How do you have healthy, age-appropriate conversations with kids about pornography? Dr. Timaree Schmit offers a helpful guide for parents.
Let’s make one thing clear: I’m not a parent and have absolutely no idea how you people pull that off.
I mean, I understand how the kid came to be. In fact, that IS my area of expertise. But I don’t know how you folks manage to turn tiny, squishy miniature humans who don’t even know not to poke themselves in the eye into fully functioning adult people… much less how this feat is accomplished with a normal person’s budget of money and time.
That said, I’m here to help you talk to your progeny about porn. I get a fair number of messages from parents who have uncovered their kids’ porn viewing or are just preparing for the inevitable day when it happens. They want to know how to talk about it in a productive way, knowing that it’s literally impossible to prevent your children from seeing sex.
- Ask Questions
Start this conversation with some investigative work. Find out what they already know and believe, what they have already heard/seen/expect. Find out how they felt when they saw it. Ask them what they think porn is (literally and also figuratively, so they understand it’s fantasy in the way that movies can sometimes be unrealistic) and why they think people would watch it. This gives you a baseline so you know how to proceed and establishes that this is a conversation, not a lecture.
- Be a Safe Space
The overall tone should be conversational but intimate, so you can talk seriously, but they know they’re safe to be honest. This helps you establish that it’s OK to ask you questions and you won’t judge them or punish them for being curious. If asking you questions leads to punishments, they’re going to ask someone else. And you never know what that person is going to say.
- Don’t Freak Out
Let’s say you just walked in on your little princess or prince in the midst of an X Hamster viewing session. The right answer is NOT to scream or say, “what’s wrong with you?” or otherwise add to the trauma. Even if inside you’re internally spazzing, keep it cool for their sake. Having parents who went unreasonably ballistic about sexuality is one of the best ways to ensure someone has a horrible time being a sexually healthy adult.
- Tailor the Conversation to the Child
What is helpful to one kid is TMI to another. Consider what your kid already knows, how they are likely to access pornography, what kind of ideas they have about it, how they interact with their peers and what is going to be genuinely helpful. And naturally, conversations about sex should be developmentally appropriate. All kids should learn basic anatomy and physiology, be aware of the importance of consent and they should know what your values are about sex. But beyond that, there’s a lot of room for modification.
If your son or daughter already has issues with taking the answer “No” seriously, then we can put more emphasis on enthusiastic consent and explaining what is unrealistic about porn in that way. If your kids are prone to talking about their bodies being not good enough, know that you need to give context about the bodies of porn stars. Based on their reaction to porn, either specifically or in theory, you can figure out if the dialogue needs to be more about WHY people have sex, HOW, WITH WHOM, etc.
- Make No Assumptions
Let’s say your son’s internet history reveals that he watched some gay porn. Does that mean he’s gay? Not necessarily. If your daughter asks about facials, does that mean that her boyfriend has been asking to do that? Not necessarily. There are lot of things to be curious about and lots of things that are hilarious. Again, ask questions to make sure you understand exactly what is being talked about. Are you sure you both think a word means the same thing?
- Keep the Dialogue Open
This is not a one-and-done type deal. Y’all are gonna talk about sex and porn throughout the lifetime. If you want them to know and embody your values, you need to communicate those clearly, repeatedly and consistently. And the things that are relevant at age 8 will be discarded for entirely new questions at age 10. Stay a safe space and use teachable moments. Miley Cyrus was good for a fair number of conversation starters for 2013. Be on the lookout for the next one.
- Get Some Tech Skills
Know how your kids access porn and how to take steps to curtail it, if need be. Know how to use parental controls, know your kids’ passwords and explicitly spell out what the rules are about porn, what is OK and what is unacceptable in both your home and friends’ homes. Be able to search internet history on all devices and know that it’s way uncool to parent via tweet or facebook comment. Save these discussions for face-to-face or phone, at minimum.
- What if You Don’t Know the Answer?
This is almost certain to happen. Sometimes you’ll be able to talk about larger issues and values without knowing specifics, but you can also be honest, say you don’t know and come back to the conversation after you’ve done some research into reliable sources.
Good luck, friends. And always feel free to hit me up with specific questions.
Originally appeared at Sex With Timaree
You may also like: The Healthy Sex Talk, Ages 1-21
Photo: Flickr/Summer Skyes 11