Getting kids to talk with you about embarrassing subjects is a common challenge for parents, especially parents of tweens and teens. But what if you’re trying to help your teen recover from porn use? That may involve even more embarrassment.
Recently I spoke with a mom who is helping her teenage son to overcome an addiction to pornography. To protect her and her son’s privacy, she goes by a pseudonym, Cynthia Sleepy. Here’s her secret for making their conversations about pornography easier to begin. The benefit? Helping her son get the support he needs right away.
My son James (not his real name) was fifteen when I was invited to sit in on a session with his therapist. James’s father and I had been periodically catching him with pornography for a couple of years. Occasionally James had voluntarily come to us and told us that he had had another issue with pornography, but usually he didn’t.
Other times we would find evidence that he had been using it and talk to him, but we were aware that most likely he was frequently using pornography without our knowledge.
My husband and I had limited our family’s access to pornography in every way we knew how. All devices in our home had filters and passwords that we did not share with our children. We had turned on parental controls on our browsers, apps and devices. None of our children were permitted to own smart phones, and my husband and I both kept our smart phones locked with passwords.
During the counseling session that day, the therapist was discussing James’s most recent experiences with pornography. I asked James, “What could I do when we are discussing an issue you have had with pornography that would make you more likely to tell me?” He said, “Mom, you don’t need to change anything. You’re not making me feel ashamed and you help me. But it’s embarrassing.”
His response made perfect sense to me. What fifteen-year-old boy wouldn’t find it embarrassing to admit to his mother that he had once again used pornography?
I reminded James that if he chose to make pornography a part of his life, that his father and I wouldn’t be able to stop him; there are too many sources of pornography for us to block them all. But if he decided that he wanted to live a life without pornography, then his father and I could be a resource to help him with that.
Our code phrase to make embarrassing talks easier
I asked James what words he might use to start the conversation with me the next time he had used pornography. He suggested that he could say, “Mom, can I talk to you in private?”
I thought it was a perfect suggestion because his sisters say that to me all the time. (Then they usually just tell me about what happened on the playground at school that day.) So no one would suspect James of anything uncomfortable if they heard him use that phrase with me. I told James this was now our code phrase and when he said it, I would know that a disclosure was coming. He agreed.
The next morning I was folding laundry in my room when I heard a knock on the bedroom door. It was James. He said, “Mom, can I talk to you in private?” I invited him into the room. Though my heart sank at the realization that he had once again used pornography, I was relieved that he was brave enough to tell me about it.
Deciding on a conversation starter had helped James to find the courage to overcome the embarrassment barrier.
3 steps to overcoming the embarrassment barrier
Offer yourself as a resource to help your child be accountable to his or her goals to keep pornography out of their life.
Decide together on a code phrase that will alert you that your child needs to talk. It should be something that won’t get anyone’s particular attention or seem out of the ordinary.
Praise your child when they use the code phrase for having the courage to come and get the support they need.
Keeping pornography exposure or use a secret because talking about it is embarrassing almost always leads to more shame and more compulsive use. Whatever we can do to encourage openness and honesty is key to healing and ultimate recovery.
Get the SMART Plan Guide
Have you heard of our SMART Plan for Parents? It’s a FREE guide to help parents respond to a child who has been looking at pornography.
How can you stay calm?
What needs to be in your game plan?
What will you do to keep up a regular conversation with your child?
How old was your child when you first talked with them about pornography? Our kids were eight and ten.
Before this time, they understood the basics of sex and some of the dangers that lurk on the Internet. We explained in general terms the “why” behind our family restrictions for media and entertainment — the movies they could watch, the music they could listen to and what they could do on computers. And by general, I mean really general: “We do this to keep you protected from some of the bad stuff that’s on the Internet. And trust us, there’s a lot of bad stuff.”
As all children do, our girls kept growing and asking grown-up questions. And we had a little extra incentive to talk to them. My husband and I had just turned in a manuscript for our book about our journey through his pornography addiction. There, on the cover, splayed out for all to see, was the word “pornography.”
