Posted by Julia Daniels | For Families, How to, Prevention
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Parents and guardians, educators and caregivers, most of us need to update our “sex talk”. The birds and the bees just aren’t cutting it anymore. Here’s why.

We’re struggling with how to talk to our kids about porn and even sex — as a general rule. Or we’re talking to them, but it’s too little, too late.

According to this recent study done in the UK, 75% of parents surveyed thought that their child had not yet been exposed to porn. Through the survey process these same parents discovered that unbeknownst to them, 53% of their kids had indeed accidentally viewed porn already. Ouch! 

So here’s what we’ve discovered about the why, how, when, and what ifs of talking to your kids about porn.

Why Talking To Your Kids About Porn Is Important

Early exposure to porn has multiple harms. One of the worst case scenarios? Children sexually abusing other children.

 “I saw this video online, and I wanted to try it out on my little sister,” is a narrative that former child sexual abuse investigator and subject matter expert Jessica T. White, M.S., has encountered in real life. She shared a few of her insights with me on the phone recently.

“Children are drawn into porn and sexually abuse other children because they’re curious,” says Ms. White, “not necessarily because they’ve experienced sexual abuse.”

But why do children view porn in the first place? The UK study explains that the “majority of young people’s first time watching pornography was accidental, with over 60% of children 11-13 who had seen pornography saying their viewing of pornography is unintentional…” 

Porn then stirs up kids’ natural curiosity about sex and their bodies in unhealthy ways. That’s enough to rile up any normal parent to take action! But how do we talk to our kids about porn while still protecting the innocence of our little ones?

How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex In Age Appropriate Ways

Kids are naturally curious about everything. They ask questions, questions, and more questions. A parent’s ears feel like they could fall off from exhaustion some days! And it’s perfectly normal for kids to be curious about their bodies and sex. Answering their questions is a great place to start. But how early should you start conversations with them about sex? 

Experts agree, “Parents should begin the sex education process long before it starts in school.”

When does your child hang out with other children? As soon as they’re old enough to have play dates or attend group classes by themselves, they’ll probably hear something related to sex. 

Naturally, preschool age is the time to begin talking about body parts and private parts. If you’ve ever parented a little bath-time “streaker”, you’ll know why you need to talk about privacy! Bath time and doctor’s visits also lead into conversations about privacy — as well as good touching and bad touching. Learning safe boundaries is vital.

Other conversation openers? Visits to the farm or zoo, a batch of new kittens, or meeting a brand new baby bring up the exciting topic about where babies come from! 

Many parents, like myself, find comfort and security in using another person’s well-expressed words, such as the book, How Babies Are Made, by Andrew Andry and Steven Schepp. Here’s the key! While talking about sex in a low-key manner, simply bring up the topic of porn in age-appropriate ways.

"Learning safe boundaries is vital."

How To Talk To Kids About Porn In Age Appropriate Ways

Talking about porn, though, is enough to give a protective parent serious anxiety. Thankfully other parents are stepping up to help us navigate this topic well. One excellent resource is a book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures by Kristen A. Jenson.

Jenson offers these tips on how to talk to younger children about porn:

  • Use a family photo album to explain the difference between good photos and bad photos.
  • Explain the difference between a science illustration and porn photos.
  • List at least 3 ways that porn hurts people and harms the brain. For example, porn:
    1. Teaches that people are objects.
    2. Teaches you lies about your body.
    3. Teaches your brain to make bad decisions. 
  • Talk about different kinds of bad-for-you habits (that we call addictions). 
  • Explain how those bad habits appeal to our “feeling brain” as opposed to our “thinking brain.”

Lastly, Jenson offers a simple “CAN DO” plan to help younger children deal with porn when they see it — because they probably will! The average age of children accidentally viewing porn is now 10 or 11! 

This plan is a wonderful safety net. When your child is not afraid to talk about bad pictures with you — this greatly decreases their risk of struggling with porn use during childhood.

However, the conversations should evolve as they age, and as our culture also evolves. For example, the invention of the cheap smartphone was revolutionary in more than one way! Parenting in the smartphone age is full of new, unprecedented challenges. Let’s talk about that challenge next.

Check list for how to talk to your kdis about porn

Talking to Tweens and Teens About Porn and Smartphones

Have you ever considered living “off the grid” just to get your tweens (ages 10-12) and teens away from the influences and temptations of the internet? Ha! I’ve had this conversation with more than one friend. 

Underneath it all, we have to face reality and teach our children to navigate the pitfalls of a hyper-sexualized culture. What makes it even harder? Peer pressure on steroids — right in your teen’s back pocket. And naturally, your teen will fight the boundaries.  

Research proves, however, that young tweens and even teens have a high likelihood of accidentally viewing porn, even with safety filters and phone boundaries in place. 

All it takes is one unguarded moment with a friend or relative. And for some kids, it just takes one accidental view for porn to entice them. It’s time to fight for your kid’s future well-being!

Embracing Science As You Talk to Your Kids About Porn

It’s vital to educate yourself and your older children about the scientific data on teens and porn useporn literacy in the best way. Porn use creates havoc in their view of self-worth and their developing sexuality. 

Tap into their natural curiosity by watching Brain, Heart, World — a free documentary on the harms of porn. Plus, tuning in to other experts besides Dad or Mom telling the truth about porn could help break down walls. Whatever you do, find a way to open up this topic of conversation! 

Creating a Casual Time to Discuss Porn and Sex

Checklist How To Talk To Your Teen About Porn

Creative bribery is a legal parenting tactic!

