A Conversation: Pornography (ages 5-11)

 

Now that we have covered the basics on how to approach difficult conversations with our kids (see previous article A Conversation: 5 Helpful Helpful Hints on How To Have Difficult Conversation With Your Kid) we can start to gain some language around specific topics. Due to developmental differences in processing information I have categories these topics into two age groups. Children (ages 5-11) and Teens (ages 12-17). It’s important to use age appropriate terms, questions and explanations when approaching topics that may cause stress for your child.

Many people reading this article will think that talking with your young child (5-10) is not necessary and maybe even inappropriate. In my experience as a therapist, this is now a necessary topic to discuss with our children due to their access to devices (phones, ipads, computers) often alone in their rooms, the back of the vehicles, at school or at childcare. Research now tells us that the average child who sees pornography for the first time is six years old. Yes. That is correct. Age 6. Grade one.

Keep in mind. Children at this age do not seek out pornography. They are exposed to it in indirect and accidental ways. When children access a search browser (such as google) and type in a phrase (example: apple pie, milk and cookies…) invasive sexual images may appear. Many games will have pop up videos that circulate on the edges of the screen, and sometimes older friends will share images or videos they have seen. Children are not naturally attracted to sexually explicit content at this age, and when they encounter it they do not know how to process it on their own.

For the elementary age we want to approach this conversation with sensitivity and openness. Initiate this conversation when no one else is around. Try having one parent approach this topic and not both, to avoid the feeling that the subject is very serious and overwhelming.

Children do not have the language to express what they have seen, and often do not know that what they have seen makes many adults uncomfortable. Instead of asking directing if they have seen pornography (they will not know what this means) start slow, with no expectations.

Conversation starter example:

“Have you ever seen anything on the computer/ipad/telephone/tv (choose the one your child accesses the most) that makes you feel uncomfortable? Like, a squishy tummy, or surprised or weird?”

Possible responses:

“No”

“What do you mean?”

“Yes”

Your child might give you a blank stare or leave the room. If this happens take it as a sign they are very uncomfortable (flight response) and gently re-approach the subject in a day or two.

If your child response with ‘what do you mean?’ repeat the question. Maybe add, “like someone might have not had clothes on”.

If your child responds with ‘yes’, stay calm. Do not try to gain all the details, or place blame on anyone. Ask your child what it was like for them to have seen this and just listen to their experience. Then make a brief plan about how to protect them from this in the future.

I recommend not allowing children in this age range to be alone with a device. Instead make it a rule that they must be in a public space when on a device. This means Netflix or Minecraft is not viewed in rooms with closed doors or where an adult is not walking by. Second, I would advise software that blocks and reports sexually explicit material, as research indicates elementary aged children encounter less invasive material when blocks are in place. Keep in mind that online blocks do not completely protect your child and this conversation needs to continue.

Your goal is to create a safe and open atmosphere where your child can come to you and process difficult issues. Try to avoid blame, showing discomfort, and finding out all the details. Instead, ask a few questions but give lots of space (silence) for the child to share and process in his or her own way.

 

 

alisha stobbe

MA, RCC

Experience Change Counselling

www.ExperienceChange.ca

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A Conversation: 5 helpful hints on HOW to have difficult conversations with your kids

Having difficult conversations does not come easy to most people. The majority of us have to really care for someone to initiate an uncomfortable topic. Often we want to avoid the potential argument, awkward silence and possibility of being seen as incompetent. But, as parents we need to start having conversations we never had with our parents. Conversations that go beyond ‘the sex talk’ and dive deeper into the lives of our children’s technology use. It has now become a parents’ responsibility to monitor, ask and teach children new skills as they access the world through their devices (and allow the world to access them through those same devices). Below is a list of my top 5 suggestions on how to start these difficult and important conversations.

 

  1. Practice: Before having a difficult conversation with your kids I encourage you to practice with your partners, friends or even with yourself. Roll the phrases over a few times. New and difficult conversations are like learning a new language; we don’t get it right the first time. With practice (actually saying the words out loud or writing down important points really does help!) the conversation will come much more naturally.

