Talking with Children/Tweens
Firstly, great work for starting this important conversation with your child!
Most young people come across porn now – it can be as simple as entering in the wrong search term, seeing a pop-up during a game, or becoming curious about bodies or sex and searching for answers online. Building trust and rapport now is a great start to establishing lifelong conversations about healthy sexuality.
When to bring it up?
What is porn?
Before your child has any unsupervised internet access, it’s a good idea to explain what porn is, in basic terms. Your definition should be age appropriate, but for younger children it could be something like: “Porn is photos, videos or cartoons of naked people, touching their own or each other’s bodies.”
Why porn is not made for children…
When children see porn, it can be very confusing. They might feel curious, aroused, disgusted – or a combination of these things. Porn is made for adults and children’s brains often can’t process what they see in porn. It can introduce and normalise unhealthy messages about relationships, gender and sex before children are able to be critical of it. Some porn can also be quite traumatising for young children. We suggest explaining ‘why porn isn’t healthy for kids’ to your younger child in simple terms such as:
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 tailor your message accordingly.
Most tweens will need a more in-depth conversation about porn (than just a set of online safety rules) and this is the age they are most likely to be exposed to porn or search for it themselves. 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…
Porn is photos, videos or cartoons of people with no clothes on, who are touching themselves or each other, usually touching genitals. You might come across porn online, or a friend might show you – if you see it, you can talk to me about it.
Q: Should tweens watch porn?
- Sex is really special, and porn can teach some unhealthy messages about sex, pleasure and how to treat people.
- Some 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, connection and consent when we touch each other.
- Porn isn’t like 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 or call people names, but most people don’t like this in real-life sex.
- All bodies are ok. Porn can make us feel like our body isn’t that nice or isn’t “normal”, but everyone is different and lots of porn bodies don’t look like people in real life.
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 young people to watch. You might feel curious, scared, upset, grossed out or excited by it. All these feelings are normal and okay – and it’s helpful to talk about them with me or another 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?
We have two parts to our brain: our feeling part which is our instincts and ‘wants’; and our thinking part which helps guide us and make good choices. When we see porn we need to use our thinking brain, even if our feeling one is interested, so we can make good decisions about what’s healthiest for us.
Q: What could we do as a family to keep our technology use healthy?
- put filters on all devices (including phones)
- regularly check which websites, apps and games young people are using
- only use devices in public places in the house – not in bedrooms
- put devices away at night
- adults regularly check in with young people about anything they’ve seen
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 young child to use the A·C·T* tool if they see porn.
Click below to read more about each step.
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 you about sex and nude bodies than learn from porn.
It’s helpful for children to name porn when they see it…“that’s porn!” Teach them how to close devices 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 and/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 “what’s wrong with porn”, 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.
What to do if someone else has shown your child porn?
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 it’s helpful to 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.