When my child sees porn

It’s a good idea to prepare yourself with responses in case your child shares that they have already seen pornography. Your child may become anxious and there are some great ways to help children cope with anxious feelings in general. More specifically related to pornography, counsellor Peter Janetski offers some great advice on how to respond.  I’ve included an excerpt here and really encourage you to read the whole blog.

First of all don’t panic and don’t react. Young children don’t have adult concepts or understanding of sex and sexuality. Reacting sends the message that ‘this is really bad’. Kids can internalise this as ‘I have done something bad’ or ‘I AM BAD’, which only adds to their confusion. This includes the conflict of seeing this stuff that they don’t understand and yet triggers strange feelings, and the confusion of Mum or Dad reacting so it must be a big deal but they don’t know why. The message of being bad is not the message we want to accidentally impart to our children.

A couple of things that can really help us as parents to not react is slowing down, breathing, and taking a little time to get over the shock before engaging in a conversation with your child. Also manage your own fears. Don’t buy into thoughts like ‘my child will now grow up to be a porn addict’ or ‘this will turn them into a sex crazed nymphomaniac’. Instead, realise that this is an opportunity to help your child develop some critical thinking skills so that they can navigate our ‘sometimes crazy’ world more effectively.

Remember, if we are anxious about this and if we have an anxious child, then their anxiety will feed off ours!

Secondly, find out what they saw by asking them. Avoid asking them to show you. Just enquire about what it was that they saw and listen to the words they use to describe it. This then becomes the language of engagement. This also may be a time to clarify using the correct anatomical names as part of the normal conversation. For example, a child might say “a man was playing with his private parts” and an appropriate reply could be “a man was playing with his penis”.

Thirdly, find out how your child felt about seeing this content. It is important to normalise their feelings no matter what they are. Responding to them like “it made you fell yucky? That’s okay. I think that it’s yucky too”, allows our child to see that their feelings are not wrong or bad. Rather, they just are.

Fourth is to ask if they have any questions. Often children don’t have questions at that time, however reassure them that they can come and ask their questions or share concerns with you at any time.

Fifth is to talk about your family values. Teaching our children about what is appropriate and not appropriate is a crucial part of developing self-censorship skills. For young children it may be something like, “as a family we don’t like yucky things that scare us or confuse us so that’s why we don’t watch things like that. With older children the question, “What is the message in this, and is this the kind of message that we value within our family?”

Sixth, teach critical thinking skills and self-protective behaviours. Ask them what they will do if they see something like this again. The two resources mentioned in the blog can help, especially the concept of ‘Turn, Think & Tell’. My daughters grew up knowing that there is heaps of yucky stuff out in the world, not just on the internet, but on billboards, TV, advertising, movies and music videos. And as a result of sitting with them watching and discussing many of the messages that bombarded them, I am proud to say that they grew into their teens with an ability to think for themselves and the ability to change TV channels when something inappropriate came on.

Lastly, monitor your child & trust your parental instinct. For most children, once they have processed what they saw they move on and get back to the busy job of being a kid. Occasionally some children may become distressed and anxious following an inappropriate exposure to distressing materials. So monitor and if there are changes to their normal routines and patterns (such as bed wetting, restlessness and anxiety, or lying and secrecy), and your gut says something is not quite right, then seek out help from a skilled child / adolescent counsellor / psychologist / therapist.

There’s only one thing worse than children being exposed to graphic explicit imagery, and that is a child who feels isolated and alone, unprepared for seeing such things and not knowing where to turn. Not for Kids!  is an exceptional children’s book that offers gentle and insightful guidance. It’s a ‘must have’ resource for parents and professionals to prepare kids under the age of 10 for the inevitable.

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