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Pornography and Kids- What To Do When, Not If, It Hits Home

Apr 4, 2015 | Age: 6-12, Pornography, Raising Sons |

Dear Dr. Meg,

I’ve been fortunate enough to see you speak in person and also get your Facebook posts.   When what I relate below occurred, you were one of the first people I thought of to consult.

As background, I have an 8 year old son who I recently found out has seen some pornography on his iPod.  I think that it originally happened via a link he clicked on, and then kept seeing more stuff he was curious about.  In the site history this definitely happens repeatedly over a period of days and then appears to tail off.  It’s pretty explicit stuff.

Needless to say, I was very upset. I did manage to have a discussion with him in a very calm manner.  I don’t want to scare him or shame him or make him less open with me. However this clearly cannot happen anymore. This is not an acceptable thing in our household at all.   He said he did see stuff, that he did search for more after he’d seen it. When I asked how he learned of it, or why he did it, he said he didn’t know.  He does indicate by his action/demeanor that he had some idea it was wrong.   His iPod has been gone for a week now.

What would you recommend I do here? Obviously I can’t erase what he saw and don’t know exactly which things he looked at. I just know that when I flipped through the sites it was very explicit.  (Even though some sites were blocked by the parental protection on the iPod, not all got blocked).  He’s so young that I’m not sure how to handle this at all.

Signed,
Dawn

_____________________

Dear Dawn,

I’m sorry that this has happened to your son. We are indeed living in a world that doesn’t like children very much at all. Many parents want to shield their eyes from the ugly facts but the truth is, any time we put a device with internet access into the hands of children- regardless how conscientious those children are- ugly stuff chases them. Your letter is proof of that. So- parents, please pay attention here because the issue of pornography hits every home at some time or another.

Blame creators of pornography, not your child

First, when (not if) pornography finds your child, it is important to blame the producers of it not your child. If you respond with anger at the child, he will close down immediately and not tell you what he’s been seeing or hearing. This is very important because you want to keep him off the defense so he will remain open to talking with you now and in the future. The other reason that you want to direct your anger at producers of the vile material is to let your child know that you and he are a team. He must learn that you are there to help and protect him from those who want to hurt him, not to shame him.

Speak in simple terms

Second, it is important that you have a calm, rational but very serious talk with him. You must gear the discussion toward your child’s age and knowledge limits so that you don’t re-traumatize him. At age eight, he may just be learning about sexual intercourse but as far as other sex acts, they are completely foreign. So keep the discussion simple and don’t go into details about what he saw feeling that you have to explain what each one is. Often schools or parents want to dive into specifics too deeply with children and this can do more harm than good. Believe me, I feel strongly about children having accurate information, but the information must be age appropriate.

Tell him that Sex is good but pornography is bad

Third, it is more important to communicate to him your feelings on pornography and separate them from your feelings on sex. So, while you discuss pornography, make sure to let him know that it is bad but that sex is good. Then, you must tell him that sex is for adults and that healthy sex has very clear boundaries around it. It is made for a mother and a father to do when they are in love. Keep it that simple at age 8. I would say something like this:

“Johnny, I know that you have been seeing things on your IPad that are disturbing. Dad and I know about those things and I want you to realize that you can tell us about anything that you saw or ask any questions.”

At this point, he will probably say nothing because he will be embarrassed. Then continue, “It is very important to Dad and me that you understand that looking at men and women doing things without their clothes on is not a good thing to do because it is upsetting. Many older boys and girls look at pictures or videos of sex this and you will find this out as you get older. But it is very important that you understand it is very bad for you- no matter what age you are. It is normal for you to want to look because you are curious and we understand that. But you shouldn’t look because it makes you confused, upset and never helps you in any way. Does this make sense to you?”

Then I would give him a chance to talk. He may ask a question or two so give him time. If he asks a question, answer as simply as you can.

“I know that you understand what I’m saying because when you were looking at this pictures (videos, etc.) you felt curious but also kind of sick, didn’t you? That’s why we will have a strategy to keep you away from this. You are not bad son; you are just seeing things that bad people want you to see. So, we’re going to have to not allow you to be in the internet unless we are right in the room with you.”

He will protest or maybe cry, but stay strong. Reiterate to him that he is not the bad person- the film makers are and your job as a good Mom is to keep him away.

When he is older, and you decide to let him have access to the internet, remember this conversation and reopen the issue. Talk to him about how helpful but also how dangerous the internet can be. Then come up with a strategy to guard him.

Watch for signs of trauma

As days go by, watch him closely. Some boys are traumatized by pornography and have nightmares, sleep difficulties or can’t concentrate on schoolwork. If this is the case with your son, ask if he sees the pictures in his mind still. Some boys can have mini- PTSD syndromes from even watching scary or violent movies. The problem is, many don’t want to admit it to parents because they fear looking like “wimps.”

Keep the conversation going

I know this is hard but you, like every good parent, must be vigilant about watching what he is looking at and keep conversations about sex and pornography going. I have eBooks on how to talk to your kids about sex at any age (and keep sex positive) so take a look at those. Also, periodically ask if anyone has tried to send him pornography or if he has come across it- again not to accuse him but to help him. As he gets older it is very important that you tell him that he will struggle with feelings of wanting to look at pornography and tell him this is normal. Then tell him that he needs to work hard at avoiding it (even if his friends look at it) because it can be very damaging to him. If his dad (or other close male relative) is willing, have him talk with your son as he gets older about how to avoid pornography and why doing so is important.

Here’s the good news in all of this. Having this event forces you to learn to dialogue with your son about very sensitive issues. That’s a good thing because as uncomfortable as it is, this will help you become more comfortable talking about sex in the future and it will draw you closer together because of the open communication. You can do this.

Sincerely,

Dr. Meg

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” part of The Strong Parent Project.

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