Over the past several months I have had the opportunity to meet frequently with Claudine Gallacher, writing coach of the best-selling children’s book, Good Pictures Bad Pictures. Do I consider this good fortune? Absolutely!
As regular contributor and editor of the Protect Young Minds blog, Gallacher has gathered a wealth of knowledge regarding how children respond to pornography. Each time we meet I make a point to pick her brain for tidbits and advice on how parents can help keep kids safe from online pornography.
With her permission, I am sharing her advice on how to give your children the best chance of success at rejecting pornography.
1. Filter everything when your kids are young
Gallacher is quick to point out that parents of young children need to be especially vigilant at keeping up with filtering technologies on all devices in the home. Sometimes we get this backwards and think teens need more filters than younger children because they tend to be naturally curious about sex, but she is adamant that it’s far easier for small children to stumble upon very graphic sexual content than parents realize.
Important! Even with filters in place parents need to warn young kids about pornography and give them a plan they can use to protect themselves from accidental exposure.
The consequence of early exposure can vary from child to child, but it often triggers a premature interest in sexuality, creating a natural desire to seek out additional pornographic content. In many cases, children have been known to act out sexually with other children, including siblings.
Filtering may seem like a daunting task at first but this is really one of the simplest things parents can do to minimize accidental exposure to pornography. There are several filtering software programs and apps that are not only affordable and user friendly but very effective too. Parents, we have no more excuses for failing to filter!
2. Work towards accountability for teens
As important as filtering software is Gallacher warns that filtering without facts could be setting children up for greater trouble down the line. Today, most children are exposed to pornography by the time they reach puberty. The porn industry is aggressive and predatory. It actively seeks ways to target children and teens through:
- social media apps
- provocative emails
- embedded links in gaming
- and advertising in general
As children mature they will not only want but need to have more autonomy online. We should be preparing our kids to thrive in all online experiences. She suggests that as kids move through middle and high school, parents should emphasize accountability and transparency over heavy filtering.
Kids should understand that when they get their first device parents have full access to their accounts and passwords. This practice should continue well into high school. It is not about spying on kids, but helping them to develop the habit of speaking and behaving online in the same way they would in real life.
It’s about helping kids realize that whatever they do online (even if their account is set to private) can become public and they should behave accordingly. When kids know parents are monitoring their online activity, they have continuous motivation to consider their digital footprint.
Ultimately, the purpose of monitoring is to create ongoing conversations. It will be the quality of the discussions parents and children have about pornography that will give kids the best chance at rejecting porn during crucial moments in their lives.
Important! If teens want to find a way to keep their online life hidden from parents, they will. What we want is to have our kids see parents as a valuable ally in helping them have the best and safest online experience possible.
3. Be honest and candid about sex, love and relationships
Kids appreciate honest and candid talks about sex, love and relationships. They need to know from their parents that it is normal to be interested in sex, especially as they approach puberty.
In age appropriate ways, children should also be informed that the porn industry uses sex to exploit individuals as a way to make millions of dollars. The industry knows it can get away with this because once someone gets a taste for pornography, they will crave it enough to pay for it. Pornography is a dangerously powerful substance that can be as addictive as hard drugs. When children understand why pornography is harmful, it helps them learn to reject it.
To stay current on the many different ways the porn industry continues to exploit individuals check out Fight the New Drug. Clay Olsen and his team do an amazing job, continually providing solid reasons to reject porn in language teens relate to.
Watch Fight The New Drug: A Movement for Love to learn how they got started
4. Stop Worrying About being Perfect!
Being imperfect can be an advantage. Gallacher says, “Kids don’t need perfect parents; they need parents who are not afraid of acknowledge imperfections and learn from their mistakes —parents who are willing to grow.”
We can’t afford to obsess about all the things we might have done wrong last year, last week, or yesterday. Instead we need to assess how to redirect our less than perfect parenting moments into new opportunities for communication. Making mistakes is a fact of parenting. It’s what we do with those mistakes that will make the difference in our kids’ lives.
If your child has already been exposed to pornography, Gallacher explains that you can start by apologizing to your child. Try saying something like this:
I don’t know when you were first exposed to pornography, but I bet you were caught off guard by the way it made you feel. I had no idea that kids your age could be exposed so easily! I have been caught off guard, too! I’m so sorry that I didn’t know enough to prepare you better to deal with this. I’m so sorry you have been facing this alone! Even if you were curious and were looking for pornography, I am sure what came back at you was not what you were expecting. I love you no matter what you’ve done and what you’ve seen.
Important! Admitting your own mistakes decreases the chances your child will get defensive and see you as the enemy.
5. Talk about Feelings
Gallacher encourages parents to express feelings when speaking with their kids, even when it means getting vulnerable. For example, if talking about pornography makes you uncomfortable, simply tell your child how you feel. Ask your child to be patient with you and work together to forge new territory. Ask your child to forgive you when you trip over your tongue.
When parents are willing to describe emotions, kids learn the vocabulary they need to name feelings. Naming feelings is an important skill in recognizing and rejecting pornography. Talking about the mixed feelings you felt when you first saw pornography might help a child that has already been exposed feel more safe disclosing. We all need a little help expressing and dealing with uncomfortable feelings!
Of course, kids will be more apt to speak freely about their own concerns when they trust that their parents are not quick to pass judgement.
Important! Work to create a relationship where your child can talk to you about their exposure to pornography without fear of getting in trouble or fear of disappointing you.
And in case you were wondering … this is a good time to give your kid a hug!
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Claudine Gallacher served as the Outreach and Education Consultant for Protect Young Minds™ and writing coach for Good Pictures Bad Pictures. Claudine received a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition. She lives with her husband and three children in beautiful Santa Barbara, California.
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