Though our daughters wouldn’t read our book any time soon, we knew they would see it. A clear conversation before the book made its way into our house was in order. It’s one thing to teach your kids what pornography is and how to stay safe from it. It’s another to somehow convey that the struggle is both real and personal for their own father.
You probably won’t face our unique situation of having a dining room table loaded with boxes of books with the word “pornography” on the cover, but you will need to talk to your kids about it. And, for some of you, there may come a time when you will reveal your own struggle with it as well.
For even more help talking to kids, get our free guide to 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understandat the end of this post.
The danger of waiting too long
As I mentioned before, our youngest was only eight at the time. Eight years old seems young to talk about sex, much less something as difficult to explain as pornography. I totally get that. I had many fears going into this conversation:
What if my girls become curious about sex and porn after we talk?
What if I’m corrupting their innocence and view of the world?
What if they see their father differently?
I’m not saying 8 years old is a magic number. It was the best for our family and circumstances. You know your child. You know a lot about their maturity level, their interests, the devices they have access to, and their online activity. But it’s also important to know that in all probability, you do not know everything. Because no parent knows everything about their child.
The other thing that is true for almost all parents: we need to talk to our kids at younger ages than we probably feel comfortable doing. A recent interview with Fight the New Drug reports they have children as young as eight years old who have emailed them asking for help.
Since sexualized media is everywhere, we want to get the first word in about respecting and celebrating bodies, relationships, and healthy sexuality. Sooner is safer!
The good news is that there are age-appropriate ways to equip our children so they are ready to make positive choices online.
The more time they are on the internet, the more likely they will explore and run into some unseemly things (kids are naturally curious!) Consider these two facts from The Common Sense Census: 95% of families with kids aged 0-8 now have smartphones. Since 2013, the amount of time kids spend on mobile devices has tripled – now spending an average of 48 minutes per day.
The goal here is to make a hard subject easier. Recognizing this can’t be a “one-and-done” conversation is actually a relief, because you know you will have multiple chances to get your point across and to clear up any confusion.The more you talk about it, the more comfortable everyone becomes. These tips are good for your first, or 40th, conversation!
1. Acknowledge the awkwardness
Yes, talking about sex with your kids is legitimately uncomfortable. And kids usually feel that listening to their parents talk about sex is totally weird. Pretending like everyone is comfortable (or should be) just makes the whole situation worse.
Instead, acknowledge that awkward feelings come with the conversation. Just say it like it is: “Hey, I know this is uncomfortable for all of us! But it’s important, so let’s just do our best.” Kids will learn that whatever they are feeling is okay and that emotions aren’t going to keep you from talking about challenging things together.
2. Axe the anxiety
It’s normal to be intimidated and fearful regarding pornography conversations with your kids. Pornography can be hugely triggering to people who have been sexually abused or were exposed to sexually explicit material at a young age. Or who are living with the impact of pornography in any way. It might even help to talk with a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor before you talk with your child. Your anxiety is completely valid and not something to dismiss.
As much as we try to mask our own pain and panic, our kids usually pick up on this and may absorb our feelings, taking them on themselves. Talking about the trauma you have experienced helps healing, alleviates shame, and gives you a safe place to consider the best way to approach your child.
We’ve seen enough sitcoms – and lived through our own childhoods – so we know that parental lectures are never as effective as we think they are. A recent study actually found that lectures are more than just boring. They are now they are scientifically proven to be ineffective.
What’s a good alternative? Asking questions. And encouraging them to ask questions. I know you’re not in a classroom with your child, but this also works across the kitchen table or in the car. (Side note: Talking about difficult or potentially embarrassing subjects in the car alleviates the pressure of eye contact, which can make everyone just a tad more comfortable and willing to engage.) Asking questions also sets the tone that we all get to participate and share thoughts.
What’s great about asking questions is that it helps you tailor the conversation. You can let their responses guide how much detail you need to share with them.
If you’re caught off-guard, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “That’s a great question! Let me think about that and I promise to get back to you.” Just make sure you do actually get back to them.
