This article is part of Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow, a national campaign from The Safeguard Alliance and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation to help parents protect children from the harms of pornography. Get your free guide – Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow! 10 Easy Conversation Starters – and resources from our partners at the end of this post. #TalkToYourKids #TalkTodaySaferTomorrow
If only you could peek into a child’s mind when talking to them about the dangers of pornography! Are they feeling anxious or upset? Is the conversation making them more curious? Today you’re in luck! We’ve got answers to those questions (and more) from six field experts— real kids! — who share how learning about pornography has helped them. Plus, hear their advice for other kids and parents!
The families we talked with have been discussing pornography in their home for at least three years. Their children now range in age from 5 to 14, and they were first taught about pornography between the ages of 2 and 11.
Each of the parents had a slightly different motivation for providing kids with a safe place to discuss this important topic. Janelle (name changed) admits it was a trial by fire for her. At first she wasn’t comfortable bringing up the subject at all. In time, she realized something needed to change if she wanted to protect her kids.
“Four years ago I would have said, ‘I’d rather have my teeth pulled than talk to my kids about pornography.’ I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that this could be a family discussion. Today, I have a completely different perspective. Let me explain why I think every parent, no matter how awkward or inadequate they feel, should start this conversation today!
For many years my husband and I were oblivious to the fact that our older kids were struggling with pornography. Although different experiences lead them to look, they were only between 9 and 11 years of age when they were first exposed. From there, they discovered that pornographic content could be easily accessed through our home computer.
I really can’t describe the flood of emotions I felt when we found out. I was shocked and devastated. Angry with my kids for what they were looking at, but also angry with myself for letting it happen. The silver lining was that our kids wanted help. Looking back, I know we were extremely blessed that they found the courage to come to us.
At first we thought it was enough to closely monitor their online activities. But over and over again, the pull of pornography won out. Each setback meant our kids felt a renewed sense of shame and failure. One day it occurred to me that I was trying to solve a problem that I still thought was taboo to discuss. If we were going to tackle this as a family I had to get over my inhibitions, and fast!
I began looking for information—anything that would help me know why my kids were struggling. I desperately wanted to know what I could do to help them. Eventually I found the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids. Reading this was the first of many steps our family has taken to help protect our kids from the harms of pornography.
The more I understood how and why the young mind is vulnerable to pornography, the braver I became at talking openly about this subject. Admittedly the conversations with our kids weren’t always perfect—or easy. Yet as we talked, my husband and I found better ways to support our children in their efforts to overcome this dangerous habit.
The experience we’ve had with our kids was a wake up call I don’t wish on anyone. There were times when we were overwhelmed and sought additional counselling. Now that our younger children are approaching adolescence, I can’t imagine not giving them a plan and a safe place to talk about the harms of pornography. My first priority is to prepare them well. I’ve made sure they know what pornography is, why it is harmful, and that they can come to us with any concern. Talking openly has given our family the confidence to make smart choices.”
Getting over the initial fear of talking to kids about pornography
Getting past the natural resistance to talking about this can take a parenting leap of faith. Many parents worry that their own awkwardness or inexperience with this subject could do more harm than good. To put your mind at ease, listen to the following advice from six awesome kids!
Advice from a 5-year-old girl
“My mom taught me that pornography is pictures of taking your underwear and clothes off, not for a shower, but around other people. It makes me unhappy that some people use pornography because it is not good. It can hurt your brain and trick it to be mean to other people. Pornography can also make you get an addiction because you want more and more of it.
I can stay safe from pornography if I turn it off right away and look at something different. I know I should say, ‘That’s pornography!’ to my brain and ask mom and dad for help to think about other things.”
Her advice for parents: “I think parents should talk to kids about pornography because it’s bad and so we can learn how to protect ourselves. It’s easy for kids to find pornography. I remember seeing it on a sign by the Las Vegas airport. Some kids might think they should look at it because it seems cool, but it isn’t.”
Her advice for kids: “I would tell kids not look at pornography because it makes your brain stop growing.* It won’t help you be a good person. And it can make you mean. Also, an adult who uses pornography might hurt you.”
*Giving kids the opportunity to describe the dangers of pornography in their own words allows parents to determine when further clarification is needed. Remember this is a layered, ongoing conversation. A 5-year-old warning other kids that porn stops your brain from growing is an example of how a young child might internalize the harms of pornography.
Note: Findings from a German research study indicate that a steady consumption of porn does reduce the volume of gray matter in specific regions of the brain—most notably those responsible for decision making.
Tips from a 7-year-old boy
“It was weird the first time my mom talked to me about pornography. But now I know I should shut off the computer if I see bad pictures. I think kids could get tricked into looking at pornography if they think its funny. I know one kid got in trouble at school because he kept pulling his pants down at recess and showing his private parts. Maybe the teacher told him that was pornography because he stopped.”
