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So, your kid saw porn – what now? – Part 2

Raising Teens |

This is part 2 in our series “Parenting and Pornography”. Click here to read Part 1. 

Respond with love, not shame.

If your child has seen an image, or for example has been exposed to pornography by someone at school, older sibling, etc and comes to you, applaud them for telling you. Never get angry or scold your child.

The same goes for if you come across your teen watching porn, or your teen comes to you to disclose. Shaming or punishing a teen for looking at porn means you lose a valuable opportunity to build trust and open up a critical dialogue. 

It’s normal to be a little taken aback or shocked, but if you react too strongly your child may regret telling you. In the case of young children who come across porn by accident, they may well be as shocked (or more shocked) than you.

“Bracketing” is a strategy to try – in this type of circumstance, put your own reactions in a box, to focus on your child. Once you deal with what they are experiencing, you can then return to how you felt about what happened later on.

Young kids: tackle what was seen in a “Just Enough” way.

If your child is young – say 11 years or younger, first praise and validate your child for telling you what happened. Tell them that you imagine what they saw would have been confusing—ask them if that’s true. Ask them how seeing it made them feel. You can—and should—offer basic context so your child understands that what they saw is not a realistic depiction of healthy behaviour.

You could say “What you saw was something that is not meant for kids to see. What you saw in those [pictures, videos, etc] is not how most people behave.” You don’t want your young child to get the impression that this is what will one day be expected of them. The prospect of that can be very frightening, especially if the child was exposed to scenes of bondage, force, etc. 

Prepare yourself that your child may bring up the incident numerous times, as they slowly process what was seen. This is a completely normal and developmentally appropriate response; take the time to talk through it with your child anytime they ask. However, if your child seems traumatized by what they saw (nightmares, crying often, thinking about it more as time goes by, instead of less), or the content they were exposed to was particularly disturbing (scenes of violent sex, for example), you may want to consider making an appointment with a psychologist. 

Preteens: find out what they’re wondering and give a straight answer. 

If your child is closer to puberty, you might need to expand your explanation. Again, asking questions like “How did it make you feel?” or “Are you confused about anything that you saw?” will give you a good indication of your child’s capacity for understanding. If they ask a question, answer it. You might offer some context, that pornography is designed to entertain and excite some adults by pushing limits. It is not what really happens in a healthy sexual relationship, and is not an example of what adults in a loving relationship should do with each other.  

Depending on what was seen, it might be valuable to explain that porn often involves an unfair scenario, where a man is able to do whatever he wants to a woman, maybe even without her permission. If the pornography contained acts of violence, tell your child that it is never, ever OK to do that to another person—and nobody is allowed to do it to them. The people in these pictures/videos are putting on a show for money, and this material is not supposed to be shown to children.

Teens: deliver the facts, straight up. 

For teenagers, especially older teens, it’s time to be direct. With maturity comes less of a need to mince words, and more of an urgency to confront what was seen in an honest and upfront way—as your teen may already be experimenting sexually, or considering doing so. We’ve divided the next section of this post into a ‘conversation blueprint’ of what you might say to teen boys or girls. This conversation may be slightly different if you have an LGBTQ teen, but the overall concepts are universal to everyone.  

Talking to your teenage son

“Pornography is designed to entertain, excite and push limits. It is not an accurate representation of what happens in a healthy sexual relationship and should not be held up as an example of what you should be doing in a loving relationship.

Porn often involves a power dynamic where a male is able to do whatever he wants to a woman, perhaps without consent, and with little to no consideration for her sexual pleasure. It’s usually about what they can get away with doing to her, rather than what would give both of them pleasure.

In real life, acting out some of the things you have seen in porn can lead to charges of sexual assault and rape. And even if your partner is saying it’s okay, that might not actually be the case. They might be doing it because they want to please you, even if it harms them. In real life, you must have an open level of communication with your partner, always get consent, and check in to see if they are or aren’t enjoying what you’re doing. Anything that isn’t a clear ‘yes’ is a ‘no’. {more on the rules of consent here.}

Female porn stars have spoken about feeling degraded, depressed and even physically hurt after making pornography. Many of them relied on drugs and alcohol to get them through filming, and then through the dark feelings that followed. They are paid to put on a show, acting out enjoyment; in reality they are probably very uncomfortable. This is not how anybody should feel while having sex.”

Talking to your teenage daughter

“You are not expected to look or act like a porn star. A healthy sexual relationship doesn’t demand that you do anything you’re uncomfortable with. Some boys – if not most – will be as confused about the line between porn and real sex as you are. They may think that’s what sex is actually supposed to be like. But it’s not.

Pornography is designed to entertain, excite and push limits. It is not an accurate representation of what happens in a healthy sexual relationship and should not be held up as an example of what you should be doing in a loving relationship.

Porn often involves a power dynamic where a male is able to do whatever he wants to a woman, perhaps without consent, and with little to no consideration for her sexual pleasure. It’s usually about what they can get away with doing to her, rather than what would give both of them pleasure.

Some of the actions portrayed in porn can actually be criminal if the female is not consenting. And even if they are saying it’s okay, they may not be enjoying themselves and are instead allowing things to happen, rather than fully engaging. This will most likely leave them feeling physically and/or emotionally betrayed in some way. Feelings of worthlessness, confusion, sadness and so on are not uncommon in this scenario. You should always say “no” if someone is doing something, or asking you to do something, that you are not comfortable with. 

Female porn stars have spoken about feeling degraded, depressed and even physically hurt after making pornography. Many of them relied on drugs and alcohol to get them through filming, and then through the dark feelings that followed. They are paid to put on a show, acting out enjoyment; in reality they are probably very uncomfortable. This is not how you want to feel in your own sex life. Do not look to pornography to tell you how to behave in a healthy sexual relationship. When you’re ready to have sex, it should leave you feeling positive and respected, not used and hurt.”

Guilt & shame

Your child may experience guilt and shame for being titillated or aroused by porn. Explain that it’s normal to feel excited when we see sexual scenes being acted out. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy or appropriate. If your child or teen expresses feelings of guilt or shame, here are some helpful tips:

· Recognize what happened.
· Understand that yes, you were curious and aroused.
· Accept that what’s done is done, that you felt those feelings.
· Make a choice to not go there anymore. (If you are concerned that your teen may be addicted to pornography, there are programs and therapists that can help with this. Check the resources in your area)
· Choose healthier alternatives.

Have a look at our FamilySparks courses to learn more about how to keep kids, preteens and teens safe in today’s sexualized world.

Dr. Roberts’ new parenting book Kids, Sex & Screens: Raising Strong, Resilient Children in the Sexualized Digital Age is available December 11th. Learn more here.