This may happen to you, so here’s some great advice to prepare you to talk with a child who tells you about exposure to porn. Many parents wonder if it helps or harms kids to share details about what they’ve seen.

help child exposed to pornography

Recently a concerned mom, who wants to help her 10-year-old son heal from his exposure to pornography, reached out to us for answers. We turned to some excellent therapists for suggestions, all of whom treat people with pornography addiction.

Here’s her question:

“My 10 year old son saw a pornographic image at a party last night. We had a really good conversation after the party (and we’ve been having short porn conversations the last couple years). But I wonder about whether he should tell me about the one image that he saw. One part of me says if he describes the image to me then it is more ingrained in his brain, when he’s trying to get the image out of his brain. Another part of me says he should share what the image was so it’s not just a ‘secret’ only he knows. Which of those routes is better?”

What do counselors recommend?

Jon Worlton, LCSW:

“Obviously he confided in a trusted adult which is wonderful and suggests that a big part of him felt uncomfortable and in need of adult feedback and support.

First, I recommend that parents start by asking how, when and where the image was shown or seen.

Second, it’s important for parents to ask about how their child felt or reacted to seeing the image.

Finally, I don’t think that sharing or talking about the nature of the image is going to ingrain it any further. In fact, it may go a long ways in terms of lessening the impact.

The image is there. Hopefully what can be associated with the experience of seeing the image is that he was able to tell someone who cared about him. Talking about his exposure provides a reality check and dissipates the shameful secrecy that so many of our clients experience.”

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Jeff Ford, MS, LMFT:

Dr. Jill Manning talks about how pornography mis-educates people about sex. That’s why it’s so important to process a child’s exposure in order to re-educate children about healthy sexuality. (Her book What’s the Big Deal About Pornography: A Guide for the Internet Generation is a good resource.) This is a great opportunity to begin teaching about sex, and although it may seem premature, the education is crucial.”

Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT:

The biggest thing is that he does need to speak about it if it’s distressing to him. His shame around it matters more than the content of the image.”

Related: Does My Child Need Counseling? Reassuring Advice from a Porn Addiction Therapist

Dr. Adam Moore, LMFT:

“First, you want to avoid jumping too quickly into an in-depth conversation with your child. Congratulate your child for their bravery and honesty. Ask what they’d like to share about what happened. They may feel too ashamed to go too much into it immediately. Give the child some space – they may need a day or two to prepare to share more. Every child (and adult too!) has a a preferred ‘speed’ for sharing personal and sensitive information. If you can trust that speed, you’ll likely get a better conversation.

Certainly, some kids are more reserved or even secretive than others. If you sense that your child is avoiding the conversation entirely, you can push a little more. But especially if your child came to you in the first place, give them a little time to get ready to share more.

You can even prepare them in this way, “I’m looking forward to when you’ll be ready in the next day or two to share a little more about what happened with me. Imagine how much relief you’ll feel when this weight is lifted from your shoulders.” This invites the child to come to you and shares a benefit they’ll get from opening up.

Whether you or your child initiates the next conversation, start it as lightly as you can. You can take this topic seriously without creating fear or shame. I would just say, “Hey, hopefully you’ve had some time to think things over from the other day. I imagine that what you saw has probably come back into your mind at least a time or two since we last spoke. When I feel afraid, ashamed, or overwhelmed by something, the best thing I’ve found to help me work through those feelings is to share what happened with someone I trust. When I share my experience, it doesn’t feel like a secret anymore. It starts to feel less powerful or overwhelming. I just start to feel better.”

Don’t miss out on our free resource at the end of this post – The SMART Plan for Parents: Helping Kids Who Have Seen or Sought Pornography.

Questions to help kids share hard things about pornography exposure

Next, you’ll want to ask a few questions or make statements that help the child know what type of information they might share. Here are some examples:

  1. Feel free to tell me again how you ended up seeing the image.
  2. How did you feel when you first saw it? Did anything surprise you about how you felt?
  3. What made you decide to tell me about it?
  4. What do you wish had happened instead?
  5. \What about the image was the most upsetting to you?
  6. What do you feel you would like to share with me about the image that would help you not feel so upset?
  7. Is there anything else that’s bothering you about the whole experience?
  8. What could I say that would help you feel like it’s not bothering you so much anymore?

Related: The 8 Best Questions to Ask When Your Child Has Seen Porn

Don’t feel bad if this conversation doesn’t flow smoothly, or if it takes a few tries over a couple days to really do it right. This is likely the first conversation you’ve both had about this topic, so give yourselves some credit for doing the best you can. Be patient with yourselves as you try something out that’s difficult and possibly embarrassing.

At the end of each conversation, I would add this:

“You might remember something later that you forgot to tell me. That’s totally OK. When you remember it, just come tell me as soon as you get the chance. I’ll be so glad that you came back again. We’ll keep talking until you feel like you’ve got it all out.

You may be surprised to find that kids start out telling a less detailed version of the story to test the waters with parents. Once they feel safe sharing with you, they may be ready to share more. Don’t be surprised if the fourth version of the story is a bit different than the first! It’s a very human thing to do to share increasing levels of detail as you feel more comfortable with that person. It’s a sign that things are getting better. Good job!(End of Dr. Moore’s quote.)

Related: One Secret to Make Embarrassing Talks Easier for Kids

You can lighten the burden of a child who has been exposed to pornography

We love the advice these therapists offered for families facing this difficult experience. The top points we want to highlight are:

  1. Offer to listen. If a child tells you they’ve been exposed to pornography, ask them if they want to describe what they’ve seen. Reassure them that they don’t need to worry about upsetting you (and then be sure to stay calm!) This lets your child know that you are willing to share their burden so they won’t feel alone. Until they feel safe to open up to you, they are still carrying the burden of a secret.
  2. Follow up but don’t pressure. They may not be ready to share everything they have seen with you right away. Some kids may not want or need to share the details of what they’ve seen. Children often reveal their trauma one little bit at a time, testing to see if their parent can handle it.
  3. Don’t ask leading questions. For example, don’t suggest details of what they may have seen. Instead of asking, “Did you see this type of pornography or that kind of pornography?”, let them describe it in their words.

Remember, just the fact that your child has opened up to you about their exposure, and knowing that they could tell you more in time, is healing. Being exposed to pornography can be distressing – but with a parent who comes alongside to listen and comfort them, children do not have to feel alone or go on to have problems with pornography.

Protecting kids from pornography includes helping them neutralize its effects once they’ve been exposed. Get our free resource below for parents who want to help their kids process what they’ve seen and come out with their “thinking brain” in charge.

The SMART Plan for Parents: Helping Kids Who Have Seen or Sought Pornography
Excellent, calming advice for parents that includes a free downloadable guide.

Click Here

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.
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