How to talk to your kids about online porn?
March 5, 2012 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Have you discovered your child has seen online pornography? What did you do about it?

I've asked a few friends about this and I've heard stories about 7 and 8-year-olds finding some pretty sexually explicit stuff on smartphones, iPads, YouTube and of course the computer. Have other parents encountered this? How do you talk to really young kids about what they've seen, or just ignore it? Say it's off-limits? What if they were searching for it? What if they accidentally stumbled on it? How have parents dealt with this?
posted by amoeba to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Our son was online when he was 4, and we believe he discovered porn when he was 7. We let this occur, and when he asked, we explained what it was all about. We didn't put any restrictions on it, nor even express any value judgments; it is what it is. He developed no further interest in it. His reaction was pretty much no more than boredom.
posted by Ardiril at 12:36 PM on March 5, 2012 [14 favorites]


Back in the dial up days, I was caught by my parents.

I was probably in 5th grade and my parents took away the internet. My parents were far from prudes, but drew a line at the explict material I was downloading.

Thankfully parents are rarely as tech savy as their children, and I got around the restrictions my parents tried to implement.

I don't think you can stop adult material from being present to your children, but I think a good conversation on sexuality is in order if one finds themselves in this situation.
posted by handbanana at 12:38 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, we did what Ardril did, except with a girl. When she was younger, her computer was in the living room, in a public space, but otherwise, she could look and find whatever. We did encourage questions though and ran through how to give out personal information on the web.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:40 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Setting up a computer for a young kid (under age 10) I set Google to default to safesearch. With an older kid, I set it to moderate. When they have questions about what they've seen, or weird results they've gotten, I talk with them about it.

I could have implemented a content filter, but did not. Kids have plenty of experience with content filters (and how to bypass them) at school, and I'd rather that they generally have open access to things and then open dialog about how to use the web safely.
posted by zippy at 12:54 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back when I was a kid, long before the Internet, it seemed like just about every 7 and 8 year old boy in my neighborhood or at school had some sort of port "stash" at home. They find adult magazines in fields, in back of stores, you name it (my first-grade brother found half a deck of playing cards with photos of nude women and sex scenes in the neighborhood park back in the late 1960s; he kept those stashed in his dresser drawer for years). So porn is out there, curious kids are going to find it, and all you can do is answer their questions and lay down any ground rules that you decide (blocking certain web sites, monitoring online behavior, whatever). Curiosity is normal at that age, especially if kids think it's something that's verboten, like pictures of naked people.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:57 PM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was this kid (4th or 5th grade) back when dial-up and AOL were the gold standard. My mom explained it to me is terms of masturbation, privacy, and online safety. She said masturbation wasn't wrong, but only something you do by yourself and only in a private place. She said adults sometimes look at sexy pictures or movies when they masturbate, and explained it as a grown up thing like drinking alcohol. It was probably the most awkward conversation we' ve ever had. My SO was in this situation and his stepmom made him feel ashamed, dirty, and abnormal. It didn't ruin his life or anything but he described it to me as being really awful and something he would never want to make his own kid feel like.
posted by OsoMeaty at 1:00 PM on March 5, 2012


Short answer: Don't worry about it. If the kid is too young to consume it, it's water off a duck's back. For a longer answer Not in Front of the Children: ' Indecency,' Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth is worth a read.
posted by phrits at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not long ago, my nine-year-old son did some sneaky Google searches for some nude pictures. Tame stuff (he had recently seen "Titanic" for the first time, which I'm pretty sure was his first exposure to nude breasts that weren't mom's), but when I saw the search in the browser's history, he lied and said it wasn't him.

We have always made it a point to emphasize the importance of absolute honesty with one another, and I was clear with him: "Son, it's okay if you looked at those pictures. It's only a problem if you lie to me about it. Now, I'm going to ask you again, did you do those searches?" He said no, he did not.

Fast-forward a week later and he comes to me at night, sobbing hysterically. He did do the searches, of course, and the weight of lying to me was killing him. He was scared I was never going to trust him again. We hugged it out, talked a little bit about the stuff he saw (like I said, it was tame, and beyond "OMG BOOBS" he hasn't really had much interest in adult content).

