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3 things to do and 3 things not to do when your child stumbles upon porn

Posted March 18

Why should you care about your child being exposed to pornography? After all, about 40 million Americans regularly access porn on the internet. And studies show that most adults believe pornography is acceptable. So why stop it?

Pornography exposure during childhood gravely affects your child’s future. Here’s how:

  • It's a bad sex educator: Pornography is not like sex, and it can give users an unrealistic understanding of what intimacy between a man and woman should be like.

  • Promotes early sexual activity: Children who are exposed to pornography become desensitized by it, and this can lead to experimenting with sexual behaviors during their childhood and in adolescence, according to Prevent Child Abuse America.

  • View of rape: Children and teens exposed to pornography view rape as a less serious crime, meaning they believe myths that people enjoy rape and other sexual assaults, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatricians.

  • View of infidelity: They are more accepting of infidelity in relationships.

  • Dissatisfaction with sex: They are more likely to be dissatisfied with their future sexual partners because pornography leads to a distorted view of healthy sexual relationships. These views, which include believing that sexual promiscuity is normal and that abstinence is unhealthy, makes it more difficult for people to form lasting romantic relationships.

One study showed that 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls are exposed to pornography before age 18. On average children are first exposed to porn at 11 years old. This means you’ll most likely have to talk to your child about porn earlier than you may have thought. With these tips from experts, you can address this delicate situation the right way.

What to do when your child stumbles upon porn:

1. Provide a loving environment

Most children who are exposed to porn don’t intentionally seek it out. One study showed that among 16 and 17-year-olds exposed to porn online, only 40 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls did so intentionally. Keep this in mind when you find inappropriate things in your child’s website history.

If they come to you, remind them how much you love them by giving them a hug and saying you are proud of them for talking about it. How you treat this delicate situation will directly affect their decision to confide in you next time.

2. Ask about it

If your child doesn’t come to you and you have concerns, just talk to them. Ask your child what they saw. Was it an inappropriate picture? Was it a video portraying sex? Break the Cycle, an organization that helps build healthy relationships, suggests letting your child know that pornography is usually made up and that it’s not like actual sexual intercourse. This can help diminish any misconceptions they formed from what they saw.

3. Set computer rules and teach internet safety

You can block certain websites on any device. Click here to find out how to block websites on your computer, phone or even your entire household network. Some sites such as Google and YouTube have safety settings to help monitor what your child has access to.

Put your computer in a public place to prevent your children from intentionally searching inappropriate content. Kids can also access porn on their phones and other small devices, so set limits for screen time, and have them turn in their devices before they go to bed.

What not to do when your child stumbles upon porn:

1. Be upset

You might have a negative first reaction when you find out that your child was exposed to porn. Do everything in your power to hold these feelings back. Remember, most children are exposed to porn by accident.

How you handle this sensitive situation can have a bigger influence than the pornography exposure, said Richard Toft, child psychologist. Your response affects whether or not your child will come to you again about serious topics such as this one. “A parent’s reaction can have a tremendous impact,” he said, “and you could make it traumatic by ranting, raving and threatening reprisals.”

2. Make them feel embarrassed or at fault

Tell them that it’s normal to accidentally stumble upon pornography. Knowing they aren’t the only ones who have experienced this can bring them comfort. Have a two-way conversation without blame or judgement.

3. Lecture for too long

You should warn your children about the dangers of porn, but don’t lecture for too long. Experts recommend adding one minute of timeout for each year of your child’s age. For example, a five-year-old would be in timeout for five minutes. You can apply this rule of thumb to serious discussions. So if your eight year-old stumbles upon pornography, try to limit your discussion to eight minutes, at the most.

You won’t be able to keep your child from ever seeing pornography, but you can help them know how to respond when it happens. Follow these tips and you can become a loving source for your child to turn to whenever they need help.

Shaelynn Miller is a journalist who has a passion for photography, video production and writing.

Contact her at smiller@deseretdigital.com.

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