Teaching Children about Pornography
“Mom, can we talk in The Bubble?” my son asked.
“Sure, what’s going on?” I replied calmly, despite my racing heart. “The Bubble” is the imaginary space where my kids confess their misbehaviors, ask serious questions or critique our parenting. It is a “safe” zone that we use to get our kids to open up to us without fear of punishment or judgment.
“Can you throw those magazines away in the bathroom, the ones that are under the sink? There are a lot of inappropriate pictures in there and it makes me feel tempted to look at them.”
When our oldest was eight years old we began talking to him about porn, as this is the average age that children are first exposed to online porn. We had been talking to him about good touch/bad touch and physical boundaries since he was two, and had taught him about sex the year before, so discussing pornography was an extension of an ongoing conversation. We let him know that 88% of the images found in online porn depict violence against women and explained the difference between sex and porn. We let him know that it is inevitable that he will see pornography and we wanted to help him deal with the constant barrage of sexual images that he will be exposed to.
We certainly don’t have it all figured out and we have a lot more to learn, I am sure, but here are a few strategies we use to help our children navigate a pornified world:
- We name it when we see it. Pornography is mainstream in our culture. As a society we are so used to “soft porn” (sexual images that do not show actual penetration or genitalia) that we barely recognize it for what it is. When we are at the grocery store and see a magazine with a woman in very little clothing posing in a sexually provocative way we say, “That’s porn.” Usually they seem surprised. Naming it has power and opens opportunities for conversation.
- We make a distinction between sex and porn and talk to our kids about the difference. Sex is fun, pleasurable and can bring you closer to someone. As we are practicing LDS, we also emphasize that we believe that God has asked that we reserve sex for marriage. Porn is based upon objectification and unrealistic (and often harmful) portrayals of sex.
- We let them know that when they see porn it will feel good because their brain will have an instant increase in dopamine. They will probably feel curious and want to see more and they will need to use all their strength to turn away. When we tell kids that porn is bad they assume that when they see it they will feel bad. Physiologically this simply isn’t the case. We need to prepare them for how good it feels and warn them that not everything that feels good is actually good for us.
- We tell them that when they see pornography they need to immediately turn off the computer from the power button because most porn sites use technology that makes leaving their sites difficult for the first 7-10 seconds, at which point the brain is flooded with dopamine.
- When my older children have friends that come over who bring an electronic device we kindly explain that we have rules about electronic devices. We only use them in the open with an adult around and we don’t have technology in the bedrooms. We explain that these rules are to keep our kids safe from online porn.
- We talk about boundaries a lot. We emphasize to our children that they are in charge of their bodies and no one is allowed to touch them without their permission. Not simply sexually, but in any way. We use the phrase “no means no” in our house all.the.time. When the older boys want to hug their toddler siblings and they say “no,” we reinforce this boundary. No one has to hug, kiss, touch, or in any way be subject to another person’s touch without giving explicit permission. Boundaries are big in our house.
- We have an internet filter on our router and use the parental controls on Netflix, cable, apps, and anything else with access to online content. This is one of many strategies we use to keep our kids safe but there is no replacing the honest, open discussions about sex and porn (and the difference between the two) that will help children navigate our hyper-sexualized world.
- We rely on a lot of resources, including websites, books and people we trust to help us when we get stuck. Educate Empower Kids (educateempowerkids.org) is an excellent site that has many helpful tips on teaching kids about healthy sexuality, online pornography and helping kids becoming stronger emotionally, physically and spiritually. We have used several of their publications, including 30 Days of Sex Talks for ages 8-11 and 30 Days to a Stronger Child. We have also used Good Pictures, Bad Pictures by Kristen A. Jenson and Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman. There are a lot of great resources to use, and these are just a few that we have tried and found helpful for our family.
If you haven’t started talking to your kids about pornography, start today. It may seem overwhelming at first but I promise that the more you talk about it the more organic it will feel. Eventually your children will talk more openly about it with you and you will be able to guide them towards healthy sexuality.