How to teach children about (*gasp*) pornography

Today’s post was written by Power of Moms contributor, Melody Harrison Bergman.

Editor’s Note: Although recent studies suggest that a rising number of men and women find pornography to be acceptable, at Motherhood Matters, we wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, we believe it is the responsibility of every deliberate mother to protect her children from any content that is pornographic in nature. Many of our community members may have read an article circulating on Facebook from dailymail.co.uk about online pornography, and we are grateful to be able to offer this post  as a jumping-off point for helping us to talk with our kids about such an important issue. 

See the problem?

Why is it that we can tell our children things like, “Don’t hit your brother,” or “If you touch the stove, it will burn you,” or “Say no to drugs!” 5 million times, but when it comes to sex and/or pornography – eeek! – we think we can have one talk, pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way? A colleague once asked me this, and I thought … you know, he’s right!

Maybe some of us don’t think we need to talk about it at all. OK, so porn is out there somewhere, right? But not at our house.

Pause!

First of all, don’t put too much faith in that “tried and true” Internet filter. Implanting a conscience in your child is better (and less expensive) than installing a million Internet filters. And beyond that, are you sure you want Timmy on the playground teaching your kids about porn? How about the older kids on the bus? The fact is, if we don’t take matters into our own hands, that’s what happens.

Why is it that pornography is such a daunting subject, anyway? I think it’s because we assume that if we start teaching our kids something about the subject, then we will have to teach them everything. But that’s just not the case. We don’t have to overcomplicate things. For instance, simply teaching a little girl about modesty is a great foundation against pornography in the long-run. When we are teaching kids, we’ve got to go back to the basics:

(1) Build trust. If we want our kids to clue us in when they are teenagers, we can’t wait until they are teens and then expect to be their best friend. We need to spend time learning to love them, being interested in them as individuals and being involved in their lives much earlier than that. If we establish a pattern of comfortable, open communication early in life, it will already be in place if or when our children need us, whether they are 7 or 17. When the time comes that they encounter porn — and they will — we will be there.

(2) Talk about everything. When I was growing up, my parents had an open-door policy, and I have always been grateful for that. Now that I’m older, my mother has confided in me that sometimes my siblings and I would tell them things, they’d nod nonchalantly, talk with us about it, and then after we left, their jaws would drop and they’d say, “WHOA! Can you believe that just happened?!” I’m so glad they did that behind closed doors because I always felt OK opening up about anything and everything around them.

If we treat sex as a shameful and secretive subject, then our children will not feel comfortable talking to us about it. Instead, they will go where they feel comfortable: to their friends. I’m not saying that we have to condone sexual behavior that is not accordance with our values systems. Rather, we have to decide who we want teaching them values: parents or friends. If your child asks you about porn or tells you they’ve seen something inappropriate, will you freak out? If you do, what does that teach them? If we want them to come to us, we need to create a safe place for them.

(3) Teach them to respect others. Let’s be honest. At it’s core, pornography is about disrespect. It turns men and women into two-dimensional objects to be lusted after. Simply teaching children basic principles about loving others and treating people with respect will help them build an understanding of what a normal, healthy relationship feels like.

If they grow up with this precedent, then when they come across something — a graphic and perhaps violent — they will recognize it, and hopefully it will repulse them rather than draw them in. You don’t have to tell a 5-year-old, “Pornography is graphic and violent and teaches us to disrespect each other, so we don’t look at pornography.”

Instead, try this: “Do we hurt each other for fun?” No. “Is it funny or nice to watch other people hurting each other?” No. Or if you’re really feeling bold: “What if someone tries to show you a yucky movie or pictures of people hurting each other? Is that something we should look at?” No!

We don’t have to go into the gory details to prepare our children for what’s out there. They are so pure and innocent. When they are young, it’s not complicated for them. Hurt. Disrespect. Yucky. These are strong enough words for children. We use them every day to teach them about other things. Why not use them to start building a safeguard against something as serious as porn?

(4) Instill modesty. I’ll bet you’re doing this anyway, but have you ever thought that you’re also teaching a lesson that will prevent your kids from getting into porn? We teach our little girls not to lift their skirts or show their undies. We teach our children to keep their shirts down and not to show their bellies in public. If we’re really thinking ahead, we even teach our kids not to let anyone touch the places that are covered by their underwear.

