When Your Child is Exposed to Porn

When Your Child is Exposed to Porn

By Caron C. Andrews

No amount of filtering, monitoring, or warning can guarantee that your child will never come across pornographic images online, in magazines, games, music videos, or movies. Because it’s highly likely that your child will at some point be subjected to inappropriate content, it’s important to know what you can do when your child is exposed.

  • Start the Conversation Before the Exposure

Don’t let your child’s exposure to pornography be the first conversation you’ve had with him about sex. An ongoing dialogue with your child about healthy sexuality should begin with basics when he’s very young and should progress in scope as his maturity level and age dictates. Talking about pornography should be included. Teach your child what to do when he’s seen pornography: immediately click away from it and talk to you and/or his other parent about it within a very short time. However, if exposure comes before the first conversation, all is not lost—just start talking and take the rest of these actions from that point.

  • Don’t Overreact

Don’t shame your child or overreact about what she has seen. Let her know that she can talk with you and that she’ll get a calm, level-headed response; help; and comfort. Help heal and relieve her suffering, not punish her for what she saw. Overreacting or taking away her device or computer will make her less likely to come to you in the future and may make her feel ashamed or that she is to blame for what she saw.

  • Find Out the Severity of What Was Seen

Find out what your child saw: body parts, explicit sexual acts, violence? This will help guide you on how to handle the situation. If it was a “milder” form of exposure, talking it out may be all that’s needed. But if your child is traumatized, acting out sexually with another child, or starts to view pornography, professional help may be in order. It’s also helpful to know how the exposure happened: was it accidental? Was your child looking for information on sex, or even looking for porn? Reassure your child that curiosity about sex is normal, but that pornography does not depict normal, loving, healthy sex.

  •  How Did It Make Your Child Feel?

Seeing disturbing or shocking images can be very upsetting and cause a flood of conflicting emotions in children. Your child may feel simultaneously confused, scared, stimulated, and disgusted by what he’s seen. Acknowledge and validate his feelings, whatever they are. Even if the images weren’t real, don’t trivialize what he saw; it caused an emotional response that needs to be addressed. In the case of accidental exposure, it’s important to tell your child it’s not his fault, and if it was seen with a friend, don’t assign blame.

  • Deconstruct What Was Viewed

It’s important for your child to understand the reality of what she has seen. Point out that the images have very likely been airbrushed or otherwise altered. It could have even been something unreal; something computer-generated. Tell your child that the people in porn are paid actors and that pornography does not represent normal, loving, healthy sexual relationships. Teach her that regular porn use desensitizes the viewer to what used to be tantalizing, making it necessary to see harder and harder-core porn in order to get the same high, and that that accounts for the more explicit, shocking images she may have seen.

Working together with your child in an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and empowerment will go a long way to counteracting the effects of his or her exposure to porn.

For more information on this subject, check out our book How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography. It is also available in Spanish.

Resources:

O’Leary, A. (2012, May). So how do we talk about this? When children see internet pornography. Nytimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/garden/when-children-see-internet-pornography.html?_r=0

Rosenzweig, J. (2013, October). What’s the impact of porn on kids? Philly.com. Retrieved from http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Whats-the-impact-of-porn-on-kids.html

Stiffelman, S. (2011, August). My son saw sexually explicit material online—what should I do? huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/08/safety-on-internet-sexually-explicit-material_n_918353.html

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Coming Soon: 6 Ways NOT to Damage Your Child’s View of Sex