I can ensure that they grow up with a healthy sexual identity, good boundaries, and have the skills to see the damage that pornography can do.
My children are 10, 8 and 4. Here are some of the things I have done that I’ve found useful.
In 2011, the Friend published the story, “Crash and Tell,” where a young boy accidentally sees something on the computer. He turns off the computer immediately and tells his mom. I feel like the Friend did a great job approaching this subject in a way that I felt I could handle with my young kids. I’ve read each of them this story when my kids were between the ages of 3 and 5, and this story did a great job of helping us broach the subject.
My spouse and I talk to our boys (8 and 10) about pornography every 6 months or so (we don’t have it scheduled or anything), and one of us generally leads the conversation with the other one chiming in.
I found Gary Wilson’s “The Great Porn Experiment,” a TED talk, really helpful for me to start the conversation with my oldest a couple years ago (I watched it and relayed the info…I don’t think it’s appropriate for my kids at their current age). FYI, my husband felt it was too shaming. (We have very different ideas about how to teach our kids on this subject. I think ultimately that is for our kids’ benefit, but it does lead to some not-so-fun conversations.)
I also think this new video done by the Church is a good one with some additional commentary from me as the parent. (We haven’t shown it to our kids yet because we just had a FHE on this about a month ago…unless it comes up naturally in a conversation soon, I’m not planning on showing it for a bit.)
I’ve been thinking about this a little more than usual lately because I’ve been taking Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife’s course, “How to Talk to your (LDS) Kids About Sex: Fostering Healthy Development in a Sex-Saturated Age.” This course asks thoughtful questions in the homework assignments and provides additional resources for me and my kids.
Frankly, I worry (a lot) about teaching our kids shame and thus exacerbating current pornography use. I hear so many talks in Church about the evils of pornography. They make me feel rotten. Are we using scare tactics to keep us all safe? Is that effective? Is pornography use so black and white? Is it dangerous enough that we can justify using shame and scare tactics?
What are your thoughts about teaching kids (your own, your relatives, or children under your care) about the dangers of pornography? What resources do you like? What resources do you find harmful? Have you taken a look at the new Church website, overcomingpornography.org?
But, most importantly, how can we, as a community, have the frank conversations necessary to make us all safer?