So for me, it's much more about the subterfuge than the content itself. You mention smartphones - no way, no how will my kids have a smart phone until they're adults and can buy their own. When they need a cell phone in a few years, they get a feature phone. End of discussion. As much as we like to think "Internet everywhere" is an absolute need, it simply isn't for most people, and it definitely isn't for kids. And this kind of thing is exactly the reason - frankly, some nekkid pictures is the least of any parent's concerns when you factor in things like anonymous chat with strangers. (Ask your parent-friends if they know what Omegle is. Ten bucks says they don't, but their kids do.)

Other thoughts: YouTube is off limits unless mom or I are with them. Computer is in the living room where everything can be seen by everybody (the aforementioned searches were done at my work computer one day when he went to work with me and I was out of the room for a minute).
posted by jbickers at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


My parents definitely caught me. They even pretended to accept my ridiculous explanations. Now, I'm a serial killer. YMMV

seriously if they can find porn they can find out things related to human sexuality in general. give them room to form their own opinions
posted by MangyCarface at 1:25 PM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


When we were 7 or 8 or 9 and didn't have internet and would play around the neighbourhood until it got dark, we discovered porn magazines and we thought they were the funniest thing ever.
I remember forgetting all about them and rediscovering porn a few years later.
My reaction was: hmpf?, hmmm..., this does funny things to my body, : )
I never had a proper chat with my parents about masturbation, porn or any of that and it was neither good nor bad for me. But I had three other siblings, older and younger, so word spread fast.
And I was never caught. I think.
I do remember once my mum told me that adults liked to watch porn and they were adults so they knew what they were doing and it was fine. I was really young and I couldn't see the point. I said, "ew".
posted by mkdirusername at 1:53 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've set up OpenDNS to keep the kids from stumbling across stileproject or somesuch, but the conversation I had with my son was basically "There's lots of stuff out there that I'd just as soon you not explore too much at your age; you're probably not ready for it and I don't want it to distort your views of sexuality. Maybe stick to kindgirls.com for a while". I also let him know that if he wanted me to define any term he came across or explain anything I'd be happy to do so, since when I was his age I was left to my own devices WRT figuring out how all the tabs and slots went together. That conversation came after I saw a flurry of "1001 Best Boob Pix" apps appear on the iTunes account that he and I share.
posted by chazlarson at 2:22 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't like the analogy of hiding out and reading forbidden magazines.

When my son was around 9, he and his buddies found lots of boob sites. I think they had the equivalent feeling of stumbling upon someone's old Playboys in the garage; exciting but somewhat unnerving. So at that point I put the parental controls on the computer (but stuff still passes through) and spoke with him about it's normal to want to see body parts and that there's no shortage of this stuff on the internet. No shame involved.

However, in recent years, what pops up is a lot more hyper-violent (women appearing to enjoy getting choked) and/or graphic (a lot of closeups of penetration, DP, oral, etc). It's not just a nude lady holding her breasts and looking stupid/sexy. It's violence and close-ups of body parts, not sex.

My kids have all come to me when they've seen these, and they report that those images are disturbing. My now 13 year old son asked if all girls like getting choked.

And that's a different conversation about pornography, loving relationships, and privacy.
posted by kinetic at 2:35 PM on March 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm not a parent, but I'm a girl who dates guys, and in the past it has been really disturbing to me what guys believe about me due to pornography. You might find that out of your jurisdiction, but kinetic is right that it's not just nudity. I hope that there's some way that parents can have a conversation with their sons about what is respectful and real vs. fantasy.

Anyway, when I was in the fourth grade a neighbor girl showed me a dirty magazine her mom kept in the closet. Soon after that I started reading really old detective pulp magazines, romance novels, and Christopher Pike books. I don't think it had much of an impact on my psyche, to be honest. I remember thinking "ew" about pubic hair, which I must have eventually gotten over. (I remember telling my mom that one of the Pike books I was reading had sex in it, and asking if that was okay. She said it was fine and I should ask her if I had any questions.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:45 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nthing that in all likelihood, your kids will probably eventually settle into a normal adult relationship with porn. Note that that can range from "rare, almost never" to "daily RSS and paying $30 a month". On the way, though, they're likely to stumble onto some pretty fucked up stuff that they don't have the developed adult prefrontal cortex (i.e., superego) to say, "Okay, that's fucked up, and therefore doesn't turn me on." If you enable softcore, they'll want hardcore. Kids like to push boundaries. I don't even want to think about what kids would go for if parents enabled hardcore stuff. (Probably evangelical Christianity-- ultimate rebellion!)