Here are some possible questions to consider asking, depending on your child’s age:
Have you ever hopped on your phone/computer looking for something, but something else like pornography popped up?
What are some good things you could do to be safe if you saw pornography?
What have your heard other kids say about pornography?
What is the most confusing thing about pornography to you?
What are some reasons why you think it would be best to stay away from pornography?
Why do you think some kids would be curious about pornography?
What are some different ways or places we might run into pornography?
What’s the best way for us to help when you see pornography?
Since the last time we talked, have you seen anything like what we’ve been talking about?
What if your child stays silent and doesn’t want to talk? Be patient, they will get more comfortable over time if you keep trying. You could bring up things they might be thinking, such as, “I know many kids are curious about . . .” or “When I was a child I wondered if . . .”
Though it may be the very last thing you want to do, it can be helpful to share your experiences when you were a kid in an age-appropriate way. Young people need to know they’re not the only ones who have encountered it. Isolation only breeds more secrets, while connection builds authentic relationships. We model authenticity by sharing from our own lives.
“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.
4. Abandon shame
One of the key ingredients in authentic relationships is trust. Oftentimes when I am afraid for my kids’ safety, my fear steps in and rules the relationship. If I think they are hiding something from me or they have done something wrong, I begin to make assumptions that quickly turn into accusations. My accusations, then, start to come out in shaming words. And I lose their trust.
Keep in mind that it’s not just the words that induce shame, but the tone. If I say, “Did you look at porn?” in a kind voice, with a concerned look on my face, that communicates something very different than if I ask the same question while yelling, hands on my hips, with a look of scorn or exasperation.
For so long, I thought of my girls as extensions of myself. Their behavior, I thought, was a reflection of my parenting. In essence, if they were well-behaved that meant I was good. If they were poorly behaved, it meant I was bad. But my children are not a mirror of me. It is difficult to show compassion towards them when I am so concerned about how they make me look. That just sets me up to be angry instead of compassionate.
Talking to our kids so they are prepared to reject pornography is worth overcoming the awkwardness and anxiety that go along with it. By having these conversations, you are building a solid relationship with them based on trust and respect. This will lay a foundation for them so they know they can come to you with anything, anytime, anywhere. And they will be better prepared to face the challenges of our hypersexualized culture because you taught them well!
Get our free guide to help you explain what pornography is in a safe and comfortable way!
Click below and we will be happy to send you 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand.
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.”
“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:
Microsoft’s technology, free to qualifying organizations, assigns a unique signature – or fingerprint – to each illegal photo that will be searched on the Internet. It doesn’t matter if the photo has been altered, edited, resized or manipulated in any way because the “DNA” or fingerprint portion of the photo remains consistent in any format.
Once the army of spiders finds the illegal images, a notice is sent to the Internet host provider to remove them immediately.
While Project Arachnid is Canadian-based, their scope and outreach are global in nature. Watch this video overview of Project Arachnid to learn more.
Sharp words for severe crimes
You may have noticed that we are not using the term “child pornography.” As the international police organization Interpol explains, “Children who have been sexually abused and photographed or filmed deserve to be protected and respected, and not have the seriousness of their abuse reduced by the use of terms such as ‘porn’. Child abuse images involve children who cannot and would not consent and who are victims of a crime.”
Using accurate terms such as “child sexual abuse images” recognizes the truth of these heinous acts that cause the suffering and exploitation of children.
A game-changer in fighting online exploitation
While Arachnid is not the first cyberweapon of its kind, its unique strength lies in the speed at which it travels the Internet. In a test-run of just six weeks with various law enforcement agencies around the world, Project Arachnid achieved these amazing results:
Processed over 230 million web pages
Detected over 5.1 million unique web pages hosting child sexual abuse material
Detected over 40,000 unique images of child sexual abuse material
That was just the initial test run! We asked Ernie Allen, Chairman of WePROTECT, and one of the funding partners of Arachnid, to give us an update on the project. Since its launch, Project Arachnid has already crawled 1.2 billion web pages to identify illegal material, and issued 339,000 take-down notices to content hosts for removal.
