You can help protect your child from the possibly damaging effects of pornography by talking to him about what pornography is and how to avoid it. There are also practical things you can do to prevent your child from accidentally coming across pornography online.
What is pornography?
Pornography is sexually explicit material that aims to arouse people who are looking at it.
It includes images of people who are naked or partially naked and who are having sex or look like they’re having sex, or who are doing sexual things.
How pornography affects children, teenagers and young people
For children aged 9-11 years, seeing pornography is usually accidental. It can be confusing because they can see things they don’t understand.
Also, pornography can influence teenagers’ and young people’s attitudes to sex, sexual tastes and relationships. For example, a lot of mainstream, easily accessible pornography can send messages like:
- mutual consent and safe sex aren’t important
- violent sexual acts are normal and appealing
- loving relationships aren’t important
- aggressive behaviour towards women is normal and OK.
A lot of easily accessible pornography sends messages that can negatively affect both boys and girls. Looking at pornography regularly can affect the ability of all children to form healthy relationships. It’s important to talk with both your sons and your daughters about pornography.
Talking with children about pornography
Talking about pornography won’t rob your child of her innocence.
Talking with your child about pornography is one of the best ways to protect him from the influence of pornography. It’s good for this to be part of talking with your child about sex and sexuality and respectful relationships. You can also talk with your child about pornography when you’re talking about internet safety.
You could start talking about pornography when your child is around seven years old, but it depends on how mature your child is, whether you think she’s ready and how she uses the internet. For example, if your child is using free children’s games sites, which often have sexualised advertising, it’s a good idea to talk with her.
You could start the conversation by asking some questions. For example:
- Have you heard of pornography?
- What have you heard about it?
- Does anyone talk about it at school?
- Have you ever seen pornography – for example, pictures of adults naked?
- Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?
Here’s a way of explaining what pornography is, why it’s online and why it’s best to avoid looking at it: ‘Pornography is pictures or videos about sex. Some adults like to look at pictures of people having sex, but these pictures are made for adults not children. A lot of pornography shows people doing things that you won’t really be able to understand yet. So I’d like you not to look at pornography if you come across it’.
If your child has questions, it’s best to answer them briefly and honestly but without going into too much detail. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say so – just tell your child you’ll think about it and get back to him.
It’s a good idea to go online regularly with your child to play games or search for things that interest you both. If you come across pornographic or sexual images while you’re online, you can use this as an opportunity to talk about why they’re there and what your child should do if she sees them.
Avoiding pornography at home: practical tips
Here are some tips to help your child avoid coming across pornography accidentally at home:
- Encourage your child to use computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones in family areas of the house, so you’re aware of when he’s online.
- Tell your child not to click pop-up ads or sidebars.
- Bookmark a child-friendly search engine for your child to use, or set it as your browser’s homepage. Search engines like Google’s Kiddle filter out adult content and promote child-friendly sites.
- Make sure that you’ve set up parental controls on social media, online games and browsers. Explain to your child that the controls are to help protect her from accidentally coming across adult content.
- If you watch TV shows with sexually explicit content – like Game of Thrones – make sure your child is asleep or out of the house when you watch them. Make sure your child can’t access them using your streaming or pay TV service.
You could also talk with your child about what he’d do in different situations. For example:
- What would you do if someone starting looking at pornography at a sleepover?
- What would you do if your friends said, ‘Look at this site – it’s really great’?
- What would you do if you wanted to find out more about sex and bodies?
- What would you do if you accidentally clicked a link to a pornographic site?
If you’ve having open, honest conversations with your child about sex and pornography, you could say something like ‘You’ll never be in trouble if one of these situations happens. You can always talk to me about it. If I’m not there, find a grown-up you can trust and let them know’.
It’s best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity. This kind of monitoring sends the message that you don’t trust your child, and it could damage your relationship with your child.
What to do if children see pornography
If your child sees pornography, it’s important to stay calm. When you’re calm, you can talk with your child about it in a caring, constructive and supportive way.
Talking with your child about pornography helps to make sure that what she has seen doesn’t traumatise her. It also sends the message that your child can talk to you at any time about frightening or confusing things. This will help your child feel safe.
How to talk with children who’ve accidentally seen pornography
You could start a conversation by reassuring your child that he’s not in trouble. For example, ‘I’ve heard that someone at school was showing a group of you some sexual images. You’re not in trouble, but can we talk about it?’
Or if your child tells you she’s seen something scary or nasty on the internet, here are some questions that can get your child talking about it:
- Where was the image when you saw it?
- How did you feel when you saw it?
- What did you do after you saw it?
You don’t need to ask your child to explain the details of what he saw. You could ask your child to show you instead. Or the details might come out in other conversations later on.
It’s also a good idea to say that it feels much better to talk about things that are troubling us. For example, ‘If you’re worried about something, keeping it to yourself can make your worry worse. The thoughts keep churning, and you can feel lonely and stressed’. This will help your child feel that it’s safe to talk to you.
What to say when children deliberately view pornography
Your child might have deliberately looked for pornography or might have found it by putting words like ‘kissing’ or ‘bum’ into a search.
If this happens, you could tell your child that it’s OK to be curious about sex. Then you could explain your concerns about pornography.
For example, ‘Sex is something adults do when they both care about each other and want to. Pornography is meant to be viewed by adults, not children. It’s not a good way to get information about sex because pornography isn’t real, and sometimes it shows people doing things they don’t really want to do. So I’d like you not to look at pornography if you come across it’.
What your child can do in future
If your child knows what to do if she comes across pornography again, it can help her feel less frightened or worried.
For example, you could tell your child that some things aren’t for children to see, so he should look away quickly or cover his eyes. Also, if he sees something that makes him feel uncomfortable or confused, he should talk to you or another adult he trusts as soon as he can.
Video Tricky conversations
Discussing tricky topics can be uncomfortable and sometimes happens unexpectedly. This short video demonstrates various ways that parents might handle tricky conversations with teenagers, by staying calm and really listening, and using these opportunities to help a teenager make responsible decisions.
It’s a good idea to talk with your child about sexting
. Sexting is different from just looking at pornography, because it involves sending or posting sexual images of yourself or people you know. The UK’s Share Aware website
has some great resources that can help you explain the dangers of sharing images.
Where do children see pornography?
Children mostly see pornography online. There’s a lot of pornography on the internet, and fast internet connections and smartphones mean you can get to it quickly and easily.
Most young children who see pornography come across it by accident. For example, they might:
- click on sidebars or pop-up ads on children’s games websites – these can contain advertising material that includes sexual images and links to more explicit content
- search for information online and accidentally get images with sexual content – for example, this could happen if a child searched for pictures of cute cats by typing in the word ‘pussy’
- see pornography when friends shows it to them
- see simulated sex acts or violent sexual content in TV programs like Game of Thrones or video games like Grand Theft Auto.