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How to talk with your children about: pornography

Monday, August 7, 2017


Young people’s access and exposure to online pornography is a growing concern for many parents.

While pornography can feel like a difficult topic to raise with your child, it’s an important part of talking with them about healthy relationships, consent, media and sex in the digital age.

As you prepare to talk with your child, you may find it helpful to consider the following:

  • Pornography doesn’t usually show real bodies or real sex so it’s usually not a reliable way to learn about sex, sexuality or safer sex.
  • Pornography is a performance with actors. Consent is generally not sought or given. Safe sex practices like condom use are usually ignored.
  • Pornography often shows women with little power and/or as victims of violence.

Here are some common questions and answers to help you talk with your child about pornography.

Q: My child saw some pornographic content on the Internet. I want to talk with them about it but I’m not sure how?

A: Check in with your child and ask them to explain what they understood of what they saw. Explain that it is not ‘real sex’ and does not present the whole picture. For example, pornography often misses out talking, kissing, cuddling, asking for and giving consent or checking to see if the other person likes what is happening. Porn also often treats women as objects rather than humans with individual needs, likes and dislikes of their own.

Q: How do I bring up the subject of pornography with my child?

A: Try to use ‘teachable moments’ to open a conversation about how sex is represented in media. For example, if you see some adult content on a television show or in a movie, take the opportunity to ask your child what they thought about it, and what they understood. Use it as a starting point to explain that they may see sexual content on TV or the Internet, but it is often unrealistic.

Remember too, this will be just one of many conversations across your parenting lifetime – about sex and sexuality in general and about different issues like porn. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the conversation right every time – it’s more important that your child knows they can talk with you about subjects like this.

Q: How can I limit my child’s exposure to pornography?

A: Pornography can be easily accessed online, unless you use specific programmes to lock off some sites. This can be a good way to block some of the most harmful sites, but it can be hard to completely block access to all content. If you have a home computer, having it in a family area can make it less likely that your young person will deliberately search out pornography. If people have individual devices, it can be helpful to have some rules about when they can be used. For instance, all the family (that’s parents too!) can leave them in the family area after a specific time, like before going to sleep.

Think too about the things you’re watching and how your child/young person might understand them. Are those messages you want them to receive and the way you want them to behave? Discuss your family/whānau values.

Q: How do I know if my child is watching pornography?

A: It’s probably safe to assume that your child has seen something that you’d rather they hadn’t – this could be something violent or it could be pornography. Try asking them if they have seen any pornographic content accidentally, and trust them to tell you. Even if they haven’t, it can be a good way to start the conversation about what pornography is (acting) and what it isn’t (real sex). They may even bring the subject up themselves after seeing something, and ask you about it.

Think about ways you can make it easy for them to ask you about difficult topics without embarrassment or getting into trouble. Remember, if they ask you something you weren’t expecting or you’re not sure how to answer – you can buy yourself some time by saying that you don’t know and you’ll find out and come back to them, or you’ll find a time that’s more appropriate for that kind of conversation (for example, when younger children aren’t around). Whatever you do though, make sure you do what you say you will.

Q. What else can I do?

A: Keep having the conversations - if you’re open to talking with your child/young person, they’re more likely to come to you with questions or general conversation.

Go to meetings at their school or kura when they’re discussing the sexuality education curriculum. Ask about the programmes being taught in their schools and opportunities for parent support. Ask to see the material that is being taught so that you’re prepared to discuss it at home too.

Family Planning has resources that can help you have these conversations such as our Open and Honest resource and workbook

Mainstream sexuality education may not always meet the needs of LGBTQI people. Studies show they may find the internet and pornography a safe space to learn about their sexuality. There are other resources that can also be helpful, such as Rainbow Youth, and InsideOut. Familiarising yourself with these resources will help you support your young person as they learn about who they are.

Look out for parenting courses or evenings – you’ll learn lots that’s new and you’ll find out you’re not on your own with these kind of issues.

Helpful links and resources

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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