All of these things rolled into one send a clear message: Respect the body, especially those special parts. We’ve all heard that “actions speak louder than words,” but in this case, I’d argue that actions and words speak loudest together.

So when we’re teaching our children not to flash each other, why not tack on the “why” and stretch that teaching a little farther: “Gavin, please put your shirt down. We don’t show off our bodies to strangers. Your body is special,” or “Lucy, please keep your skirt down. Your skirt covers special parts that others are not supposed to see.” If these lessons are hard-wired into our kids, perhaps they will come to mind when they see “special parts” displayed in a not-so-modest pornographic manner.

Maybe you think I’m nuts, that I’m overreacting, that porn is bad stuff, but it’s not really everywhere. Perhaps you’re thinking — like I once did — that you will just keep a filter on your computer and good friends around your kids, and they’ll never bump into the stuff.

Actually, a national study recently showed that the average child is introduced to pornography by age 11. So young.

In the world we live in, it’s not a question of IF anymore, it’s a question of WHEN. So if you’re worried you are going to bring something up too early — that you will make your kids curious and drive them to seek something out they wouldn’t naturally come across — don’t. If we want to be their first contact with the subject, we need to be proactive.

So take a deep breath, Mom! We’re all behind you. When you end up being the first line of defense, you’ll be glad you did.

QUESTION: Obviously this is a personal question you’ll need to answer in your own mind, but when was the last time you encountered pornography — either intentionally or accidentally? How did you feel when that happened? What do you think is the best way to teach children about pornography?

CHALLENGE: Make a goal to talk to your children about modesty and/or respecting our bodies some time this week. Setting these kind of thought patterns can go a long way in the fight against pornography.

Infographic courtesy of Fight the New Drug.

27 comments

  1. wiMOte

    All these suggestions are right on. Hopefully most children can avoid this plague.

    If, even with your best efforts, your child gets caught in the trap of porn addiction, hang in there. You would be surprised how NOT alone you are. Don’t waste time feeling like a parental failure, get help. The most successful is cognitive therapy combined with a 12 step program (along with an abundance of love and patience).

  2. Damaris Fish

    Thank you: practical suggestions for an important issue that needs to be addressed by fortifying family relationships and communication.

  3. Jeana

    Great article, I too think teaching young is great. I struggle with how much to teach and when. Thank you for the ideas of adding “why” when we ask the kids to put their shirt/skirt down. My question is, what are your thoughts on bringing the subject up if you don’t have a situation that opens up the opportunity to talk about it? I have kids at home that range from 17 to 2, and so far I’ve been lucky, we do talk about some things and they have even brought a question or two to me, which it am thankful for, but how do I know when I need to teach more?

    • wiMOte

      Jeana,

      FIND opportunities to talk to them, especially since you have a teen. You could mention you read an article – this one – and ask them what they think. Ask them what their friends talk about. Maybe there is something in the news. Bring it up with them.

      I have told our kids that there is nothing they can tell me or ask me that would shock or disturb me. (Even though the last thing you want to hear is that your sweet, kind and thoughtful teen is getting around the filters and viewing porn. This is where the “Poker” face comes in handy and you calmly tell them to tell you what they need to.) Kids have to feel safe to talk and the last thing they want is to disappoint or shock their parents.

      • Jeana

        thank you…they do ask questions and I do talk to them, I think we are doing a good job…I just sometimes wonder if I need to talk to them more in depth, but to what point. :)

    • Stephanie

      Jeana, one of the best pieces of advice I received was for mom and dad to have one-on-one time with your children and ask the same question posed at the end of this article: “When was the last time you saw pornography.” Then dig a little deeper if needed. My 15 year old insisted she had never seen pornography. Even though she makes great choices, I was skeptical. Finally, when a pornographic CD cover come up on Pandora I showed it to her and asked what she thought of when she saw it. Her response: a stupid music cover. I explained that this is what I meant when I asked about pornography. It opened up a great 2 hour discussion that I’m glad we had.

  4. Genny

    This article is an answer to a prayer for me. I am someone who has been very affected by pornography in my life. Anyone who says this is not a problem is either in denial or they are lying. Pornography is a drug! It will destroy lives! I want to do all I can to protect my children from it!

