What are the odds my child will look at pornography?
There are more visits to pornography websites each month than to Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined, and the porn industry makes more money each year than MLB, the NFL, and the NBA combined. Because of its pervasiveness, the average age a child will first be exposed to porn is now 8 years old.
Why is this a big deal? Today’s mainstream pornography isn’t like a Playboy magazine from the 1980s. Porn found online today is high definition and more hardcore than you can imagine; it includes graphic depictions of gang rape, violence in sex, aggression, humiliation, and exploitation. In short, mainstream porn is traumatic.
Even with parental involvement and protective technology, statistically, your kid will at some point see porn. So what should you do when that happens?
We are so glad you asked.
What do I do when I find out my child or teen viewed porn?
First, stay (or get, and then stay) calm and show concern for your child’s wellbeing. Many parents feel the need to jump to consequences first. But most kids who see porn are already experiencing great shame, so it’s important to be curious about what happened but not judgmental.
Ask questions like, “What did you see?” and “How did you feel when you saw it?”
Sometimes, kids happen across porn. It pops up without them searching for it or they see it on a friend’s device. Other times, kids–especially teens–seek out pornography as a means of escape, and it acts as a pressure release valve. Either way, pornography has a strong allurement and is highly addictive (think moth to a flame), so your kid needs support and help navigating their feelings, not harsh consequences, which inevitably lead to increased shame, stress, and secrecy.
One quick caveat: As a parent, it’s easy to feel like a failure when you discover your kid saw porn. We often hear parents say, “How could this have happened?” and “I should have known.” But your kid seeing porn does not make you a failure as a parent. (If it did, we would all be failures.)
Also, if you were raised to view ALL sex as bad or somehow dirty, you will probably overreact when your kid sees porn. Before you can help you child process their emotions surrounding porn, you need to process your own emotions surrounding sex. As it happens, we have several therapists on staff who can help you with that.
Ok, back to your kid.
Using parental control apps like Bark, Circle with Disney, and Qustodio, and tightening browser settings will make it harder for your kids to view porn. But short of gouging out their eyes (don’t do this), it’s a matter of time until your kid sees porn. And while these protective measures are helpful, your teen is likely more technologically-savvy than you are, so the real question is not “How do I 100% prevent my teen from viewing porn?” It’s “How do I educate my child about porn and guide them when they encounter it?”
What’s most important is that your child or teen feels safe enough to tell you, so start there. Are you safe for them? Have they seen you model vulnerability? Do they feel like they can come to you and openly talk about porn? If your relationship isn’t there yet, don’t panic. Seek the help of a pastoral sex addiction professional (PSAP) or a certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT).
Does my child need a counselor if they have viewed pornography?
CSAT Ryan Russ would answer, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a partial cure.” Your child does not need formal counseling if you are confident that they have been able to tell you everything that happened and have been completely open and honest with you about their feelings surrounding pornography. If this is not the case–as with most teens–we recommend coming to see us or finding a PSAP or CSAT in your area.
Without question, you should seek specialized help if there have been multiple discoveries, hidden devices, continued secrecy, or if your child or teen experiences emotional extremes when devices are blocked or taken away, as these are signs of deeper trouble. You should also seek specialized help if your child or teen was shown porn by an adult, as this is considered child abuse.
How can I help my child and teen avoid pornography?
You can help your child avoid porn by educating them in an age-appropriate way. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds is written for 3 to 7 year olds. And Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids is appropriate for 6 to 11 year olds.
To educate yourself and older children, Gail Dines wrote the book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Society, and Fight the New Drug publishes videos and articles about how porn negatively affects the viewer’s brain, body, and relationships.
If your child or teen is struggling with porn, you are not alone. Reach out if you need help navigating this technological and psychological minefield in your family.
The Finding Place Counseling and Recovery is located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Several of our therapists specialize in sexual issues and offer both secular and Christian counseling to children and teens struggling with pornography, porn addiction, and other sexual compulsions. Contact us to schedule a session or book an intensive.