Talking with Teens
Nau mai ki tēnei whiringa korero — welcome to the conversation.
Richie Hardcore, NZ Social Change Campaigner
Here’s some simple tips for talking to your teen about porn including:
preparing for the conversation, conversation openers, topics to talk about,
helpful resources and keeping the lines open.
Before your conversation …
Talk to the person or people you’re parenting with (your partner or extended whānau) and decide who’s the best person to start the conversation. It could be both of you, or just one of you might be less intimidating – you know your young person best.
Prepare to be
The chances are pretty high that your teen has seen some porn. Try not to act surprised about what they tell you, such as the kind of porn they may have watched. This isn’t the time for shame and blame, so avoid words like bad or wrong and take a curious, open, non-judgemental approach.
Tailor message to your child’s age and usage
Your conversation will need to be guided by your child’s age, knowledge and experience. If your child is 12-13 years old, or you haven’t had the ‘sex talk’ with them yet, you might want to check out the TWEEN section in Talking with children and tweens – as some of the messaging below for teens may not be age appropriate yet.
Choose the right time and place
Talking while doing an activity (such as driving) can work well as it is a less awkward or intense way to first begin a porn conversation.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Your young person may have had some negative experiences with porn and be wanting to talk to you about this but be too embarrassed to bring it up on their own. It helps if you’re aware of some of the common porn-related problems that teens can face before you talk to them.
These can Include ...
- Feeling uncomfortable about what they’ve seen in porn.
- Feeling shameful about their porn use.
- Feeling pressure to watch porn by friends or a partner.
- Feeling their porn use is out of control.
- Being pressured to send nude photos of themselves.
- Revenge porn (someone distributing nudes of them or a friend without consent)
- Feeling pressure to do something sexually that a partner has seen in porn.
- Seeking increasingly violent porn – and feeling uncomfortable with it, but unable to stop.
- Having sent images of themselves around and regretting it, but feeling too afraid to tell an adult.
- Feeling triggered or traumatised by images in porn, especially when there’s a history of sexual abuse.
If you are interested in learning more about some of the issues young people are wanting help with around porn, check out our latest youth site In The Know with tips, tools and info on the tricky porn related stuff.
let’s talk shame
Surveys with young kiwis have shown that a lot of young people feel uncomfortable about their experiences with porn. They might know that the porn they’re watching isn’t that good for them, but feel aroused by seeing it. This can result in feeling shame about their porn use and make it extra hard to talk to adults about it.
Normalising experiences ...
… Normalising young peoples experiences with porn can really help this: “It’s okay to feel lots of different things when you watch porn.. curious, grossed out or aroused – that’s normal.” Young people from faith-based backgrounds are more likely to feel distressed and shameful about their porn use and often need a lot of support and encouragement seeking help. Providing a non-judgmental safe space for your young person to unpack what they’ve seen is vital if you want to have open, honest and helpful conversations.
Conversation starters …
We recommend starting with a curious, questioning approach. Before you head straight into asking about your teen’s porn use, start with asking questions about their friends or peers attitudes towards porn and how they feel about it?
Ask open questions (ones that start with what, how and why) that get their perspective on porn – and make sure you listen with empathy.
Here are some opening lines to get underway …
“I heard that most teenagers are learning about sex through porn, what do you think?”
“Are your friends talking about or watching porn? What do you think about porn?”
“I’ve recently heard about Safe Surfer – a filter to protect young people from seeing porn. What do you think about that? Have you ever come across porn?“
Things you could talk about …
Once you’ve got the conversation started, you can start working with your teen on developing some ‘porn literacy’. This means helping them think about and identify the messages in porn around sexism, gender, race and diversity; and understand how these relate to their own personal beliefs and values. Porn literacy is also about understanding how porn is different to real life sex when it comes to things like consent, emotional connection, respect, safety and pleasure.
Here’s a few conversation ideas to encourage young people to start thinking critically about porn…
How does porn sit with my values and beliefs?
