Given what I know about kids and access to inappropriate content, it’s only a matter of time before my son is exposed to porn (if he has not already been exposed to it). He’s super squeamish whenever we broach the birds and bees subject, so this will not be easy. Any tips/thoughts/advice? Thank you!
Hi there! I also have kids this age. This is such a hard topic, but an important one to cover. You’re right- it’s not a matter of “if” but “when”- especially if they have any kind of online access. Not only their own devices, but even if they don’t have their own, surely their friends or classmates do. This is a really great resource to start with from Fight the New Drug. I hope this helps to get you started!
And thanks for bringing up this important topic. We parents need to share with each other!
We are a liberal family and my boys have never not known about how babies are made but like you the topic of porn is a different matter altogether.
I haven’t bought it yet but a book was recommended to me “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: porn-proofing today’s going kids” (Kristen A. Jenson).
Fight The New Drug is absolutely one of the best resources. They walk you through how to have the conversations with both boys and girls.
Hi there! Both of the resources mentioned are great for talking to kids about pornography. Fight the New Drug has some great documentaries you can watch for free. I’ve watched them with my young teen. I have also used the book, Good Pictures, Bad Pictures from Kristen. It is fantastic. We have just written a discussion guide for parents to know how to have these conversations with their kids (including resources to use). It’s almost ready to be published! You can join our email list on betterscreentime.com so you’ll be the first to know when it’s available! Hope that helps.
I don’t know if this will be helpful, but here’s my experience with discussions I’ve had with my son about the topic. I’ll go into detail, so, sorry if it’s too long.
The summary is:
- how we talked about it before he had seen it (talked about it in context of feelings and cheap thrills)
- how we talked about it the first time he’d seen pornography (how the monitors show me what happened on his device but not what he was thinking or his intent)
How we discussed the topic of pornography before he had seen it
When he was about 11 he became very concerned that he didn’t understand sex well enough. We had age tailored conversations about sex since he was about 4 and he knew the mechanics but didn’t understand the context.
During that conversation we ended up talking a lot about emotions and feelings and how sex is a pleasurable experience.
I ended up telling him something like this:
Good feelings are a natural part of our bodies and how we experience the world. They are how our bodies know that there is something really good happening to us. When you are hungry and then get to eat food your body feels good because it is being kept alive. When we have sex with another person we feel good because we are safe and close with another person.
But our bodies aren’t very smart and throughout history people have found ways to trick our bodies feel things. There are billions of dollars spent every year by people to buy chemicals, or pictures, or movies that help them feel the good feelings that their bodies can produce. But many of these things can really damage a person. We call junk food “junk” because it makes you feel good but too much of it will make you unhealthy. Too much alcohol will damage your brain and your body. Pornography is a similar business focused on providing cheap sexual pleasure for people. But just like those other things pornography can really hurt the people involved. And it can damage the way that you look at people and yourself. As you grow up you will interact with a lot of things that are designed to give you good feelings quickly. Can you think of things that you do that may be tricking your body to feel good in a way that isn’t natural?
This was a very good conversation and helped frame the subject a little bit broader than just sex.
How we discussed the topic of pornography after he had seen it
Later when he was almost 13 I got an alert about pornography use on his phone. We were on a road trip and I had messed up some configuration on his phone that allowed him unfiltered internet access and I didn’t realize it. He accidentally followed a path that led him to hardcore pornography very quickly.
He didn’t come to me, but the alert showed me what he had been looking at and opened the door for a conversation.
I said something like:
this may be embarrassing for you, but we need to talk about what happened yesterday. You remember that I can see what happens on your phone. So, I already know, but it’s important that we talk about it because if you keep this a secret it will continue to grow inside you. I know what you’ve seen but I don’t know how it happened or what was going on inside your head. I also want to answer any questions you might have about what you saw.
Once he was able to share the story of how a YouTube video used a phrase that he didn’t understand and he looked it up and then a link on a page led to the pornography he felt much more relieved.
He didn’t have any questions but he did tell me his mixed feelings about masturbation and what sort of limits he wanted on his phone to help him interact. He was shaken by the experience a little and requested that I disable the internet entirely from his phone for the rest of the trip.
It’s an ongoing thing and nothing that happens once and is finished. Also, I know that we all have different perspectives about these things and that my approach might not work for many/any of you. But, I thought I would share anyway.
I just had a talk- one of many that I’ve had- with my 11 year old son, too. Our basic rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t want Mom and Dad to see what you were just doing, that’s your heart telling you that it isn’t good for you to be doing.” They’ve had “Don’t do drugs” assemblies at school but they don’t even know what drugs ARE in our rural area in elementary. But we are very straightforward family. We have never used baby words or made up words for anatomy and more. The more comfortable you make yourself talking to him, the more he will be comfortable to listen.
