Asking for a Friend: What if I Catch My Child Watching Porn?

Written by

Erin Feher

9:00 am
02/28/19

Photo via familysparks.com

Welcome to Asking for a Friend, our new column where we track down answers to your most burning (and sometimes awkward) questions. To answer this week’s query, we called on Dr. Jillian Roberts, a child psychologist, professor, mother, and author of the book Kids, Sex & Screens: Raising Strong, Resilient Children in the Sexualized Digital Age.

Q: My 10-year-old son has always been curious about everything (what happens to our bodies when we die? What do people in jail do all day? Why do I have boogers?), and I have tried to be supportive and answer all his questions honestly. But recently I walked in on him looking at a pornographic video clip on the internet and I have no idea how to talk to him about it.  How on earth should I handle this?

A: The first thing you need to do is not panic. Whether you caught them in the act first-hand, or noticed some irregular browsing in your TV or internet search history, respond in an unconditionally loving way that doesn’t shame them for their curiosity. For example, you might say, “Have you seen anything lately on your phone, computer, or at a friend’s house that made you uncomfortable or felt inappropriate or that left you with any questions?” Kids are curious and full of questions as they learn about the world and this behavior was your child looking for information. By showing them that they can talk to you about anything, no matter what, shows them they can come to you for information instead of asking Google or their friends. Do your best to stay calm and be warm and understanding. “Bracketing” is a strategy to try—in this type of circumstance, put your own reactions in a box, to focus on your child. Once you deal with what they are experiencing, you can then return to how you felt about what happened later on.

Next, it’s important to talk to them about what they saw. Explain that pornography is an industry that has been created for entertainment and that it is not a real depiction of what happens between two consenting adults. You might start the conversation like, “I bet that was confusing for you. Thank you for telling me. Do you have any questions about what you saw?” Porn isn’t wrong because sex is wrong, but because the industry often exploits people, portraying women as objects not requiring consent, rather than a healthy relationship between equal consenting partners.

Finally, you need to understand how it happened. How did they access the pornography? Were there no parental controls in place? Did they get around the controls? To find out how your kid wound up on a porn site or browsing pornographic images online, simply ask them, “You’re not in trouble, but we do need to talk about this. Will you please tell me how you found this, or who showed it to you? Then we can make a plan together so you don’t stumble across something like this again.” And to prevent the same incident from happening in the future, consider using wifi-based controls over browser-based ones, as it’s all too easy to just download a new browser without controls.

Dr. Jillian Roberts is a renowned child psychologist, author, professor, and mom of three. Dr. Roberts’ work has appeared in The New York Times and the Toronto Sun; she is also a regular contributor to Global News and has a parenting blog on Huffington Post Canada. In early 2017, Dr. Roberts co-founded FamilySparks to offer families a supportive, resource-rich community to help them navigate our increasingly complicated world. 

Have a question for our experts? Email us at hello@mothermag.com. We’ll publish all queries anonymously because we know—you’re totally asking for a friend. 

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