  5. flora smith

    When my son was about 5 years old, he was molested by his cousins not much older than him. This could have been looked over as “playing doctor” and dismissed by many. However, in a very stressful part of his teenage years he was introduced to pornography. Later, as I delivered him to serve a jail sentence for molesting his sister, he told me “mom, I was able to control the temptations that came from that experience until I started viewing pornography”.
    Now, many years later, after therapy, a jail sentence, probation and initial fines paid, he has not repeated these vile actions. I am proud of him for his progress. However, he is now labeled as a sex offender regardless of his attempts at repentance. I think that this label is one that is upon you for life. Anyone can go to a website and find information about you. If they recognize you from a photo on the site and see you somewhere, they can report you to the police for “acting suspicious”….it seems to never go away. Pornography is the most expensive drug on the earth. Don’t disregard its deep sharp claws.

    • Joyce

      Flora, thank you for sharing your story. It is almost identical to mine. Pornography destroys lives and families and the effect never ends.

  6. Patrick

    Thanks for your thoughts on this subject. It can be a tricky thing with older children. However with our society it is an essential topic to guard against.

  7. RAWLS

    Great article. If you haven’t already, you should check this out:
    http://www.fightthenewdrug.org

    Our main goal is to educate and help youth understand the dangers of pornography. The Fight the New Drug team is also creating an online program to help those already addicted, which will be available shortly.

  8. Beth

    Thanks for taking the time to talk about this issue. I have long felt that we needed to not shy away from talking about sex and porn (at an age-appropriate level.) It is all about learning respect and seeing people as whole individuals and not as objects. It’s nice to see like-minded people.

  9. John Horton

    I lead a recovery group for men addicted to pornography. It is heartbreaking to see these wonderful people struggle with the shame of their addiction, working so hard to rid themselves of its hold on them. They tell of how they first contacted porn at a very early age – even in very good homes. I can see how it has adversely affected their lives and caused them pain. I can’t help but wonder how their lives would have been better had they been taught the dangers of this insidious scourge in their early childhood.

  10. tulipdjc

    AWESOME! We just had a meeting at church with all the adults discussing this very topic! Except we’ve had kids as young as 9 being exposed at friend’s houses! :(

  11. Jennifer

    From a very young age I taught my children it’s not polite to watch girls/boys undress OR look at others when they are in a state of undress. Each time we would see an immodest person on TV or in magazine or on a billboard I would revisit that discussion. It’s never too early to discuss this with your children. Coupling this with the suggestions given in the article I think these are all things we should all be teaching our children. When kids hit puberty the tact may need to change a little but if you’ve followed these suggestions your pubescent children will be prepared to take a stand.

  12. Katie

    These are really good ideas… I think teaching modesty and respect are key factors. Porn strips a person of respect, for themselves and others. When we lose that we are at risk for all sorts of problems. As parents we need to be an example to our children of modesty and respect. I see WAY too many adults that are not modest in their dress or respectful in their language or actions. Adults who continue to seek out entertainment that portrays and encourages sex and violence. I have a close family member to struggles with a porn addiction. Let’s face it…. you don’t have to go to the internet to see porn. You just have to go to work, school, a social gathering, shopping and occasionally even church to see it. For people who are struggling with that addiction…. they are reminded of that temptation constantly in every day life. My heart breaks for them and their families. Until the adults get the message we will have little success with our children.

  13. Sean

    I think it’s important to add that you also need to acknowledge and maybe even explain that seeing pornographic images can stimulate exciting feelings and make you want to see more. You can put the reason for that in context of the true purpose of sexuality, and why more of this in particular is a bad thing. The addiction pattern here is particularly powerful when the sexual stimulus of the images is combined with the stress steroid response of “doing something you shouldn’t” and is one reason the addiction actually can be stronger in people who have been taught this is “bad,” as opposed to someone taught that it doesn’t matter. I certainly agree that all the peripheral teachings of modesty and inappropriate behavior are important, but if you focus too much on that and neglect the openness aspect to talk about anything, you may be setting them up for a stronger reaction to accidental or experimental exposure.