This snapshot is both encouraging and alarming! On the one hand, it shows how Project Arachnid is truly a game-changer in fighting online child exploitation. At the same time, it highlights the magnitude of the staggering amount of child sexual abuse that we are facing as a society.
For survivors of child sexual abuse, this technology gives them new hope.
Breaking the cycle of abuse
According to Project Arachnid, the number one priority for their work is to help survivors. Because these images and videos of abuse can be spread widely, survivors are naturally fearful of being “exposed” in public by strangers who know them only from their online photos. Being identified leads to revictimization and more trauma.
The mission of Project Arachnid is to disrupt the cycle of abuse by finding the illegal images and taking steps to having them removed. This is especially important because victims had no control over the manufacture and distribution of their sexual abuse.
Arachnid’s work is based on the results of a 2016 International Survivors’ Survey. A key finding from the survey was that 70% of survivors have a real fear of being identified. Unfortunately, it isn’t an unfounded worry. In the survey, “30 respondents reported being identified by a person who had seen their child sexual abuse imagery.”
Survivor stories of any child sexual abuse are heartbreaking. Several months ago, Protect Young Minds reported on the modern-day slavery of minor children being lured into the sex trafficking industry. In many cases, the parents were doing all the right things. Arachnid breaks the psychological impact of being victimized again each time the images are viewed.
Get our free list of 11 Best Resources to Protect Kids from Sexual Abuse at the end of this post.
3 big online exploitation risks you need to know about
Project Arachnid is truly a breakthrough in reducing the distribution of child sexual abuse material. What lessons can we take away from new developments in cyberweapons?
First, the enormous numbers of child sexual abuse images discovered tells us the magnitude of the problem. So we need to pay attention and know that as technologies evolve, so do the ways in which offenders can access and lure children.
Second, prevention is still key to reducing and containing the distribution of child sexual abuse images. Cybertip.ca, operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and which also runs Project Arachnid, hones in on three main activities that are ripe for the risk of child exploitation:
Think of sextortion as a combination of sex + extortion. In other words, it’s both unethical and illegal!
The FBI defines sextortion as a “serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”
Sextortion usually involves an adult who is exploiting someone who is vulnerable. This is different than sexting which normally involves peer-to-peer sharing of explicit sexual words or images (which is certainly not advisable!) However, sexting can also lead to sextortion, particularly if a relationship sours and one individual decides to share the photos with others online.
The lesson here is that boundaries are key! Have ongoing conversations with your child about how to protect his or her boundaries – both her physical body and sharing personal information with others, especially online.
Many YouTubers use livestreaming as a way to connect with their audience. All you need is a webcam and Internet access. While livestreaming is considered a “real time” form of communication, many children are unaware that videos during a livestream session can be recorded by those who are watching. That makes your child vulnerable to being groomed and then victimized through sextortion.
Keep in mind that during a livestream session your child may not always see the real individual at the other end of the camera. Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), warns:
An offender may be, for example, a 40-year-old man. But by abusing a legitimate internet site to create a false profile, he could appear online as a 12-year- old school girl. Sadly, through this study we saw a range of grooming scenarios that abusers employ.
Certain livestream video apps, such as Cake, which are popular with teens, can also be riddled with pornography. Be sure to know which apps your child is accessing, review the privacy settings with him, and from organizations such as Cybertip.ca regarding these programs.
3. Online Gaming
With chat features being a key part of many online games, one risk to your child includes being asked by another user to move to a private platform. The National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children recommends going through the privacy settings with your child – including how to block, mute, and report unwanted activity.
The easy way to talk about hard things like pornography with kids is to sit down and read a book together. Our Amazon best-selling picture book, Good Pictures Bad Pictures, is a great way to help kids have a plan to protect themselves.
“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.
