This is the third in a six-article series to help parents respond to a child’s accidental porn exposure or purposeful seeking it out. The first article in the series is Your Child Has Viewed Porn, Now What? 5 SMART Tips for Parents.
- Stay calm
- Make a plan
- Assist your child to sort out their feelings
- Regularly check in with your kids
- Train your family
Make a Plan
Before you talk with your child about their exposure to pornography, make a plan about what you want to accomplish. What are your ultimate goals? Some of them might be:
- To continue building a close relationship with your child
- To provide a safe environment for them to tell you what they saw and ask questions
- To come up with some mutual solutions for keeping your child safe
Jeffrey J. Ford, a Marriage and Family Licensed Therapist who specializes in pornography addiction, explains that “much of the time initial disclosure begins the process of getting the whole story, and is rarely the whole story!” I know of one young man who initially said he had looked at porn only five times. His mom was relieved, but later found out that he had been viewing porn regularly for years.
- How much pornography have they seen?
- How often have they viewed it?
- How did they find it? Did someone else show it to them?
- Which devices have they used to view it?
- What types of pornography have they viewed?
- Did they masturbate when they were viewing it? (This brings it to a higher level of involvement. Masturbating to pornography builds and solidifies a neurological pathway in the brain.)
Realize, you may not get all of these questions answered in one session. Be patient and you’ll ultimately end up getting more information as your child feels safe trusting you with his/her answers.
The authors of So Sexy So Soon; The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., describe a situation where an eight and a half year old boy is exposed to pornography and tells his dad about it. The boy instinctively knows he should not have seen what he saw and, although he has a good relationship with his dad who has answered questions about sex since the boy was five, he worries that his dad will be mad at him.
The dad asks him what he saw and then explains that, “[S]ome grown-ups like to look at pictures of bodies with no clothes and sex, but it’s not something…mom or I like to do, and it’s not something for children to see, and I don’t think grown-ups should have things like that on the Internet that children can find.”
In this way, the dad is expressing his values that he believes pornography is wrong.
The dad then asks what his son could have done when his friend offered to show him the “sexy pictures.” This is the kind of “give and take” conversations that Levin and Kilbourne recommend. Not jumping in and imposing limits or punishments, but forming a mutual plan with the child.
Punishment or Opportunity?
“By focusing only on setting limits and giving punishments, [his friend’s] parents miss a crucial opportunity to help [their son] deal with the pornography he saw and to influence the lessons he is learning. Their response also teaches [their son] that it’s not safe to talk to his parents about sexual issues.”
It may be that that in the long-run it’s more helpful to focus on the reasons your child was looking at pornography, instead of doling out a punishment.
- The information you want to discover
- How you are going to deal with the source of the pornography exposure (talk to the perpetrator’s parents, advise the school, tighten filters etc)
- How you are going to involve your child in mutual solutions (“How can we help you to protect yourself from seeing these harmful and upsetting pictures?”)
In my next post, we’ll talk about how you can assist your child to sort out their feelings about the pornography they have seen. It’s not only upsetting, but it’s very confusing for kids when they view the kind of hard core pornography that is so available on the Internet. They need their parents’ help to figure it out.
Here’s the next article in this series: Porn is Tricky! SMART Parents Assist Kids to Understand Feelings