  14. Marilyn

    I truly wish we could get our Supreme Court to revise their decision to change the definition of pornography. This industry however sleazy has been given an open door since the change from our Supreme Court. Most of that which is available on the internet would be illegal and prosecuted before the change in the Supreme Court ruling.

    I wish there would be an effort on the part of all parents, religions and honest, moral citizens to change the law back to the way it was prior to this massive change in what is legal to produce. Freedom to think and act independently should not be license to destroy innocence. The thinking that says, “I try to be open minded” has created a populace of citizens whose mind is so open all their principles have fallen through the hole.

  15. elga52

    I remember a sister who said to me that her boy of 10 came home quiet and solitary while he was not, avoiding her glance… And after several times asking question to him, he ended up that a boy showed pictures of naked women during the playtime! So, parents, be careful to educate your boys NEVER to watch this kind of pictures! And so important: always talk with your boys of all things!

  16. Shelley DeVries

    Give the destructive nature of pornography, we will all have to talk more than we do to our families including our children over 18. It is helpful to encourage our children to report back to us weekly on how pornography is out there and what they did to avoid/get away/or how they were caught by it for that week. The more we as parents/children discuss it and shed light on it the less it is likely to catch and destroy us. I have not heard a story in which children said, “In my family we talked about avoiding pornography too much.”

  17. Jdad

    My daughter was shown porn after school (in a great conservative “safe” neighborhood). She was 7. We learned early on that it’s important to talk to kids about that kind of thing early. She doesn’t know the word Pornography, but does know that someday when she is on the computer that there may some people that want to put pictures of naked bodies of men and women online. We talked about how that is not something that we need to watch/look at. She knows why our bodies are special and should be shared with a loving spouse when she grows up, but not with everyone else. She knows her body is special and being naked is not bad in and of itself, but that it’s not something to share with everyone else.

    That’s a lot for a 7 year old to know. It’s not overkill though. When she was 7.5 she started asking about sex. because she was curious about it. Now she knows where babies come from. She knows a lot about how it all works… She is still very pure and clean, and at age9 she and both her parents talk a lot about what questions she has… we talk freely. Sadly, she can’t wait until she’s 11 or 15 to start talking.

    Also, the rule in our home is that WHEN, not if, you bump into pornography online, you turn off the computer at the switch.
    You come and talk to mom or dad, and we can discuss it… If Dad sees porn on accident, he tells mom. If mom sees it on accident, she tells dad. If the kids see it, they can tell any of us, but they should not stay in the room with “naked pictures or videos of people”.

    My daughter was wowed that I had had this happen to me before, I was open about it, and she learned from me as well that I told her mom about it right away.

    This isn’t something to be messed with. Kids need to know how to say no, and when to say no.

  18. Nerrida

    I also think that from a young age we should not bow to public pressure to blindly allow our kids ( particularly girls) to become part of the over sexually objectified culture. For example allowing them to be on Facebook and talk about things they don’t understand or idolise and emulate celebrities and the way they dress or behave or even just allowing them to blindly copy how their friends dress or talk. Allowing them to just blend into the culture around them and not stand up for our values is the beginning of the end I believe.

  19. Kimberly

    I am so impressed with this article. Great tips. I think we need to say to ourselves, “I’m the adult. I can’t sit quiet any more. For the sake of my children, I need to take the initiative and begin the conversations.” Kids need help navigating a porn-saturated environment. Even “good kids” are exposed. I realized that I needed to be comfortable talking so I practiced talking to other women. It’s helped me as I talk to my teen and young adult younger sisters. We have had some great discussions and it’s created an environment where we can talk openly. I try to be careful about my responses when I talk to them. I realize that the way I respond dictates whether they’ll be open with me in the future. I also remember that it’s fine for me to show emotion and hold to values. I can’t change what they think or do, but it’s possible that I can be a positive influence on their future choices.

  20. Ben

    This was an excellent article! I wish this was written 20 years ago for my parents. My parents never taught us anything about pornography or sex, so sadly a lot of what I learned came from my peers or the internet…which are probably the worst sources of this topic when you are so young. My parents would review the history of what we looked at on the internet and anything mildly inappropriate would just get a yelling at from dad…and that was it…no who, what, when, where, or why? As someone who has struggled with a porn addiction I would just tell all parents start now! Start when they are young! And find a way that is loving and teach for understanding.

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