Approaching a conversation about pornography with children ages 12 to 17 is challenging for the most solid, trained communicator. It involves initiating a conversation that you can almost count on being awkward. Whether your teen will respond with complete silence or have what might be viewed as a toddler-type melt down (throwing things, slamming doors, yelling and calling names) starting a conversation about pornography is now an essential building block of healthy parenting.
What the Experts Say
It is now indisputable that pornography use among youth leads to negative impacts. In fact, the American College of Pediatricians states that pornography use among this age group creates “negative emotions, psychological and physical health outcomes. These include increased rates of depression, anxiety, acting out and violent behavior, younger age of sexual debut, sexual promiscuity, increased risk of teen pregnancy, and a distorted view of relationships between men and women” (2015). They encourage health care providers to warn patience about its use and provide resources for treatment. Many other research studies have found that viewing pornography at a young age is also linked to increased sexual aggression, dating violence, negative sexual attitudes and self-concepts, body image, and social development.
Because pornography use can be detrimental to healthy development, parents need to be initiating conversations on this subject often. Ideally the conversation would have started around age 6 (see previous article A Conversation: Pornography (ages 5 to 11)), but most parents don’t breach the subject until much later, if at all.
If you are starting this conversation later, take heart, your aging children need their parents just as much now as they did when they were younger. It just looks different. Instead having no internet access outside of your gaze, limiting play dates, and pre-viewing the movies they watch your role now is to initiate a conversation about what they have seen and how it impacts them. Discuss the potential costs that might include: depression, anxiety, isolation, loss of friendships, dropping grades, inability to hang onto a girlfriend/boyfriend, unrealistic and disappointing sexual experiences. While your teen will likely not want to hear about the costs of viewing pornography it is important they know what they are choosing (or who they are choosing to date).
Possible Conversation Starters
As you have probably observed by now, children mature at different rates. I am not going to put age distinctions on the language you use to initiate this conversation. Instead, trust yourself and your knowledge of your kid and choose the language that fits for you. Possible conversation starters may include:
“I have not thought to monitor your devices for content use, but it has occurred to me that this is something I should be doing as your parent. I am responsible for protecting you, and this includes your devices. How do you feel about this?”
“I read about really negative impacts of viewing pornography the other day, like how it increases depression, anxiety, it’s harder to make friends… and thought I might check in with you about what you think about porn?”
“I am sorry I have not talked about this sooner with you, but we need to talk about viewing sites that are appropriate and inappropriate”.
Remember Your Goal
There are many ways to start this conversation. The goal is to start the conversation. Not to have a half hour talk about the terrible possibilities that may occur. It is very important you do not go into this conversation with the hope of finding out if your child is viewing pornography. They will likely not tell you, and will run for the hills if they sense this is your end game. Some things to keep in mind:
- Let your kid know you are responsible for their health and well being and that pornography is a part of that responsibility as a parent
- Do not expect an adult-like response. Your child will likely respond in a primal, survival way the first few times you breach this subject (fight, flight, or freeze)
- Give lots of space and room for them to have their response, without demanding a two-way conversation
- Let them know you will be bringing up this conversation from time to time in the future
If you start this conversation well and continue to bring it up, you shouldn’t be to surprised if your child eventually approaches you to talk about pornography. Finally, I must re-recommend a review of the 5 Helpful Hints on How to Initiate Difficult Conversations With Your Kids. Without the basics, your might be doomed before you start.
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