His advice for parents: “Parents should definitely read Good Pictures Bad Pictures with their kids because that’s what my mom did.”
His advice for kids: “I would tell kids not to look at pornography because it’s not good for you at all!”
Ideas from 10-year-old boy
“I am so glad I know about what pornography does to your brain and how it can become an addiction. I only knew I shouldn’t look at bad pictures but I didn’t know why it was bad. Lots of kids are probably the same way.”
His advice for parents: “At first it was kind of weird to talk about it but now it’s not. You should definitely tell your kids. I feel more confident to know what to do if I see pornography.
I remember a boy in my class was looking at inappropriate pictures on the iPad. I quietly told the teacher because I knew I was supposed to tell an adult. The iPad was taken away from him. I’m glad he didn’t know I told on him because I didn’t want him mad at me. But I’m also glad he stopped looking at bad pictures.”
Insight from an 11-year-old boy
“I’m glad that we read Good Pictures Bad Pictures together. It was interesting. I learned a lot about the brain and addiction. The more we talk about it the safer I feel when I am playing my video games.”
His advice for parents: “It’s like the difference between a pop quiz when you’ve missed a week of class and a regular test you studied for. Obviously, you’re going to do better on the test you studied for. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to talk to kids about this. I like being prepared.”
Thoughts from a 13-year-old girl
“I don’t really understand why anyone would want to look at pornography but I’m glad to know what to do if I see it.
So far I haven’t noticed my friends talking about this. Maybe it’s more of a boy problem at my age.* I think if boys are looking at pornography they will show their friends who are curious. Boys might think they have to look at it to be cool.”
*Letting kids express their thoughts can help parents see how kids are interpreting their experiences. Kids may not understand that many young girls are viewing pornography, but girls may be even more silent about it because they feel so much shame. Parents can clarify the issue as they have these open conversations.
Her advice for parents: “If you are afraid to talk your kids about pornography, start with a book or something. Then try to bring it up in normal conversation. You won’t be as nervous after you do that a few times. I was embarrassed to talk about it with my parents the first few times. Now it’s not embarrassing at all.”
Her advice for kids: “I think more kids should learn about why pornography is harmful—and what to do if they see it. I would tell kids to get help if they think they are addicted so that they can do better things in life.”
Encouragement from a 14-year-old boy
“Talking [with my parents] about the dangers of pornography doesn’t make me curious to look because it literally informs me of all the reasons I shouldn’t. Now I know I can tell my parents about anything bad I might see. I know they won’t be angry and it would just be an accident that I saw it.
There are definitely kids my age that look at porn. I just leave or ignore the conversation if it starts to get inappropriate. I like that I’m prepared and know how to handle these situations. It makes me more confident at school.”
His advice for parents: “I would definitely encourage parents to talk to their kids. It’s better to inform kids about the dangers instead of them discovering it on their own. Kids should know they can talk to their parents about it.”
His advice for kids: “I would tell kids to stick only to online friends you know in person. Make sure you have a good friend group that supports your choices. If you know how to avoid pornography and don’t go looking for it, then most of the time you won’t have any problems.”
Talk today for a safer tomorrow
After listening to our group of “field experts”, it’s easy to understand why kids thrive when parents talk to them about the dangers of pornography. If at first the conversation feels awkward and embarrassing, don’t worry! It does get easier. Remember that when you talk today, kids learn:
- How to recognize and reject dangerous online content
- Why pornography is harmful and habit forming
- How to have more confidence by feeling prepared at school and among peers
- To ask their parents anytime they have questions or need help
Remember, kids want to feel prepared for the challenges they may encounter. As you can see from these kids, it will be worth it to teach them what they need to know!
Get our free Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow guide for 10 Easy Conversation Starters.
Getting started has never been easier. Protect Young Minds is a member of The Safeguard Alliance, a national organization that connects leaders who are preparing young people to grow up free from pornography. Together we created this free guide of ideas for parents to get those important conversations going! Get your copy below.
Related posts from some of our partners in The Safeguard Alliance:
- #TalktoYourKids About Pornography: Getting Started from National Center on Sexual Exploitation
- Raising the B.A.R.: How to Build Resilient Kids in a Digital World from Media Savvy Mamas
- I Don’t Want My Child to Even Know the Word “Pornography” from Educate Empower Kids
- How to Talk to a 5-Year-Old About Porn from Protect Young Eyes
- Three Proven Concepts to Get You Off the Fence and Talking to Your Kids About Porn from Parents Aware
- The Parent Trap: Inadvertently Reinforcing Shame from Strength to Fight
- My child will never see pornography (but HOW will you know?) from We Stand Guard
- 5 Tips to Help Kids Be Honest About Porn from Covenant Eyes