Exposure to Porn

Pornography can be one of the trickiest cyber safety topics to talk about in the home. When children or teenagers are exposed to adult content, it is essential that we take the opportunity to educate children in order to minimise the possible perils of pornography exposure. Here, we suggest how you can talk to children or teenagers about pornography.

Written by Cyber Expert:

Jordan Foster

Clinical Child Psychologist

Talking to children about pornography can be very challenging for parents. Questions such as 'what do I say?' and 'how much am I supposed to tell them?' come up, and parents worry that they might frighten their children or make their teens uncomfortable. Parents of teenagers also question whether or not they need to speak to their kids about pornography.

For both children and teenagers, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. It’s the delivery that differs between the age groups. Here are a number of helpful tips on how to have the difficult 'pornography' conversation in a safe and respectful way, with both children and teenagers.

Before you begin any conversation - 

Take a moment to calm yourself first.

It’s very normal as a parent to feel panicked and upset when talking to your children about such a difficult subject. Entering into the conversation when you are distressed will give your child the impression that there is something to be distressed about. We don’t want to project our fear or other negative feelings such as disgust onto them, particularly if they aren’t too affected by what they saw.

Also remember that your understanding of pornography may be different to their's. For young children, it's unlikely they'll have as much fear and distress as you, because you understand the highly sexualised and sometimes violent nature of pornographic images, whereas they may not be in their mind as yet. For teens, we can sometimes jump to telling them off, which squanders an important learning opportunity for them because they may ‘shut down’. Try to be mindful about projecting your own fears or opinions directly onto them, and instead see these situations as an opportunity to shape their beliefs and values in a constructive way. 

So before starting, steady yourself and take a breath. When you talk to your kids, try and maintain your composure. This says to your child that the situation is under control, and that they don’t need to panic.

Safeguard the Technology

In order to minimise future opportunities for your child to access pornography, you’ll need to take steps to safeguard the devices that kids are using. Depending on how the child accessed pornography and their age, you will likely go about this in different ways.

Firstly, as part of this community hub, all parents are able to gain free access to Insights, a monitoring tool

that you are able to use to receive alerts from ySafe when your child accesses something dangerous. You can find instructions for activating Insights in the Cyber Safety Teach area of this hub.

For kids aged 9 and under we suggest turning on Google Safe Search on all of their devices, to filter out potentially inappropriate search results. Instructions for this are in the ‘Cyber Safety Tech’ area of this hub. For kids 10 and over, we suggest the use of parental control tools. These are helpful tools that parents can use to block access to pornography and other adult content. Once you’ve safeguarded the device, then you can start ‘the talk’.

Primary Aged Children

Starting the conversation - 

Don't give too much away

Because many primary-aged children are exposed to pornography accidently, they don’t always have a clear understanding of what the pornogprahic content was or what it means. It’s important to find the balance between helping children process what they saw, while avoiding putting additional thoughts into their mind. Don't jump straight into talking about sexual relationships or sexual acts right away.

Ask questions first, and then base what you say around what they know, what they think or the questions they have. Start broad, and get to the specifics only if you have to.

During the conversation -
After you have assessed how much they saw, what they thought they saw, and how they felt, you can then discuss the content of what they saw by doing two key things: 

Normalise body parts

Normalising body parts decreases embarrassment and fear. In the context of seeing pornography, this decreases feelings of distress for both the child and the parent, and leaves little room for children to feel ashamed or scared about their bodies. 

Explain pornography as a movie

Kids should understand that pornography is the same as movies. They are made up stories that aren't real. Real-life people don't always do what they saw, just like they don't always do what we see in movies. 

You can also discuss pornography in the context of different genres of movies, such as scary films. Some adults like scary films, but lots of others don't. You can ask your child to explore why you don't let them watch scary movies, and then discuss this in the same context as pornography. 

If you need extra help with your explanation, you can describe pornographic films as having actors. Actors are people who are playing a pretend role, and what we see isn't their real lives. If your child is scared of what they saw happening to the actors in the pornographic films, you can describe what was happening in the context of action movies. For example, just like action-packed movies where an actor might be hurt from an explosion in the movie, they haven't actually been hurt at all in real-life. The same thing can be said for what they may have seen in pornography. Again, remember to only share information with the child if they have asked for it or have questions about it. Be mindful not to give too many details to avoid raising thoughts in a child's mind that they didn't have previously.

Teenagers

When it comes to teenagers, most are exposed to pornography either because they have sought it out, or a friend showed them. It is expected that at some point within a teenager’s adolescent years that they will see pornography, so the milestone is inevitable. However, it is still important that parents educate their teenage children about the unhealthy or unrealistic messages that are often displayed in pornographic videos.

This conversation can feel a little confronting for both parties, so a good place to have the conversation is in a car (however if you’d like the conversation to be more serious then face-to-face is appropriate). It is important to inform teenagers about the perils of pornography, specifically focussing on the message that pornography is not a reflection of a healthy, consensual relationship. To give you a foundation to start with, we suggest exploring two (or all) of the points below for further discussion with your child:

  • 88% of pornographic videos display physical aggression towards one of the partners
  • 94% of violence in pornographic videos is directed towards women
  • 95% of violence towards women in pornographic films is met with ‘pleasure’
  • 70% of young people believe pornography encourages “society to view women as sex objects”
  • Regular pornography viewing has been found to influence greater levels of sexual aggression among boys by 4 times.
  • Regular viewing of pornography has been found to influence young male’s perspectives that it is normal to persuade or coerce reluctant partners to perform sexual acts.

Source: The Light Project, 2017

The reason for discussing these statistics and facts is not to create a sense of guilt or shame, but to use them as a helpful basis to explore the potentially negative side effects of pornography. So when discussing these with your child, ask them to share their thoughts about these statistics. Encourage them to talk about why pornography might influence people in these ways, and have them consider what a healthy relationship would like look in ‘real life’. Ideally, it’s important to touch on topics such as consent (both how to say ‘no’ and how to accept ‘no’), respect, assertiveness, positive body image and trust, and discourage other attributes of pornography such as coercion, violence and unhealthy body image.

The great news for parents is that communication is one of the main protective factors in reducing the potential harm caused by pornography. By talking to your kids about healthy intimate relationships, and taking steps to minimise further exposure, you are helping your child navigate a potentially dangerous digital influence that can not only affect them, but their future relationships.

Further information

Guides for setting up parental controls

Set up parental controls on your devices and operating systems manually.

VPNs - What parents need to know

It is becoming increasingly common for tech savvy kids to use VPNs to hide their location or even bypass parental controls. 

Parent Guide to Pornography

Our experts' guide to safeguarding kids against the harms of pornography.