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How to Help Parents Talk to Their Kids About Porn

They'll see adult content. Here's how to explain it to them.

August 26, 2016
Anirudh Pennathur
Student
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Privacy, Parents and Families, Students

The internet means information, fast. One downside: It's pretty easy for kids to come across adult content. It often happens too quickly to prevent, so it's important to be prepared to handle such a situation.

Pornographic images are often extremely violent and graphic, which can create a lasting, negative imprint on kids. Even when the material isn’t violent, scripted sex can lead to a twisted perception of reality by reinforcing negative stereotypes about sex and degrading portrayals of both men and women.

Stifling kids' curiosity, however, isn't the answer. It’s our responsibility as adults to educate our kids because if we don’t prepare them to react properly when they encounter porn, they will keep what they've seen secret and turn to a peer, likely just as ill-informed, for more information.

 

7 Tips for Talking to Kids About Porn

 

  1. Identify what you want your kids to know. You are in control of the conversation so you get to share your own values and concerns with your kids.

  2. Tone matters. Pay attention to how you speak to your kids. Be calm, confident, and clear. Humiliation, shaming, or scare tactics do not serve the purpose of education, and they're only detrimental to kids' understanding of healthy sexual relationships.

  3. Start the conversation. Often the biggest barrier to the conversation is starting it. A good way to start the conversation is to be straightforward about the nature of the subject, saying something to the effect of “I know it can be awkward to talk about porn at first, but there are some really important things I want you to know.”

  4. Explain your rules. Explain to your child that there is adults-only material on the internet. Whether they were seeking out porn or stumbled upon it, be careful not to blame or shame your child, as curiosity is normal and developmentally appropriate. But what they saw is usually behind an "age gate." Typing in a fake age to view it is against the rules (both the website's and yours). Remember, this doesn't need to be a one-time discussion. Remind your kids that you're always open to talking about this issue.

  5. Safer searching. Enable content filters (or parental controls) on your computers' Internet browsers. Kids' digital savvy escalates around age 10, and the filters help keep your kids on age-appropriate sites.

  6. Address sexual curiosity. It's not every parent's favorite subject, but it's important to acknowledge your child's burgeoning interest in sex. Share your values around sex; stress the importance of meaningful, respectful relationships and that pornography represents an extreme that's not usually a realistic representation of true intimacy.

  7. Find age-appropriate material about sex. Consider getting your kid a book about sex that's designed for his age so he has access to age-appropriate information that is fact-based.

No matter what measures parents take to monitor kids’ activity, there's always a chance they will encounter adult content online. At Common Sense, we start teaching kids in kindergarten to help them identify which websites are OK for them and which aren't. We teach them about red light websites, yellow light websites, and green light websites and that when they land on a website that isn't right for them, they should shut it down.

We also recognize that kids need to get their information from a broad variety of sources, so we recommend keeping some age-appropriate and relevant books, movies, and websites available to them. Common Sense has some great resources for parents and teachers to help them tackle this often uncomfortable issue. It’s up to us to make sure our kids’ views on sexual relationships are healthy and that they get their information from trusted sources.

Additional Common Sense Resources on this topic:

What to Do if Your Kid Sees Porn Online
How Much Sexual Content in Media Is Appropriate for Kids?