There’s some good questions to get teens thinking about the ‘ethics’ of porn and how it sits with their own beliefs around sex, gender and relationships. These include:
- What do I believe makes healthy sex and relationships – and what does porn say about these?
- What do I think about gender, sexism and racism? What do I think about people learning about these things from porn?
- How does what I see in porn sit with my beliefs, culture, values? Why? Why not?
- What is porn teaching us about relating sexually to others in terms of consent, coercion, communication? How does that sit with me?
“Does porn reflect what I want in the world?”
What’s the difference between porn sex and good real-life sex?
Is porn a legit sex ed teacher? What’s it teaching us?
Good sex always includes consent, respect, emotional connection and pleasure for both partners. By comparison, porn sex contains lots of sexual violence, there’s not much focus on mutual pleasure, males frequently dominate females and there’s often no consent. Porn might teach young people about sex, body parts and what goes where – but it doesn’t teach them how to have respectful, meaningful and healthy sex in the real world.
“What kind of sex is porn teaching us?”
What’s the impact of porn on your sex life?
From our experience, this one seems to get young people’s attention!
There are a lot of studies that suggest using porn (particularly a lot of it) can start to affect our sex life for the worse. It can result in less sexual enjoyment, wanting riskier sex , struggling to get turned on without porn, problems maintaining erections and preferring porn to real partners. Porn can also result in unrealistic sexual expectations, so real-life sex isn’t as pleasurable.
“Look after your sex drive, you’ll need it in the future.”
For parents worried about their young person’s porn use …
There are some things that make a young person more vulnerable to being impacted by porn – the age they started watching, how frequently they watch, the type of content they’ve seen and how similar to real life they think the sex is. If you have some concerns and want to go a little deeper in the conversation you can explore the following questions…
Consumption: How often do you watch porn? For how long?
Context: Do you feel pressure to watch porn? Has anyone pressured you to watch or try something from porn?
Concerns: How do you feel about what you see? Have your porn habits changed from when you started watching porn? Are you worried about what your watching?
All of these questions give you a better picture of what your young person may have been exposed to and how it might be impacting them. Remember – not every young person is the same, some already know what they’re seeing is problematic so they may just need a little help from you in changing up their porn habits.
Here are some links to helpful resources to help keep your conversation going, including teen-friendly information on how watching porn and the messages in porn can affect teenagers’ bodies, minds and relationships:
Great Sex vs
Great sex vs
The difference between good sex and porn sex relating to pleasure, consent, safety and emotional connection.
Porn: The Facts for Youth
A handy fact sheet for young people.
Can porn affect us?
A detailed look at how porn can affect our sexual attitudes, behaviours and relationships.
“If someone was sending you threatening messages on the internet, you’d say, “Mum, this person’s being scary.” If you had a porn pop up, that’s probably a lot scarier to tell your parents.”
—NZ Female, 16 yrs (41)
Keep the lines open
As you finish up the conversation, make sure you’re both on the same team …
Ask for their ideas
Your teen may know more about technology than you, so get their ideas about managing porn. This might be internet filter options, boundaries around social media, using the internet only in agreed public family spaces, monitoring unsupervised internet access or talking to friends about it.
Offer them help
If you think your teen may need help, offer some support or options for someone to talk to so they know they’ve been heard and feel there’s some hope. There are some good suggestions here: Need Help?
Keep the conversation open
Ask your teen how you can keep the conversation going. See what’s best for them – it could be face to face or through texts or emails.
Thank your teen for being honest and surviving an awkward conversation! Remind them that at the end of the day you’re on their side and want them to have a great understanding of what healthy sex looks like.
Keep the lines open
As you finish up the conversation …
Ask for their ideas
Keep the conversation open
Offer them help
HELPFUL RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
There are some great specific PARENT RESOURCES we recommend that might help you keep the conversations going with your teenager. These include books, parent guidelines to help prepare for porn conversations, conversation starters and filtering options.