Everyone knows that the internet has made information easily accessible, especially when it comes to pornography. Perhaps the most unsettling consequence of readily available pornography online is how your children could be intentionally, or unintentionally accessing it. One misguided search and your kids could be running down a rabbit hole of sites that no person should be looking at. (We have an in–depth guide on how pornography affects children and teens here).
Knowing how to talk to your children when they view pornography might be one of the hardest dilemmas facing parents. Adam Savage–the guy from the hit show MythBusters–was on The Moth podcast “Stories Told Live” series discussing this topic. If you want to listen to it yourself, you can check it out via this link. I highly recommend it, Adam Savage has a great personality and is a fantastic speaker–and it’s only about 10 minutes long!
But I think it’s so important for parents worried about how internet pornography might be popping up in their children’s internet searches that I’ve summed it up for you below:
Thing 1 & Thing 2
For those of you that don’t know, Adam has two kids, twin boys, whom he calls Thing 1 and Thing 2. Like all parents, he is deeply concerned with how to raise his kids and teach them to be morally responsible adults. He begins the podcast by discussing the difficulties of preparing them for the challenges of their life and how as a parent he often feels somewhat helpless.
Sometime around the fourth grade, Adam’s boys told him that they had to “have a girlfriend and have sex with her,” an idea they picked up somewhere that Adam was unprepared for. Adam claims their ideas might have come from allowing them to watch bad media, but the reality is that most children–especially males–will be introduced to ideas like this before their teenage years; either by through their own exploration or through friends.
The interaction with his boys lead Adam to consider the momentous task of talking to them about the dangers of internet pornography.
A while later, Adam discovered that both Thing 1 and Thing 2 have been searching for inappropriate things online. He laughs about it, describing how their first porn searches were like taking their first steps, clumsy and curious. The discovery did not anger him; rather, it reminded him that he must address their curiosity in order to prepare them for possible future experiences with online pornography.
So, like any good parent, he tried to have a conversation with Thing 2 first, after finding his search for “nudies” typed into a Google search bar. He decided to use the “bad cop” method which resulted in nothing but a stone wall. After a failed attempt with Thing 2, he tried again with Thing 1 and tried an entirely different approach.
In a game-changing choice, Adam decided to simply talk to his son. He told him that What you did is totally reasonable. Being curious about what people look like naked is a rational and normal response to the world. And it is a reasonable curiosity for you to have. No one is in trouble, and Im not mad. Now, is there something you want to tell me? As he hoped, this allowed for an open conversation between Adam and Thing 1. By talking candidly and honestly with his son, Adam was able to hear his sons description about what he searched for online as well as his feelings about what he saw.
However, Adam realized that it wasn’t enough to discuss what happened, but what CAN happen. Adam realized he needed to approach the topic in some way that might prepare his son for the horrific images he would inevitably see online. He realized he couldn’t scare him away from pornography and the terrible things that can be found on the internet, but he still needed to give Thing 1 an indispensable reason not to view something on a cultural level.
So Adam told him: ”The thing you have to understand Bud, is that the Internet hates women.”
Adam”s short, but beautiful statement provides clarity and truth to the reality of the internet. The internet is not a safe place, but a gateway to information both good and bad. Although Adam”s quote could be argued about, it sufficiently sums up the reality that the most of the internet does not respect women as it should.
By making this statement, Adam is giving his son an idea to grapple with. An idea that can turn into a fully fledged perspective about how the world operates that can be passed to his friends.
A Reasonable Approach?
Adam’s response to Thing 1 is something that we can all learn from. So let’s break down his responses and talk about why they work.
1. What you did is totally reasonable. Being curious about what people look like naked is a rational and normal response to the world. And it is a reasonable curiosity for you to have. No one is in trouble, and I’m not mad.
If we had a template about how to approach the topic of pornography with our children, this would have to be it. The importance of this statement cannot be understated. First off, notice how he doesn’t shame his child like he did with the ”bad cop” scenario. His approach allowed Thing 1 to be able to speak openly and honestly with his father. Adam shows us that shaming language made his children become unwilling to share their experiences with him.
Second, notice what Adam describes as normal. He emphasizes that curiosity about naked people is normal and reasonable (notice that he doesn’t say looking at pornography and using it frequently is normal. If anything, he clearly opposes that idea). He knows it will probably happen and wants to prepare his children to to face it.
2. Now, is there something you want to tell me?
Adam’s question is perfectly timed. With this question he leads his son into a safe space of personal control, allowing him to decide if he is ready to share what happened. Giving your child the option to decide when to talk about their feelings creates a safe place for them to express themselves.
The difference between Adam’s two approaches is clear: The bad cop method left Thing 2 silent, like a stonewall ,unreceptive to learning. However, allowing Thing 1 to express himself freely created an environment where he felt he could talk with his father about his experiences. It even made him teachable. As Adam put it, he was able to give his son “code that he wants him to run.”
3. The thing you have to understand Bud, is that, the Internet hates women.
Some might look at this statement and disagree with it, while others will immediately understand it. I contend that Adam’s approach is a great example of how to approach pornography with young men and women through its teachable moment about a greater cultural understanding.
The internet paints an explicit picture of the relationship between men and women. In most pornography videos, men dominate women, often in violence and without thought to their comfort or pleasure–internet porn is all about male pleasure and comfort. According to Adam (and common sense), pornography amplifies issues of gender and sexuality in the real world. The further you go down the rabbit hole of pornography the more violent it gets; and the more skewed the relationship between men and women becomes. Women become objects of sexuality and not people of value. This line of thought has terrible side effects on our children; it underpins human trafficking and sex slavery and distorts the message of sex in the minds of young boys.
The beauty of this statement is it’s simplicity. Rather than try to force his child to act a certain way, Adam plants an idea that is counter cultural instead, which can then grow and blossom as his children age. As Cobb says in Inception, ”An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow,” which is exactly what Adam is hoping for.
We can all learn from Adam’s experience with his boys and the lessons he has learned raising them. Rather than trying to be the bad cop enforcing rules, we can learn to allow our children a chance to make their own decisions by instilling seeds of cultural change in their minds. We can give our children opportunities to be vulnerable and to learn from their own missteps.
Either way, Adam’s biggest lesson is that we have the opportunity to raise our kids to be cultural change. We have the chance to instill ideas that will change the world for the better through our children organically. We can plant seeds that will fully blossom into ideas that can catch on like wildfire amongst our childrens peers.
Lastly, if you haven’t already, go listen to the podcast here.