Has your child become frightened or even cried when you talked to them about pornography? Have you ever worried that by trying to protect your child you are creating anxiety?

talk to kids about pornography

One mom we know is doing a great job teaching her kids why pornography is harmful and what to do if they see it. She is always calm and open with her young family. Yet her 8-year old son cries when they talk about it.

That’s not quite the reaction she was hoping for!

The last thing we want is for our child to believe pornography is like a monster under their bed that is out to get them. How exactly can we warn against pornography without traumatizing our child?

There is no question that pornography is harmful to children. It may help, however, for us to step back and gain some perspective on how we communicate danger without creating unneeded fear.

To put this in perspective, there are cleaning products that would be deadly if our children ingested them. But that does not mean we want them to feel terrified walking by the closet they are kept in. Illicit drugs are also dangerous to kids, but we can communicate that without making our child feel anxious that drugs will get them no matter what. Pornography is no different.

The causes of fear in children

There are probably a number of reasons a child might develop an unhelpful degree of fear surrounding the topic of pornography. Kids bring different personalities and experiences to this conversation. Perhaps the child has already been exposed to pornography and is afraid for their parents to find out. Other children have an extremely difficult time discussing anything related to sex, including pornography. The more common reason is that a parent – or someone else who has influence – has presented the topic in such a way that makes the very notion of pornography sound unnecessarily scary to the child. The child feels as if pornography is out to get them.

This creates a double-edged sword for the parent. On one hand, we do want our child to have a healthy fear of what pornography could do to their life. Some degree of fear motivates us to stay safe in many areas of our life.

However, if we play that hand too strongly it can cause a child to shut down at the mention of pornography, preventing helpful dialogue with them. The trick then becomes how to instill a healthy respect for the harmful potential of porn without traumatizing our child. One way to help is to reassure them that they are in control of pornography, not the other way around.

Related: Help Kids Reject Pornography: The Surprising Benefit of Shared Memories

Striking a balance with your child

In a perfect world there would be a single script to use that was ideal for every child. In the real world, however, each child has a unique personality that responds differently to the same conversation. This means we can’t offer the advice, “Say exactly this,” and expect it to work for every family. Each parent will need to take the ideas presented here and adapt them in a way their child will respond best to. For families with several children, it is likely that each child may benefit best from a slightly different conversation. One size does not fit all.

A good way to start teaching kids how to stay safe when they see pornography is to read our Amazon best-selling book together. Good Pictures Bad Pictures will help them put their thinking brain in charge!

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

5 communication guidelines for parents

Our nonverbal communication such as body language and tone have as big of an impact as the words we use. Here are some things that we can do during conversations about pornography that will help reduce the potential of creating unhealthy levels of fear:

  • Set time aside for a conversation about pornography. Don’t try to squeeze it in between other activities or otherwise make it feel rushed. This needs to be a calm conversation.
  • Speak slowly. This will have a calming effect on your child and help them feel at ease.
  • Keep your tone of voice soft. If we sound agitated—which is easy to do when talking about pornography—we will stress our child out, which is the opposite of what we want to happen.
  • Relax your facial expressions. Smile instead of frowning. Relax your face instead of being tense. Kids really key into our facial expressions and often pay more attention to that than our words. We want to come across inviting and pleasant, rather than angry, agitated, or frightened.
  • Watch your child’s body language. If they begin to tense up or look away, stop and ask them how they are feeling. Maybe put an arm around them to comfort them. Stop when they become tense and take time to let them know that everything is and will be okay.

Tip: you could video record yourself talking as if you were having this kind of conversation in order to see how you come across to your child!

Related: How Does a Sex Addiction Expert Teach HIS Kids to Avoid Porn?

6 talking points for parents

1. Avoid the use of hyperbole, or overstating your concerns.

I am particularly bad at following this rule. I tend to exaggerate my point, which in this case is not helpful. Try not to say things like, “Pornography is really dangerous and it’s everywhere!” or “Kids who look at pornography end up messed up for the rest of their lives!” Both statements can be true but are unnecessary and unhelpful. Some children will be frightened by exaggerated language. Other children may begin to ignore us when we lay it on too thick!

2. Do not equate a child’s destiny with pornography.

We don’t have to say things like, “You will see pornography some day,” or “You will want to look at pornography some day.” Even if both statements may be true for most kids, telling this to an eight-year-old who still thinks nudity is gross can be traumatizing. This is essentially saying to a child that in their future awaits a dark and traumatic event that will come at them out of nowhere.