 

  1. Ground Yourself: Research is clear, how you start a conversation is most likely how it will end. Crazy, I know. But if we take this research seriously we need to pay attention to how we are feeling (Is my heart racing? Am I short of breath? Am I already discouraged before I start?). Try to take a few breaths and encourage yourself for taking these important steps. If you skip this step your child will sense your discomfort and likely make meaning that this topic is not an ‘ok’ thing to talk about.

 

  1. Tap and Go: Kids and teens do not have the inner resources and ability to self regulate. They are learning, but have not yet mastered the skills to bring themselves down from big emotions. For this reason, it is important to check your expectations of the conversation. Do not expect your child to sit and respond in full dialogue on difficult subjects. Their fight and flight response will be distracting them from fully processing what you are saying. They will need time to digest and process. This means parents need to approach the difficult subject multiple times, ideally making them an ongoing conversation. I call this approach ‘tap-and-go’. Breach the subject (tap), then let it go. Allow your child to answer a question, give a response (grunt, shrug of the shoulders, sigh, roll of the eyes), change the subject or even walk away. The hope is to establish an ongoing conversation, not give a lecture or to ‘get it over with’ in one shot.

 

  1. Keep the Door Open: Resiliency in children relies heavily on the quality of relationship with their primary care-giver. The stronger the relationship between parent and child, the easier it is for children to navigate difficult decisions, emotions and thoughts. Because this is so foundational to healthy behavior and development you will want to build your relationship with your child, not threaten it. Instead of going into the conversation wanting to check it off your list, or resolve something (is my kid sexting?) ask yourself, “How can I keep the door to our relationship open? Will my child want to re-approach this subject with me later?”.

 

  1. Know Your Own Triggers: We all have them. They come from our parents, our past and our fears. Our triggers creep into our relationships at work, with our partners and with our siblings. We can know we are triggered when we find ourselves getting upset. It’s often that simple. Be curious about what upsets you so you can be extra kind to yourself when you are triggered. Common examples of personal triggers include: talking about sexuality with parents, discussing sexual curiosity or preferences, feeling disrespected, feeling unheard, a response that is loud, a silent response, initiating conversations that are uncomfortable for others, secrets, wondering if your child is unsafe, etc. Keep your own triggers in check. If you let your trigger get the better of the conversation your child will loose your important message.

 

 

 

 

alisha stobbe

MA, RCC

Experience Change Counselling

www.ExperienceChange.ca

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Therapy: Sweater Vest Not Included

A snap shot of what therapy actually looks like

By Alisha Stobbe

 

Therapy tends to conjure up specific images for people. Pop culture often depicts therapy with an older gentleman, a wool suit, an indifferent gaze, and a pad of paper in hand. Probably the most common picture of classical therapy (no thanks to Freud) is of a client lying on a couch sweating bullets while the therapist stares out the window unproductively linking dreams to one’s mother.

But the image of therapy that comes to my mind has nothing to do with couches or chairs or the type of clothes I am wearing. From my perspective therapy is an opportunity. It gives space to encounter oneself in a new way. In the time that I share with my clients we tend to explore the impacts of life’s events, unspoken family rules, and the meanings we make. Generally, I think of therapy as a time to un-muddle oneself and bring clarity to our lives in order to make new decisions.

In many cases this un-muddling of one’s life involves other individuals, whether they are close friends, parents, children or family members. People often choose to attend therapy with one or more key individuals in order to change the way the relationship functions, to support one person in reaching their goals, or repair relationship wounds. In my experience these joint sessions are very productive and often lead to efficiently reaching the goals set forth in therapy. For this reason, I welcome seeing multiple individuals at once.

So whether you prefer to sit, lie down or do jumping jacks in the corner of the room is irrelevant to me. Success is marked by people achieving their goals, gaining clarity and stability, and feeling empowered to transfer these skills into all areas of their life. Essentially, my goal is to work myself out of a job because my clients are empowered and equipped to take on their unique life circumstances.

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