When my son was about 8 years old, he quietly knocked on the door of our bedroom one night. We invited him in, and I could sense his unease. "Mommy, I think I did something bad." The tears began to flow as we scooped him up and inquired over his supposed misdeed. "I was watching a music video and I saw a man's bum. It was naked. I'm so sorry". He believed he had viewed pornography. He was a sobbing mess, but my mommy-heart melted over the admission because we have always been honest in our home about the damaging effects of pornography. This meant it had sunk into his little mind and heart. Even a naked bum sent his conscience reeling. He believed he had viewed pornography. And he was right, accidental as it was.
While this event might seem minor in the grand scheme of what could have been available to my son in the world of pornography, it's still no small matter. It's a rare occasion that users of pornography jump straight to "hard-core porn". It usually starts inadvertently and small: a naked rear, for example. Most exposure happens early, with the average first age of exposure at 8 years old. One Australian study reports that by age 14, nearly 94% of youth have seen pornography. This is troublesome on many levels. This is a crucial developmental period when an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex makes children and youth less capable of making rational decisions. My son fit the demographics, to a tee, and we count ourselves blessed that he had the good sense to look away and come talk to us.
Many of you, like me, are parents with unsuspecting, innocent children. You love them, care for them, and want what's best for them. You'd do anything to protect them. But the pornography industry is crafty. They don't care about protecting your children. Your children are seen as potential consumers for their product. And they will do anything to hook them. Pornography is nicely packaged these days. A popular magazine, lyrics of a catchy song, popup ads, or a music video. It's easier than ever for your child to be exposed and hooked.
Some argue the benefits of porn. Such benefits include sexual education, sexual satisfaction, and sexual release. But the other side of the coin speaks volumes when correlations are linked to rape, aggression, sex trafficking, infidelity, divorce, among others.
Think it would never happen in your home or that your child has never been exposed? Think again. A recent report by the BBFC reports that while 75% of parents believe their children have never seen porn, 53% of those children actually have. Your children could be among those.
While those numbers can be discouraging, it doesn't mean that we can't do something about it. We can take charge in our homes today to protect our children against pornography exposure and its damaging effects. Here are seven things that have worked for our family:
Do the talking before someone else does. The pornography industry is eager to get to your children before you do. Don't give them the satisfaction. If pornography exposure starts early, then talking needs to start early.
"This is a safe space to talk". This is a mantra in our home. We emphasize to our children that they can ask us anything without unfair reaction or judgment. Children need to know that they can have their questions answered lovingly and honestly. If your child has a question, let them ask and then do your best to answer. If you don't know, say so, and schedule a time to talk again once you've found answers. Keep your word and follow up.
The discussion about pornography must be ongoing. I cringe when I hear parents say that they've successfully given their children "the talk". This is not a "one and done" event. Discussing important things like sex and pornography must be ongoing. Your children are growing and developing. This includes their understanding of and curiosity about pornography. Keep talking.
Set rules as a family. We found that our children are more likely to keep rules that they help make. We also found that they are more willing to make rules when they understand the why behind needing them. Tell them how damaging pornography can be. Then trust them to help you make rules to keep the family safe. They will surprise you!
Have a healthy dialogue about dating, marriage, love, and sex. Pornography distorts a child's view of what real love is. Pornography teaches a child to objectify another person. When parents talk positively and honestly about dating, marriage, love, and sex, we teach them that people are for loving in real ways. Sex is an expression of that love and is most satisfying within a devoted relationship. There is no room for pornography in a healthy relationship because it teaches us that people are to be used instead of loved.
Talk about your body and the bodies of others in uplifting, positive ways. Pornography will challenge the self-esteem of a person because of its ability to distort the reality of the human body. Let them know how beautiful and amazing the human body is and that it should be treated with respect. Bodies are not perfect and come in all shapes and sizes. Speak kindly about your body and the bodies of others.
Watch for warning signs. Is your child unusually stressed, tired, depressed, secretive, and removed? While this might indicate many different types of problems, it might also be time to ask about and reevaluate their digital habits. They may be struggling with pornography. Be supportive and ready to help.
While we can't safeguard our children completely, these small steps can help continue the battle against pornography.