I wish I could say I have not done this, but in my early attempts at protecting my young children I used statements like these.

When my son was about ten, I told him that someday he would want to see pornography. Later, when he was 13, he told me what he had felt when I told him that. In trying to describe the feeling inside him he said this,

“It was like I was standing on a beach and a shark came out of the ocean, grew arms and legs, and started chasing me to eat me.”

That was his description of how he felt when I told him he would someday want to see pornography. That sounds pretty traumatic.

In retrospect it would have been better to explain what pornography was and say that when children get older they often become curious about pornography. This would have let him know it was a normal experience without making him feel like he was going to turn into a terrible person in the future. Fortunately, we had several conversations later to ease my son’s mind.

3. Ask kids what they are afraid of.

Let us not forget that it is not always easy to tell exactly what is traumatizing a child. It helps us to understand the nature of a child’s fear to know how to help them. We can ask questions to discover what the fear is about. “Can you tell my what you are afraid of?” Or, “Did something happen that has made you afraid?” We may learn that what they are afraid of is something completely different than what we imagine.

4. Address the fear.

Fear does not go away until we talk about it. Once we have an idea of what a child is afraid of, we can talk through it with them.

Conversations could include discussions such as:

  • “What is it about the word ‘pornography’ that scares you?”
  • “I see you look worried whenever I say the word, ‘pornography.’ I don’t want you to be afraid to talk about it.”
  • “Pornography cannot get you. It will not hurt you if you stay away from it.”
  • “Even if you see pornography, you are in charge and you can always get away.”
  • “You are safe here with me. This is a safe place to talk about things you are afraid of.”

5. Tell stories of healthy and safe responses to pornography.

It is extremely likely that we as parents will come across images that, while not technically pornography, are certainly meant to entice. We can use these experiences to help our children feel confident in confronting erotic imagery themselves. Tell your children when you saw an image that was inappropriate. Instead of sounding disgusted (even if you are) use calming, matter of fact language.

We can tell our child:

  • What we saw —”There was a picture of someone with not enough clothes on.”
  • What we did afterward—“I closed my eyes and walked away. I told your Mom (or Dad, or a friend) about it because I feel better when I talk about things that bother me. Then I did some gardening for awhile, because that helps me think about something good that I like doing.”

By telling our own experiences, our children come to understand that sometimes we see things we don’t want to but we are still in charge. By remaining calm while telling our story we demonstrate such experiences do not need to be frightening. And by telling them about the healthy response we took, we model effective ways to deal with pornography if they are exposed to it.

6. Remind your child that they are in control of pornography, it does not control them.

This is a simple concept but a reassuring one. Remind kids that you are preparing them for what to do so they won’t be surprised and will be ready to keep safe.

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Put your plan into action

Is this something you would like to do even better in your home? Here’s some steps:

  1. Are there any signs that your child might be overly scared about confronting pornography? Consider how you have been talking about it and see if there are areas you can adjust to make future conversations more reassuring to your child.
  2. Take time to write down the questions or comments you want to discuss with your child next. Limit yourself to three questions or comments to reduce the stress of the conversation for your child. Short but regular communication is better than occasional, long, and overwhelmingly comprehensive lectures.
  3. Plan the next time you will talk with your child and set aside enough time so you are not rushed.
  4. Pause and relax before the conversation and be sure you appear calm and pleasant.
  5. Pay attention to your child’s responses. The clues might be subtle!

Some children need very little encouragement to talk openly about pornography. Others may need time to feel comfortable, even if you use these helpful tips. It may take several conversations before you notice your child acting less distressed by conversations about pornography. Go slow and give your child time to feel comfortable discussing pornography. If you see progress, even just a little, then you know you are on the right track!

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John Fort
John W Fort is the author of Father-Son Accountability: Integrity Through Relationship, a book for parents wanting to prevent pornography addiction in their children. John has seven years experience working with men in recovery from sexual addiction, with an emphasis on the millennial generation. He is the Director of Parents 4 Purity for Pure Life Alliance (a new relational education program for parents and teens), Northwest Regional Director of Gateway to Freedom for Be Broken (a three day intensive workshop for men in recovery from sexual addiction) and the Director of Pure Community (an online portal connecting families affected by compulsive sexual behavior with healing communities and resources across the nation).

John and his wife, Anna, both speak on issues related to recovery through relationship. They have been married 24 years and have two young adult children.
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