Paying for an ice cream “date” with your tween or teen nudges open the doors to conversations. Or take a long nighttime drive with a stash of chocolate chip cookies and Takis — just don’t leave home without food!

Put down your phone and really listen. That’s a hint that comes straight from the mouth of my own teen. Your teen genuinely wants a regular slice of your time and attention. All kids spell love T-I-M-E! 

When you do have an open door to talk, ask open-ended questions. 

    • What are their hopes and dreams?    
    • What worries them? 
    • Who is their favorite pop artist? 
    • How would they like to change the world?

This can bridge the gap to questions like, ”Have you ever viewed porn? How did that make you feel?” 

Fight the New Drug has crafted a whole template for you to have conversations with your kids about porn. It’s brilliant! 

Though they live on a hormonal seesaw, teens are thinking about their futures and their identities. When porn hijacks their growing brain, teens are deeply affected. We know this from our own research, as well as other studies we’ve cited earlier.

We’ve conducted surveys for Ever Accountable’s apps included some (anonymous) responses from teens. Here’s how porn makes them feel.

Common complaints were: distance from God, shame and isolation, depression, feelings of worthlessness, lack of motivation — as well as fear of others finding out. 

Does this anger you and tug on your heart at the same time? We agree, but remember this. Porn is the enemy, not your teen!

What If Your Child Is Already Viewing Porn

Boy crying - how to talk to your kids about porn

If your child is younger and you discover they’re viewing porn, please, please check out this resource from Defend Young Minds. Once again, active listening is vital! 

Just because they’ve stumbled upon porn does not mean they’re hooked, though. Carefully ask them questions to assess the situation and encourage conversation. Their view of themselves physically, emotionally, and sexually is at risk, but all is not lost. 

When my own child sobbingly told me she’d accidentally viewed porn, it felt like a rape, but I couldn’t call the police. I was in complete shock, blindsided, and furious (but not at her). 

I was so careful! How did this even happen? My biggest regret? Not talking through things with her much more thoroughly before and after. Admitting this to her years later began a process of healing. 

What If You Find Out Your Teen Is Already Using Porn? 

Parenting in the smartphone era has opened up a whole new bag of parenting challenges. Porn “on tap” is too much temptation for many teens to resist.

From our customer surveys, we also discovered teens are scared to tell their parents about their porn habit. 

That’s not surprising. We’re human, and sometimes we respond very poorly when our child does something we don’t like. Admitting our own lack of wisdom and empathy is a first step toward a healthy conversation. Culture Reframed offers some very helpful talking tips. 

  • It’s vital to de-shame the atmosphere, listen, and talk! Express empathy by citing science about our brains and dopamine. Science can be a neutral safe ground. Your teen’s brain is actively experiencing leaps of growth — and porn hijacks the thinking part of their brain. All the more need to be the voice of reason and empathy. You’re on their side.
  • Your teen needs to know that you’re in their corner and are their biggest fan! Rewiring the brain and getting rid of porn is a challenge, but knowing they are not alone is a big first step. Knowing that you aren’t shaming them is critical.
  • Repeat this statement to your teen loud and clear: porn is the enemy, not you. The porn industry is on a search and destroy mission. Consider this. Pornhub gave away three months of premium service during the global 2020 pandemic.They know this — three months is plenty of time to get hooked on porn for life! Your teen should be made aware that they’ve been targeted.
  • Make a quit porn plan together. Now that their porn secret is out, strike while the iron is hot. Be kind. Be bold yet understanding. Let your teen know that you will be there for them and will help them quit porn.
  • We’ve addressed how to quit porn here. Expect that the process of quitting porn will take time and involve slip-ups.

However, as long you keep doors of communication open between you and your teen, there’s plenty of hope to “unhook” from porn. The sooner, the better, for the sake of your teen.

Exposing The Myth of Effective Internet Filters

To quickly summarize, here’s what doesn’t work and what actually works. Many parenting forums will talk glowingly about the latest internet filters. While that may be a great first line of defense — especially for our little ones — it will never be enough. 

Filters have been on the market for a good while. And the data proves that kids are still being exposed to porn on a large scale. A recent extensive European study was conducted on the effectiveness of internet filters in preventing porn exposure to children. The rather shocking conclusion?

 “Our analyses, based on 2018 data from the United Kingdom, provided a more rigorous test of filtering effects. This delivered conclusive evidence that filters were not effective for protecting young people from online sexual material.”

Accountability As A Time-tested Solution

Accountability means accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. When a child understands their responsibility to treat all humans with dignity and respect, that is the first step. 

Becoming responsible is a growing process for any child, and accountability software encourages that process to develop. 

Some parents of teens allow the use of a smartphone and their vehicle with this caveat — they install a tracking device on the phone. If the family rules are violated, a teen jeopardizes both phone and driving privileges. That’s one way to learn responsibility.

However, accountability software on a teen’s (age 16+) phone allows freedom to surf the internet without a pesky filter or tracking. Knowing their internet activity will be seen, they understand that they will be held accountable for their actions. 

In a loving relationship, this opens up the door for important growth conversations. 

Love Conquers Porn, No Matter the Age.

If you were embarrassed or afraid to talk to your kids about porn before, we hope these tips will make you brave and bold. And if you’re already facing a challenge with porn and your child, unconditional love is your first and best weapon. The porn industry doesn’t love your child. You do. 

Your love will seek out all measures to help your child regain solid ground. Our most effective and proven weapon against porn is accountability and connection to another person. Our accountability app makes this possible while also allowing personal freedom and choice. 

You have nothing to lose, either, because we let you try out accountability for 14 days — absolutely free! It’s our way of fighting back and helping you fight for your family against porn. 

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