Eyes Wide Open —9 Ideas to help kids respond to pornography.
As tempting as it may be, the solution to helping kids address the issue of pornography is not to cover our eyes, put our fingers in our ears while loudly singing la-la-la-la. There are resources available to us. As parents we need to find the resources that suit our family, cultivate them, and put them to good use.
We simply can’t ignore the issue and hope our families will come out unscathed. Statistics show that our children will see pornography before they go on their first date. Current reports demonstrate, that 9 out of 10 youth between the ages of 8 to 16, have been exposed to pornography and 80% of unwanted exposure to pornography occurs at home. If left unchecked these experiences can have a serious negative impact on a child’s well-being. This is why we must be a generation of parents who are willing to openly discuss the subject of pornography with our children. We may not be able to completely prevent their exposure to pornography, but we can teach them how to respond to it. When taught carefully, children are able to reject pornography.
The purpose of this website is to share ideas and resources that will help families, children and teens build an immunity against the damaging effects of today’s pornography. Let’s get started!
- Start by discussing your family values: Think about how to transfer your family ideals and values to social interactions and online communication. How do parents show affection to one another? How do parents and children show they love each other? How do we show respect for women and girls/men and boys? What is the purpose of dating? Find innovative ways to introduce these topics at home. Here’s how one creative Dad is teaching his little girl that she deserves love and respectful attention from her dad and future dates.
- Establish routines: Simple routines can help children feel secure and grounded. Consider how often you eat meals together? What is expected of children after school? What kinds of individual hobbies and interests are being fostered? How much time is spent each day in physical activities or play? Where are computers and devices used in the home? Where are devices placed at night? What is the bedtime routine for children/teens? What is the check-in protocol for children/teens when they are away from home?
- Make time to talk…frequently. Children are inquisitive and will often raise questions on their own that lead into wonderful discussions about family, love, how to treat their bodies with respect, etc.. Be sensitive to these natural opportunities by directing the conversation to teach principles that will protect your children from sexual predators, including pornography. Other times you will need to initiate the conversation, but then step back and allow your child to process an answer at their own level. When children learn to trust their parents as a source of information about human sexual development they will be less confused by information they hear from their peers or see online.
- Be Media Savvy. Have a basic understanding of the social media platforms available to, and frequented by children and teens. Whenever possible use these apps yourself. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant change in technologies; yet, sites like commonsensemedia.org do the research for you. Look to their detailed guides on apps, games, movies, and more, for the answers you need.
- Learn how the human brain responds to sexually explicit material. In short, pornography triggers a chemical rush of dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine and serotonin to the reward centre (limbic system) of the brain. The risk involved with overexposure to these chemicals is two-fold. First, they influence emotion, self-control, ability to focus, and other physical appetites. Second, the brain will develop a tolerance and dependency to these chemicals, making pornography addiction a very real issue with extremely serious consequences.
- Teach children what pornography is and why it is dangerous. Don’t assume that your child will know what pornography is or how they should respond to it. Children are naturally curious, it is how they learn, grow and develop. It is very important to understand that even good children will be intrigued by pornographic images. It is human nature for all individuals, including children, to be curious about the body and sexuality. Children can learn to love and respect their own bodies, while understanding that pornography is a bad picture, video, or animation which shows people with little to no clothes on.
- Teach children they can reject pornography. Parents who are willing to have honest and direct conversations with their children about the body, sexuality, and the media are empowering their children with the knowledge and capacity to reject pornography. Parents need to help children develop a plan for when they do encounter pornography at home or with their peers. Normal childhood reactions to pornography include curiosity, fear, guilt, shame, confusion, or even arousal. When children can turn to a trusted adult, it helps them process difficult information, release stress, and ease further trauma. Yet, most children will not automatically disclose this information to a parent or teacher.
- Create an Internet Safety Contract with, not for, your children. Avoid taking an authoritarian stance when discussing internet, gaming, and cell phone use with your children. A better approach is to ask them if you can sit down as a family and talk about Internet safety. Find out what they already know about online dangers. Share your own concerns, and then develop a strategy with them that respects their needs while preserving open family communication. Here are some topics to consider: Pornography and sexual predators; Location and use of devices; Tech-free zones/times; Screen-time and limits; Parental access to accounts. Each family’s contract will be unique and should be reviewed frequently to adjust to new technologies and changing needs as children mature.
- Internet Filters need to work from the inside out. An important part of any safety contract is to understand and determine what type of filtering system you will use in the home. Internet filters will prevent some, but not all accidental exposure to pornography. Someone who is actively seeking out pornography can find a way around most filtering systems. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it safety measure. The strongest filter available is an internal filter. By teaching children how to define, recognize and reject pornography on their own, we give children the opportunity to filter their own online experience and the skills to navigate safely through all technologies.
These are just some of the ways we can help our families be more aware and respond when they have been exposed to pornography. What resources have you come across that you can share with us?