Talking with your children about pornography

This evening I was on my children’s computer in the kitchen and decided to review the YouTube history.  I was surprised to see some videos that had been watched by our oldest.  They were from popular YouTube stars with what I would consider adult topics that have heavy sexual overtones in their content.  I won’t list them nor give direct examples of what they said but I would definitely rate it an NC-17 for what they were talking about in their content.  Certainly not for someone who is learning how to handle their time online.  I shared an example video with my wife and after we both looked at each other in complete shock, she asked, “Well maybe she didn’t listen to that one.”  I indicated that it came directly out of the “watched history” list.  And there were easily 30-40 from that one individual, I can’t imagine what was on the other channels and didn’t really need to know.  What we needed to do was take action.

We have found it’s super important that once we realize we need to do something, that we do it immediately.  So we talked about what our game plan would be.  We agreed that we weren’t angry.  We were sad and frustrated that it was happening.  We also realized that we’d much rather have a solid conversation about it with our child instead of freak out and have it be a disaster (we’ve done that in the past and realized afterwards how bad it was).  So we decided the conversation would be focused on helping our child learn from the experience and that we wanted to turn it into a healthy, open conversation, where hopefully our child could see what was unhealthy about what was being shown and make good decisions about what to do in the future.

Okay, I’m going to pause for a second.  I’m tired of saying “child”, it sounds horribly awkward.  In this instance it was our daughter, not our son.  This might surprise some of you, but what we have found in our family, and what I have found in my research is that more and more young women are being negatively impacted by pornography as well as men.  This is an “everyone” problem.  So please don’t fall into a sense of security because you may only have daughters, it doesn’t work that way anymore (sadly).

We called her in and (calmly) asked her point blank about the YouTube channels she subscribed to.  She got the nervous look so at least we knew that she realized she probably shouldn’t be watching them.  We asked her if she thought it was okay to watch.  She said that it was funny and a lot of people watch it.  We then asked her if there was anything that ever made her uncomfortable when she watched it.  “I guess.”  What about the one about <skipping content, it doesn’t matter, suffice it to say it was NC-17 or X>?  This got the shocked, “I didn’t know you’d find that!” look we were hoping to get.  Which then led to us stating, “Look, we’re not angry.  We see this as a great opportunity for you to learn about right and wrong, and why this may not be good for you.”  Then we started to ask her why she thought it wouldn’t be good to watch.  We asked her how she felt as she would watch these videos.  Were they something she would watch with us present?  If not, then is that something you should be watching?  We let her know that at the end of the day, she is in charge of herself.  We can’t stand over her shoulder all of the time, she needs to learn what she wants to do and why and then choose it.

The question and answer session was pretty easy going.  There were tears, it’s a hard conversation for a teenager with her parents (I can attest to that from my own youth).  We expressed love and concern for her well being, and reiterated that we weren’t angry or even disappointed in her (shame is not a motivator!).  We just said this is part of growing up in today’s world and that we want to help her learn how to navigate it in a way that will bring true happiness.

We then spent some time talking about how much time she spends online and what time of day/night she does it.  The answers were what I was expecting:  late at night, 30-90 minutes at a time.  I then asked if she ever found herself having watched videos and entire hour or hours had disappeared and she couldn’t recall them?  Yes.  I shared some stories of my youth and how I used to channel surf and that would turn into 2am or 3am and I had no recall of the last 4-5 hours!  And how when my addiction would come back those numb times would easily lead to a slip and I couldn’t even remember how I got there.

We talked about how we were teaching her how to protect herself.  She was glad to know how the numbing effect worked and how it could lead to negative results.  We also spent some time asking her if she chose to watch videos during times of stress, anger, sadness, etc.  She said she often did and that it would take the edge off.  I then warned her that that is the exact behavior that led me to becoming an addict.  In order to deal with the emotional stresses of life I had to numb myself with pornography.  And that it’s never a good idea to bottle emotions or numb them with things like this as it just creates a pressure cooker that can explode later.

We kept the tone light and conversational, like learning in a classroom.  We constantly reassured her that we wanted her to learn from this experience and that we loved her.  When our daughter left, my wife and I reviewed how we thought the conversation went and we were really pleased with the tone, the questions and answers, and ultimately the final result.  Our daughter was going to set some bottom lines and come up with a passion project (she already chose it and I’m actually excited to see what she does with it!).

We learned an important lesson.  In today’s world, everyone is exposed.  The key is to talk about it and talk about it often.  Avoiding shame and blame by focusing on science, shared experience, and love is super helpful.  Asking lots of questions in a calm tone (versus an inquisition) is helpful as well.  If you can guide your child to their own conclusions they’re way more likely to set their own goals and want to fix it.  Be sure to follow up often and keep having that conversation!  You can do it parents, it just takes practice and if you mess up a few times (we did!), it’s all part of learning as well.

Let me know what you find useful and how it goes if you give any of this a try at home!

My name is Mike.

5 thoughts on “Talking with your children about pornography

  1. My son is all of seventeen months old and I am terrified of the world he is growing up into. Even if we are able to protect him at home, I know that not all parents will be as careful as we will be. I know that forewarned is forearmed, but still, it makes me very sad that it is virtually inevitable that he is going to run into this stuff, and probably a lot sooner than we would like. Thank you as always for sharing your story and experience.

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  2. I don’t even think there’s a way to fully protect him at home unfortunately. I think that it comes down to constant communication. Early and often. I will readily admit that we let fear drive our actions early on and we did not talk with our children early enough and often enough. I regret it but we have begun to course correct with positive results. Looking back I wish I had created a semi-annual “ice cream trip” that would result in a conversation in the car something like this: “You know, when I was your age, here are some of the things I ran into.. Here’s how it impacted me.. Here’s what it might do to you.. If you ever have questions, please talk to us.” Repeated at least once or twice a year if not more. Then they know we care, we’re open about things, and that they can talk to us. The hardest part for us was when we had our second “incident” — we had to drag the details out and that really frustrated me and when it finally was out in the open I was pretty angry and what happened next was not awesome. Working on fixing that one. I’m definitely human. A lot! But the more we have the conversations the better they’ve gotten.

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  3. “In today’s world, everyone is exposed.”

    True.

    I also think it’s true that we’re more vulnerable due to some of the changes in our society. (There’s a good book about those changes by Putnam; Bowling Alone.)

    It’s scary when you realize how little control you have over the toxicity in your children’s environment but open, honest communication is important. Your daughter is lucky to have parents like you.

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  4. Thank you for the positive feedback. I sure love my children and always hope I’m doing the best I can for them. I’ve had my fair share of bad moments, but I’m hoping the good ones outweigh the bad ones (we like to call those the “learning moments” or “payment for tuition to learn from our bad experiences” <– I have a lot of those).

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