3 ways to help your child stay safe online
Staying current with the top online risks is one way that parents can keep their children safe. Even though it seems that the goal posts are constantly changing with technology, don’t be discouraged! Here are three principle-based strategies to help your child, no matter what is happening in the tech world.
Stay connected to your child
This is the number one tip to help prevent your child from becoming a victim of sexual abuse. As parents, we hold the key to our kids’ hearts. Our child needs to hear that we’re there to help, no matter what!
This means that we’re open to talking about difficult subjects, prioritizing their safety, and empowering them with solutions to online issues. When you have a strong relational bond of trust and love, then you can speak into their lives with conversations about risks and problems that they might face online.
You might be asking yourself: How do I help my kids talk to me about they are seeing or experiencing online, especially if they feel like they made a big mistake?
First, reassure your child that she can come to you about anything, at anytime, no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing. Even if she broke the rules or did something impulsive!
Second, let her know that youwill also check in with her regularly – and then follow through.
You might want to share something like this:
Sometimes some crazy things can pop up on the computer when you are online. This can be a video or photo that makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes, people can say things that are rude or threatening. They might persist in asking you uncomfortable questions. I just want you to know that if you see or read something like that, let me know. Has anything like that happened to you? Has anybody made your feel uncomfortable?
Supervision is key when it comes to the Internet. From the beginning, set the expectation that you will monitor your child’s use of devices. Depending on their age, that may include having their passwords and monitoring what sites they are visiting.
Just as technology like Project Arachnid is helping in the fight against exploitation of children; we can use technology in our homes to be part of our overall plan to prepare kids to be safe.
Those who document and distribute the abuse of children would love nothing more than to keep their activities going through intimidation, coercion and fear. But we can turn the tables on them!
If your child finds herself in an uncomfortable, confusing or even dangerous situation online, knowing where to get help is essential. For those who need to report child sexual abuse, including the possibility of a child’s image or photos being shared without consent, here are Canadian and American reporting hotlines.
Chances are, someone you know may need to see this article. By helping to spread the word on Project Arachnid, and the work of proactive parenting resources like Protect Young Minds, we can help to end the cycle of child sexual abuse.
What can you do next? Get our free list of websites and books for parents and caregivers to protect kids from sexual abuse below!
A girl I knew (we’ll call her Maria) was first exposed to pornography when her friend (let’s call her Sunny) pulled up an image on her phone during recess.
“Look what I sent to Brian today,” Sunny said, naming Maria’s older brother. “He hasn’t answered yet, but I bet he’ll see it right after school. Think he’ll text me back?”
Maria’s world seemed to crumble. Here was Sunny, in the middle of a noisy playground, showing off her body to both Maria and Maria’s older brother.
Though her parents had warned her about pornography, she had never actually seen it. She definitely didn’t expect her friend to take a nude photo of herself and share it on purpose!
Sunny seemed proud, excited, and a little nervous. Maria, on the other hand, wanted to cry. To save face, she just nodded without saying a word. Sunny seemed a little disappointed, but quickly joined a game of kickball. With Brian.
Maria was flooded with terror. Was she going to get in trouble for looking? What was Sunny thinking? How would Brian feel? Her stomach jolted as she wondered if Brian got pictures like that all the time. Maybe he even sent them himself. She couldn’t tattle to their mom and dad!
Who could Maria tell, and how? Would Brian be angry if she went to him first? Could she get his phone and delete the picture before he saw it?
It’s a terribly complicated problem for a young person to face.
Unfortunately, Maria’s story is true and far from unique. This young girl was literally sick for a week because of it.
Three skills that help kids deal with disturbing experiences
Children are going to see various forms of pornography whether they seek it out or not. And for them, exposure is far from simple.
The desire to protect others, satisfy curiosity, or to forget about the embarrassing incident can be strong enough to confuse a kid about what to do next. To come through the emotion and paralyzing uncertainty, there are three skills every kid needs to have: competence, self-compassion, and communication.
Competence beats confusion
“I didn’t know what to do.”
How many kids have been confronted with an unexpected situation like this and just didn’t know how to respond?