We talked about a lot of things that people, especially younger ones, will use to “take away or hide their real feelings of anxiety or stress.” Things like drugs, alcohol, pornography. And they get addicted to that escape instead of talking to their parents about what is at the root of them needing something else to try to “make them feel good.” And that it will never give them a satisfied feeling of making good choices and working toward good goals.
I also talked about their mother being a woman, their sisters are women, and seeing women degrade the intimate and bonding actions through sexual behavior will never build a healthy relationship between adults where sex can be healthy and feel good, but it is also how babies are created. So if they are not adult enough to talk to a doctor or their parents aboit any kind of sexual behavior, and face the things it can create from it like adults, then it is way too much for them to think they can participate in or watch for entertainment.
We also talked about how those girls are someone else’s sister, daughter, maybe mother. Would they think it was good and healthy if they saw their own mother or sisters watching that? And they talk about wanting to get married and have kids someday themselves, so I ask them to consiser how they would feel seeing their wife or their own daughters disrespecting their bodies with sexual behavior like that.
It’s okay to see a woman in real life and think she is beautiful, or to feel she is sexually attractive, someday. When they are old enough to have healthy consensual relationships that are built first out of respecting a woman as a person, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and building on that.
I’m dealing with the same issue with my almost 12 year old son. I just want to note something very important to discuss along these lines is child porn laws and how you can be charged even as a minor with a crime for sending a photo of an underaged persons private parts to another person. Check the laws where you live.
Great advice here.
We are careful about the “if you wouldn’t want mom and dad to see it” conversation because there are private things kids do (masturbate) that I don’t want them to feel shame about.
We are a very progressive family and talk about sex work pretty openly. We focus our conversations on things like enthusiastic consent. With regard to porn, there’s responsible porn and there’s exploitative porn and we talk about the difference. We also discuss the things they might see and we focus again on consent. I am a sex positive person and I don’t want to instill shame or fear about the many ways people experience pleasure in my kids.
We also spend a ton of time talking about women and how they are treated, represented etc. We discuss how those things might impact how women feel and how they are treated by society. It’s A LOT of talking.
Thanks for the book suggestion above. Will definitely look into getting it. Hard to explain the difference without a resource to back up my explanation.
This is literally the same approach my wife and I use! So happy to see other progressive parents on here.
This is amazing Jacob. Your real world example really helps frame your approach. I am plagiarising this thanks so much for sharing. Your son is a lucky kid.
There’s a great book called “good pictures, bad pictures.” I highly recommend it.
Ok… so I love the conversations, but reading your responses I feel similar to when I read a parenting book. Its sounds so perfect. Y’all say the right things and your kids are responding. But, all my conversations include me saying most of the same things (insert our family specific values), but stumbling along the way and my kids getting defensive and/or silent. Wait for mom and dad to stop talking so I can get outta here! We talk about sex and lots and lots of things as we have three girls. I am naked in front of them, as are they around me (minus my 16 year old… she finally started closing doors). I guess my point is we are not uptight about sex, nakedness or the natural order of things. I have always used the real terms for body parts and everything really that’s taboo to some. If they ask me questions, I will answer them straight up. The problem is: they don’t ask or come to me. And they rarely engage when we have “chats”. My oldest is the most likely to “half listen” but still doesn’t engage much especially since she has had a bf. What am I doing wrong? And please someone admit that it doesn’t go as well as it sounds so I don’t feel alone!
I taught Maturation with my wife for 5 years at the elementary school and What I can tell you is FIRST you have to own that conversation in a respectful, clear and confident way, understanding that it is embarrassing for you both to start with but as you both talk openly, it gets better. Talking about Porn, maturation or the birds and bees as you say, feelings, and related things are all very closely related in their newness and potential for embarrassment for all parties concerned. There is usually great info from support sources available as well that have been mentioned in this thread so Just a word to say you have to get past the difficulty first before he will. And second, be respectful enough to him and any child to look them in the eye and face them and have a conversation with them. Don’t talk at them talk with them. Ask thoughtful simple questions at their level and allow them time to respond. Communication and conversation does not and should not be confrontation. They can read your body language in a millisecond so know what signals you’re sending. And Third, allow him to feel how he feels and help him identify what he is feeling and why. And only then help direct him to what is and is not appropriate and why. Emotions, feeling and raging hormones are all real in a young man and if he can’t trust a parent help him navigate these waters then who can he trust.
Thank you for this info