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Talk to Your Young Kids about Porn

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Hey Parents,

Have you talked to your kids about porn yet? I know that’s awkward and uncomfortable. Maybe we even have junk in our own history that makes it hard for us to have that talk. We just want to hope maybe we can shelter them enough that they won’t ever come across it. But statistics say that they will. And it will happen much earlier than the age we may think they’re ready to have a conversation about it. I have a parenting mentor who said, “When I was young, you had to go looking for that kind of stuff. Now it comes looking for you.” It will come looking for our kids and how do we want them to respond when it finds them? How will they know what to do?

I read this article today and it was really encouraging to me. It sounds like the talks we’re having with our kids may actually be helpful. Having had a lot of chances to perfect this talk through our group home work with boys (ages 6-18) and now our own kids, I thought I’d share with you how I handle it and give you a bit of a script in case it feels overwhelming. Please remember— YOU know your kids best. If something about what I’m saying doesn’t sound like it would work for your kids, tweak it. Just don’t talk yourself out of talking about it. (There are also some great resources out there. Do some homework. Find what works for you.)

The first time I introduce the topic of pornography (without using the word “pornography”) is when I am teaching kids about modesty and privacy. I start this around the time I potty-train my kids at age 2. Spending that much time with your naked child discussing their bathroom habits gives you a great opportunity to talk about privacy. We talk about who is allowed to see them naked. We talk about what they should do if someone asks to see them naked or touches them somewhere they shouldn’t. We also talk about what they should do if they see someone naked. I say, “You aren’t allowed to see anyone else’s private parts. If someone tries to show you their private parts, you need to run and tell Mom or another safe adult. If someone tries to show you a picture of private parts, you need to tell Mom. If you accidentally see someone’s private parts or a picture of someone’s private parts, you need to tell Mom. Those parts of our body aren’t bad, they’re special and we need to treat them with special care. They aren’t for just anybody to see.” So by 2 years old we have already started the beginnings of an ongoing conversation about porn. I like doing it when they are this young because if you totally mess up, you have lots of years to figure out how to talk about these things and it won’t ever come as a shock to your child.

As they get older, it is something I bring up to help them understand some of the decisions we make about technology. “You can watch videos on youtube if you are right here with me. There are lots of videos that are fun and great for kids, but there are some things that are not safe for kids. There may be videos on here that show people when they are naked and that’s not appropriate. If you ever accidentally see something like that you need to tell me about it. I won’t be angry, but we need to talk about it. Especially if you see it at somebody else’s house, I need to know. And you need to have the same boundaries when you are at other people’s houses as you do when you are here. If you have any questions about something you see, come talk to me.”

We repeat these conversations when the kids see a suggestive magazine cover in the grocery store check-out aisle (“She doesn’t need to show you those parts of her body. Those are private. It’s your job not to look.”), about siblings (“You need to give her privacy while she gets dressed. That is her body and we need to respect her.”), when I’m breastfeeding (“I am feeding the baby with my body, which is great! But these are a private part of my body, so you need to give me some space.” I do not send them out of the room, but we work on how to avert your eyes if there’s something you don’t need to see.), with their friend’s technology (“It’s great that your friend has their own phone, but I don’t want you playing around with it when there isn’t an adult around. You may accidentally see things you don’t need to see.”) or when dealing with Netflix (“You need to talk to me before you choose a movie I haven’t see with you because some of these movies aren’t appropriate.”). While in each of these situations we may not bring up the possibility of nudity or porn, we have set the groundwork for those conversations and alerted them to the fact that there are things they don’t need to see. If they see things that bring them shame, they know they can talk to me.

This is obviously something we talk about when we have ongoing conversations about sex. For us, there isn’t a time when we have “The Talk”. We have that talk any time there’s a reason to talk about it. It may be prompted by talks about their birth family (four of my kids are adopted), questions about their bodies, a relative’s pregnancy announcement, or the sight of Mom and Dad kissing. We answer questions as they come up in language the kids can understand and we make a point to say that God designed sex to be between a husband and a wife and that we don’t share that act or our bodies with anybody else.

As the kids get older, it’s important to answer their questions. It is hard to know how to respond when kids ask “why” about issues related to pornography. Why would there be videos of naked people here? Why would somebody let people take pictures of her naked? I do my best to answer these questions in ways the kids can understand. The bottom line is that we want to communicate to our kids that naked bodies are beautiful and special. God meant for us to enjoy the naked body of our spouse and share our own naked body with our spouse and nobody else. Even if other people make different decisions about what they do with their bodies, we do not need to be part of it.

We don’t want our kids to feel shamed for the very natural feelings of curiosity or even desire. They just need to be put in the right context. If we get angry with our kids, they are not going to be likely to come to us. If we don’t bring up this topic with our kids, they may not feel safe bringing it up to us. I think it’s important to talk to them with the assumption that they WILL view porn, we just want them to know how to deal with it when it happens. I have yet to use the word “pornography” in talking to my eight year-old, but the concepts are all there. We will continue to expound on them through the years and keep the conversation open.

I am hopeful this approach will work for my kids because I know it worked for me. I appreciated having parents that didn’t deny the realities of the world around me. They prepared me for those things. When I first saw sex portrayed in a way that made me uncomfortable, I felt safe talking to my mom. She never made me feel guilty, but also impressed on me the importance of turning away from those kinds of things if I saw them again. (I think it’s important to note that it was a PG-13 movie at a sleepover when I was 9 that bothered me so much. I am thankful my mom didn’t respond to the rating of the movie, but to how much it bothered my conscience. If our kids are telling us they are upset by something, we need to listen even if it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to us. We may have the blessing of dealing with this before it becomes as explicit as it could be.)

I have also been thankful to see that my kids already have a sensitive conscience about these things. My four year-old once yelled at a scantily clad magazine cover, “You’re not being very privacy!” In Kindergarten my son found an underwear ad in a magazine the kids were using to cut out pictures. He brought it to the teacher’s attention and when he got home he told me. (I am SO thankful for how the teacher handled it, too. She took it very seriously and apologized to him for having that available. It definitely helped cement the messages we were giving him at home.) We thanked him for being honest and told him how proud we were that he handled it the way he did.

Many people feel defeated about the prevalence of porn in our culture. In many ways, I do too. But I’m also hopeful. I think the parents of today have a better idea of what to prepare our kids for because we have a greater awareness of what’s out there. Let’s be informed ourselves, talk to our kids, and make our homes safe, porn free places for our kids to grown up in.

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9 Comments

  1. This is SO helpful. The language about how to begin the discussions and all…thank you for writing it!

  2. This such a great post. Thank you for sharing

  3. So so good. So necessary….thank you once again for giving me some food for thought in how I start (and continue) these conversations in my own household!
    Sarah M

  4. Loved this. Very important to have these talks. I will consider your suggestions moving forward with my little one.

  5. As the mom of two young boys (nearly 2 and newborn), I’m so glad to read this! I want to prepare them and protect them and help them to protect themselves. Thanks!

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  8. Really good tips and helpful for starting conversations that may be awkward. What about families that don’t believe there is anything wrong with being naked? Naturalism while swimming or multiple non-sexual clothing optional spaces? (Why do men get to show their nipples at the beach but women do not?) What’s the difference between a swimsuit and underwear, really?

  9. Enjoying your blog… We are on the same page but have dropped the ball in the past few years. Now we have a teen and two tweens and need to be talking more!

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