A plan is the best armor, sword and shield. When kids are prepared with in-the-moment action plans they are capable of protecting themselves from surprise encounters with pornography. Our CAN DO plan is one way to be prepared.
A family’s action plan teaches the child how to protect themselves when a responsible adult is not around to help. Which is most of the time! Competence skills kick right in when the child is overwhelmed, confused, or simply blank. They can shut off the monitor. They can walk away from the TV. They can say, “I don’t want to look at stuff like that.”
Because pornography can cause excitement and interest as well as shock or aversion, even children who’ve been warned can have a hard time responding quickly. A misspelled Internet search, pictures from friends, and TV shows have countless opportunities for accidental exposure. Good training for competence involves thinking ahead and practicing as a family what to do in some of these situations.
You can help your child move from “I didn’t know what to do” to becoming a competent child who can say to themselves, “That is porn and that is not okay.” A capable child can say to a friend, “I don’t want to see any more” and walk away. That’s power!
Now Available! Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds is HERE! CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.
Self-compassion stamps out shame
“I’m a bad person.”
That’s the terrible thought that so many kids have when they see pornography. They think that seeing bad images makes them a bad child.
Kids need to understand that pornography is really good at doing what it is intended to do: sell itself by creating powerful cravings to see more. If your child feels that way, it shows that their body is working the way it is supposed to.
All this can lead some kids to repress their healthy sexual feelings and develop shame and anxiety about these natural attractions during growing years. Or even see themselves as weird and abnormal for having these feelings.
If we explain how normal it is to feel both positive and negative feelings, they will understand that they are good, powerful, loving kids who had a normal reaction to viewing sexual content.
Let’s help kids escape the great lie of “I’m a bad person” and replace that with “I’m a good, normal kid who saw some bad stuff.” Kids can place the blame where it belongs – on the pornography. That’s self-respect!
Telling an adult what they’ve experienced can be scary! Kids may feel overwhelming guilt, shame, and confusion. Or they may like it but know that their parents wouldn’t approve. They may not even have the words to explain what they’ve seen, much less what they felt.
And if their parents have never talked about it, kids might think their parents don’t know! What kid wants to be the first one to explain pornography to their mom or dad?
One thing to know – it’s not always crucial to hear the entire story right away. It’s important for the adult to learn exactly what happened. But the urge to hear every detail can wait.
Help your child feel safe and respected in the moment, and then follow up over time. If your child is having a hard time expressing themselves, ask questions with bite-sized answers. For example, “Did you have good feelings, bad feelings, or some of both?” and “How did you feel inside?”
Most importantly, kids need time to get their words out. Learning to express emotions can take years of practice and experience. Mental space, the freedom to think something over or let it go for a while before talking about it, can be really helpful. It can be just the thing they need to calm themselves and figure things out. Be sure to follow up later so they have an opportunity to be heard.
The first follow-up can be as quick as circling back during the same conversation, or as gradual as checking in the next morning. Following up should a process over weeks and even months.
Seeing pornography can be a real upheaval, particularly if it’s the very first time. Some kids may need to get it all out right away. But others need mental space to build their communication skills.
With patience we can help kids get from “I don’t want to talk about it,” to finding comfort and healing by sharing their experience with you. With practice kids can be ready to say, “Hey, something happened, can I talk to you?” That’s great communication!
These three skills–the skills of competence, self-compassion, and communication–are the difference between a child who feels paralyzed and a child who can take action. You can begin developing those skills today by practicing an action plan with your family, praising your child to build their self-esteem, and asking bite-sized questions.
Because warning kids about porn – that’s something. But empowering kids to fight for their own freedom from pornography? That’s everything.
Your family can have a fun time learning about each other and building their communication and connection with our free list of 23 Questions to Inspire Fun Family Conversations. Get it here!
Led by Kristen A. Jenson, author of the best-selling children’s book Good Pictures Bad Pictures, Protect Young Minds™ (PYM) seeks to help parents “porn-proof” their kids before they come across highly addictive and easily accessible internet pornography.