Pornography. Ugh. One of the evils of the modern world we live with that nearly everyone will be exposed to (accidentally or otherwise) at some point or another. This is one of those issues that you don’t want to talk to your child about, but NEED to talk to your child about. But the question looms about how and when to talk to your child about pornography. Hint: It is sooner than you might think.
Pornography is a BIG problem. Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter COMBINED (source). There are countless dangers of viewing pornography, including sexual addictions, unrealistic expectations for future relationships, the continuation of human trafficking, and even changing the structure of the human brain. But for our family, ultimately our faith condemns pornography on the basis that it objectifies women (and men) who are made in the image of God. All individuals deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and not simply used for our own pleasure.
Despite all the contrary evidence, a recent Gallup survey indicates that forty-three percent of Americans now believe pornography is “morally acceptable”. Perhaps more surprising, “a majority of teens and young adults in this country will tell you that failing to recycle is more immoral than porn” (source). Our children need to know that pornography is wrong. This starts with us speaking out as parents, teachers, pastors, and youth leaders.
For a long time, my “solution” to shielding my children from the evils of pornography was to just limit internet access. Period. We disabled the internet from almost all devices they had access to and allowed very little screen time outside of approved apps, television shows, and our Wii gaming console. But I knew this wasn’t enough, especially as my kids’ friends started getting cell phones and they had increasing access to the internet at school.
As a mom, I vacillate between wanting to be the one who first told my kid about pornography while simultaneously NOT wanting to pique his pre-pubescent curiosity. Just like talking about sex, my husband and I feel it is important that we are the ones who talk to our kids first before they hear some distorted truth about it from friends and classmates…or before they see pornography for themselves.
Here are some tips that have helped us navigate these very choppy, uncharted waters of discussing pornography with our tweens while simultaneously protecting them from it:
1. Set aside time to devote to an open and honest dialogue about pornography.
It is hard to know when the right time is to talk to your child about this sensitive issue. But the average age for viewing pornography is by eleven years old, so I would definitely recommend sometime before then. The amount of unsupervised time your child has on the internet and the technology savvy of his/her friends are also factors to keep in mind.
Since I tend to freeze up on conversations such as this, I found the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures by Kristen Jenson and Gail Poyner to be extremely helpful in discussing pornography in an age-appropriate manner. This book emphasizes the dangers and changes to the brain that take place when someone views pornography. The book is broken up into short chapters, so it took my 10-year old and me about 5 days to read through it. This was helpful, as it kept the dialogue going for multiple days. If you don’t already have this book, look for it at your library or purchase it (and even share with friends of children of similar ages). It is well-worth it! (There is also a junior version for children ages 3-6 that I have not read yet).
On a personal note, while my son and I were reading through the book together, he admitted that he thought he had seen pornography AT SCHOOL (of all places) that day while researching a state project. He described the image and it was very tame in today’s standards and not something I would technically consider pornography (a topless women with her back to the camera, nothing frontal). But I was so thankful that we had the chance to discuss this on that specific day and that he identified that what he saw was not right.
2. Teach your child to look away when they see something objectionable.
As humans, our natural response when we see something shocking is to gawk and keep looking. Teach your child that when he/she sees something objectionable to look away immediately. If this is on the computer, shut the screen and take it to an adult (or close out of the browser if your child is older). If on television, walk out of the room and tell an adult (or turn off the TV). Taking this small step of self-control will set the standard for years to come.
3. Call out pornography when you see it.
According to Merriam-Webster, pornography is defined as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement”. Let’s be honest, pornographic images are not isolated to the internet. I have seen giant billboards on the side of the interstate, window displays in lingerie shops, and television commercials that I would consider soft porn. When you are with your child, call these images out. Identify them as pornography and encourage your child to look away when seeing any image that makes him/her uncomfortable or dehumanizes the subject.
4. Reassure your child that the desires he/she may feel are normal but must be controlled.
Part of becoming an adult is learning to control yourself and your behavior. Our family believes that we were created as sexual beings to enjoy sexual intimacy with our spouse in the context of marriage. Sex in this context is beautiful and should be celebrated. Although we might be curious and have sexual desires before we are old enough for this commitment, pornography and sexual intimacy with anyone other than our spouse is wrong in God’s eyes and therefore we must take the necessary steps to avoid temptation.
Although this specific narrative might not fit your family’s religious or moral preferences, I think we will ALL agree that every individual will have to learn to control him/herself as not to trespass on the rights of others. We are all too familiar with the #MeToo movement and the stories of so many victims of sexual assault this day in age. Unfortunately, dozens of published research studies have demonstrated that exposure to pornography puts individuals at in increased risk for committing sexual offenses. In addition, a study analyzing over 300 types of popular pornographic videos, “88.2% contained physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping, while 48.7% of scenes contained verbal aggression, primarily name-calling. Perpetrators of aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female” (source).
5. Stop giving kids smartphones until they are much older.
Current statistics show that the average age children view pornography is 11 years old. Coincidentally, this is also the same age that the average American child is given a smart phone. Our kids don’t need phones with access to the internet and social media. If you want to stay in contact with them, give them a Gizmo watch or a flip phone with GPS. Let’s let our kids be kids as long as possible!
6. Encourage all time spent on the internet to be at your kitchen table.
Very few people use desktops these days, but when your child has access to the internet, make sure that he/she is using the laptop, tablet, or phone in a high-traffic area of your home.
No devices should be allowed in bedrooms or rooms with the doors shut. Period.
7. Install filters…but realize that, by themselves, they are insufficient protection against pornography.
Filters are helpful but not foolproof. As I mentioned, my son viewed an explicit photo at his school (that has extensive internet filters).
You can find an extensive comparison of internet filters for families here. We currently use Circle with Disney, but as I said we rely much more on educating our kids and manually restricting internet access than we do filters.
8. Set a good example.
Pornography is dangerous for kids, but it is also wrong and dangerous for adults as well. We must set a good example for our kids and the current statistics are not promising. “Forty-seven percent of male adults are actively seeking out pornography once or twice a month. Surprising for some, close to one in four women (23%) are doing the same” (source). We can do better. We must do better.