Children are our future – and the porn industry is stepping into a gap and ‘educating’ them. We urgently need to start having these awkward but important conversations with our children, so they have a healthy, respectful and vibrant understanding of relationships and sex. Our rangatahi (our young people) deserve the best.
— Petra Bagust
Firstly, great work for starting this important conversation with your child!
Many children in New Zealand come across porn now – it can be as simple as entering in the wrong search term, seeing a pop-up, or becoming curious and searching for it after hearing friends talk about it. Talking about porn and building trust and rapport now is a great start to establishing lifelong conversations about healthy sexuality.
Before you begin your conversations, we recommend getting as prepared as possible. Check out our Parent Resources or read through BLAT (Breathe, Learn, Ally, Talk and Take Action) on our whānau homepage.
Avoid words such as ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ and instead, use terms such as ‘unhealthy’ and ‘harmful’. If your child has already been exposed to porn, these words can make any guilt or shame they’re already experiencing feel worse and make them less likely to want to talk about it.
What is porn?
Before your child has any private or unsupervised access to the internet, it’s important to explain to them what porn is in basic terms. Your definition should be age appropriate, but for younger children you could say something like …
Why should children avoid porn?
When children see porn, it can be very confusing. They might feel curious, aroused, disgusted – or a combination of these things. Children’s brains are not developed enough to process what they see in porn and it can normalise unhealthy messages about relationships, gender and sex before they’re old enough to be critical of it. Some very violent porn can also be quite traumatising for young children. We suggest explaining this to your younger child in simple terms, for example…
”Porn isn’t for children. Porn can make you feel lots of different things – but it teaches unhealthy messages about sex and relationships and can be harmful to watch.”
If your child has already been exposed to porn, these words can make any guilt or shame they’re already experiencing feel worse and make them less likely to want to talk about it.
Talking with tweens…
Sexual knowledge and experience vary greatly amongst tweens aged 10 to 12 years. Some tweens may be quite porn savvy and others may not have heard about porn at all, so you’ll need to tailor your message to suit where your tween is at. Tweens are at an important developmental stage sexually, as they are usually at the onset of puberty and this is the age they are most likely to be accidently exposed to porn or begin searching for it for themselves.
Most tweens will need a more in-depth conversation about why they should avoid porn (and more than just a set of online safety rules) than kids aged 8 to 10 years. They may be a bit awkward discussing porn but will often still consider parents ‘the experts’ on sex, so will be more open and receptive to parent input than later in the teen years.
Here are some conversation starters to get you underway…
Q: Have you heard of ‘porn’ before? What do you think it is?
Porn is photos or videos of people with no clothes on, who are touching themselves or each other and doing sexual things. You might come across porn by mistake, or a friend might show you – if you see it, you can talk to me about it.
Q: Why shouldn’t tweens watch porn?
Sex is really special, and porn gives some unhealthy messages about sex. For example…
- Most porn is violent – it doesn’t show us how to treat each other well or what the important things in a good relationship are, such as respect and connection.
- Porn isn’t real-life – the people in porn are acting and what they do can hurt. Porn makes it look like it’s okay to do harmful things, but most people don’t like this in real-life sex.
- Many of the bodies in porn may have been altered by surgery. Porn makes it look like those sorts of bodies are real-life when they’re not.
When tweens watch porn they might: try to copy the behaviours they see in porn, expect real life relationships to be like porn, think that’s it’s okay to hurt people sexually, or find it hard to stop watching porn once they start. This can be harmful for on-going relationships and ideas about sex.
Q: If you have seen porn already, how did it make you feel?
Porn is made for adults and it can be very confusing for children to see it. Some kids feel curious, scared, upset, disgusted or excited by it. All these feelings are okay – and it will help to talk about them with a safe adult.
Q: If you see porn, you might feel like you want to watch more. What are some ways to make healthy choices when you see porn?
One way to think about it is understanding that we have two parts to our brain: our feeling part which is about instincts and ‘wants’; and our thinking part which helps guide us and make good choices. When we see porn we can get our thinking brain into action, even if our feeling one is interested, so we can make good decisions around not watching porn (see ACT below).
Q: What do you think we could do to help all our family avoid porn?
Some things we could all do include:
- putting filters on all devices (including phones)
- parents regularly checking which websites their children are using
- only using devices in public places around the house – not in bedrooms
- putting phones and other devices away at night
There are also some other great resources specifically for tweens that can help guide your conversation, including Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn proofing today’s young kids and How to Talk to Your Kids about Pornography. Details are here: PARENT RESOURCES
What to do if your child sees porn?
We recommend encouraging your child to use the A·C·T* tool if they see porn.
Click below to read more about each step.
A·VERT YOUR EYES
Encourage your child to immediately ‘avert’ their eyes if they see porn. Explain that porn isn’t made for children and while it’s okay to be curious, it’s better to ask a safe adult about sex and nude bodies.
C·ALL IT WHAT IT IS, CLOSE IT DOWN
It’s helpful for children to name porn when they see it…“that’s porn!” Teach them how to close screens ahead of time, so if they see porn they can immediately shut it down. It’s also important they know they won’t be in trouble if they do accidentally see porn.
Lastly, encourage your child to tell a safe adult if they’ve seen porn. Watching porn can be very confusing for young children – they may feel frightened, curious, embarrassed or aroused. Some children will feel ashamed and guilty and need adult assurance that they are not to blame for how they feel.
Talking about your child’s feelings is really important and unpacking the emotion rather than focussing on the porn they have seen, will help them process it. It may be helpful to prompt your child with open questions such as “Kids can feel lots of different feelings when they see porn – how did it make you feel?”
Finally, discuss with your child strategies for how they can avoid seeing porn. These can include using filters on devices, monitoring internet access, using the internet only in agreed public family spaces and restricting social media use. We recommend www.safesurfer.co.nz as a good filtering solution.
If an adult has shown your child porn, this is illegal. Ask your child all the circumstances surrounding this and contact the police if you’re concerned about their or other children’s safety. If it was a friend of the child, then you could talk to their parents.
As well as the books listed above, there are plenty more great Parent Resources that can help you with ongoing conversations with your children. These include children’s books you can read with your child, tools to help you prepare, conversation starters and internet filtering options.