Part of me thinks that bookmarking Kindgirls or syntheticpubes would be really helpful-- something to sate their curiosity with, without being bombarded by really out-there stuff, or hardcore popups. But the other part of me can imagine a kid saying, "Okay, this is allowed, so I have to find something that my parents wouldn't want me seeing." But I don't know, because I didn't have enablers (and I say that word without the negative connotation) for parents.
posted by supercres at 2:51 PM on March 5, 2012


Sorry, that should be:

Nthing that in all likelihood, your kids will probably eventually settle into a normal adult relationship with porn no matter what you do.

So I wouldn't worry too much. We all have terrible terrible misconceptions about sex as preteens/teenagers. They mostly disappear once we actually have a chance to act on the urges.
posted by supercres at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stoneandstar: what specifically should parents tell a boy about what they see to make sure they're respectful of women in the future? What would you recommend, given your experience as a woman who dates guys who watch porn?
posted by amoeba at 2:59 PM on March 5, 2012


Stoneandstar: what specifically should parents tell a boy about what they see to make sure they're respectful of women in the future? What would you recommend, given your experience as a woman who dates guys who watch porn?

Probably the number one thing for me (as a woman who dates guys who watch porn) is both partners talking and being explicit about what you want/are comfortable with, both before and during sex. This rarely happens in porn, but I believe it is very important when two people are having sex in real life.
posted by fresh bouquets every day at 3:23 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most kids won't notice that their Google is set to Safesearch until they're into middle school. (Yes, some will have buddies who will give them the heads-up, but for the most part, the average kid isn't that savvy.) That takes care of things for awhile. Having all computer use in common areas is also a major preventative.

In our house, we never really addressed porn use except to say that it's for adults, since there really hasn't been a whole lot of alone time plus computer to facilitate much of it.

When I've led discussions about online porn in a high school aged health classroom, what I've emphasized most is that porn is a business. As such, many porn creators have a motivation to create the most outrageous, provocative porn they can imagine, and that it often has little to do with what really occurs during real sex. Real sex is (at its most healthy) about human connection, whereas porn is about image. Women and men are hired because they look a certain way or are willing to do certain things, which is all about making the most money. I also remind them that porn might depict people who are doing things for drugs or because they are being coerced or forced, and there's sometimes no way to tell if people are willing participants. Also, I tell them that sometimes people steal girls' supposedly private stashes of self-shots and put them online without their knowledge. (Which is why they shouldn't be sending their nekkid self-shots to current boyfriends, especially if they're underage.)

I think the most important thing to emphasize is that porn is someone's fantasy about sex, and there are an infinite number of fantasies about what sex should be like. However, the people who make the most porn have a rather narrow idea of what that should be, and no one should feel like their real life sex has to be like porn. Caring, mutual consent and satisfaction is what sex is about. Not an image that some stranger uses to make money.
posted by RedEmma at 4:08 PM on March 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


RedEmma: "I think the most important thing to emphasize is that porn is someone's fantasy about sex, and there are an infinite number of fantasies about what sex should be like. However, the people who make the most porn have a rather narrow idea of what that should be, and no one should feel like their real life sex has to be like porn. Caring, mutual consent and satisfaction is what sex is about. Not an image that some stranger uses to make money."

This is exactly the conversation I had with my kids. I also followed the same script to discuss fashion models and pop culture standards of beauty.
posted by kinetic at 4:52 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think RedEmma and kinetic are spot on. I don't know what it would be like to discuss this with a son, but the fact that most sex acts in porn are performed for the camera, rather than for (particularly the woman's) pleasure is a pretty huge disconnect too. And definitely that what some men like to see is not always what is actually enjoyable for a woman-- it's generally a truth that porn is created for men. The actresses are paid (or forced) to pretend like they enjoy it. If you have 'feminist' discussions with your son, I can imagine that would eventually be appropriate to talk about.

I think what someone said above on the fact that things will sort themselves out is pretty true. In all honesty, I've dated two guys who were really never into porn and one who was, and the biggest difference was that the first two guys were excited by finding ways of giving pleasure (for both of us), whereas the third guy was always about escalating things according to a map that I didn't really understand--mostly doing things that were visually appealing but useless for me as a woman. The third guy was much more into 'facials,' anal sex, shaving, &c. It seemed like he genuinely thought I would be turned on by things that were done for a camera, for men to look at. I don't know if that's totally due to porn? But I know that his parents were very conservative and never discussed the discrepancy between porn and reality with him, and I wonder if it would have helped.

As a side note, if my parents would have bookmarked "porn for me to look at" I definitely would have avoided it like the plague, just out of guilt. But, who knows.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was more worried about all the adware/malware than the porn. So I explained about adware and malware, and how someone would find porn without all that, and how someone would cover his tracks so his mom and sister would not have to see where he had been. In theory. If he wanted.

I taught him about rule 34, and no-such-thing-as-a-slut, and menstruation being totally normal and not gross, and the male gaze, and male-normative whatever, the rest of the time -- not when the poor kid is trying to sexually stimulate himself.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:45 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not sure how this would translate into the online world, but in terms of how-do-I-discuss-this-with-my-son: One of the absolute best things I've ever read when it comes to a parental response to a son discovering porn was an essay from one such kid, now grown. He was in Jr. High and had a couple of nudie magazines hidden under his mattress -- you know, typical PLAYBOY and stuff. But one day he went to fish it out, and discovered it wasn't there.

However -- it had been replaced by better stuff. Stuff that was body-positive, respectful to women, more artful, more literary. He was a little freaked out, but flipped through it and realized "actually, this is good too..." So he kept it. And for the rest of his teens, every once in a blue moon his stash would be replenished with new stuff, all the same sex-positive and respectful-to-women stuff; I think even some Yellow Silk journals were in there as well.

He said that he never found out who did it, but it was a great way to accept his curiosity and support his privacy while still offering a "teaching moment".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:58 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was young(probably even pre-teen), an older boy brought a pack of erotic cards over to my house. My sister found the cards, and told my mom.

My mom had me come into her room, and all she said was "Your sister found the cards, there is nothing wrong with the body of a naked woman. However, do not objectify women, respect them."

Which, at the time was very embarrassing. But anyways, I got over it.

Her intent was good, but she was only half right. Pornography can really desensitize a person. Sex requires immense tolerance and sensitivity. If we become used to receiving sexual stimulation from 'clean' images and sound, then when presented with a real live woman, with her smells and imperfections, it almost becomes a turn off.

If a person gets used to sex being a bunch of open computer windows they can close whenever they are done orgasming, then developing real sexual intimacy with someone can be nearly impossible.
posted by satori_movement at 9:58 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


In addition to what others have said, I had a talk with my son about insufficient paranoia being a cause of most of the worlds problems.

If I found it, his future roomates, co-workers, partners, and children can find it, too. If he wants his private stuff to be private, he needs to understand how to do that.

So, I showed him how DNS and other network stuff (logs on the router, etc) can track him anyway, and how to mess with that buy using proxies and alternate DNS. I showed him how to clear his history and "recently viewed". How to use an encrypted volume for his stash.

I showed him how to avoid malware, spyware and other nastiness.

I also made sure he understood that his sexuality and exploring that sexuality were important - but he really needs to be smart, sane, and discreet about it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:59 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to put it out there:

I'm female, and when I was in ninth grade (a little over 10 years ago), I came home one day and my mom pulled my into the basement for a serious talk. She said that she and my father had found porn sites in the browser history and they knew it was me looking at them.

It wasn't me. And nothing I could say, even to this day, would make my father believe that, despite the fact that I had a brother who was only 3 years younger living in the house who was the guilty party.

It was incredibly, incredibly hurtful, and I spent a lot of time crying about it. And it definitely damaged my relationship with my father.

So try to not accuse too hard!
posted by firei at 5:18 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


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