Internet porn: top tips for how to respond

Photo: Got Credit 

Many parents worry about online porn - its easy availability, the nature of the content and (see our article on this) the effects it can have on young people. The good news is that, despite the worrying picture, there are things that parents can do to make all the difference. In general, these fall into two categories:

  • restricting your child’s access to porn.
  • ‘empowering’ them to make positive decisions. Part of ‘empowering’ is giving your child information, and another part is helping them to draw on things like their values and their goals when other people (like the porn industry) pretend they aren’t relevant.

Restrict your child’s access to online porn

It is illegal to sell or show hardcore sexual content to people under the age of 18. These laws are there for a good reason but are not currently being applied to online sexual content coming from outside the UK. However, those of us paying for internet services can restrict the types of online content we can receive. It's worth putting in place restrictions even if you don’t think your child is interested in viewing porn. Many children come across porn accidentally and may be disturbed by or get hooked into what they see.

  • Restrict access to porn in your home by switching on your internet service provider’s parental controls. 
  • Restrict access to porn on any devices the child may have access to (for example a smart phone or tablet) both via the network provider and on the device itself.
  • If you’re unsure about how to do these things (and it isn’t always immediately obvious!) the simplest thing is to search for instructions online.

Talking to your child

One way to talk to your child about porn is in the context of a broader chat about living in a consumer culture, in which corporations often tempt people to act against their best interests.

  • Encourage them to think of themselves as a ‘critical consumer’ and to develop the thinking skills involved – can they think of examples of industries that try to sell people things that don’t do them any good? How do corporations do this?
  • Highlight the difference between passively taking in what corporations tell us, and actively thinking about their messages, deciding which ones we’re going to listen to, and overall being more in control.
  • Discuss porn as an example; think together about the mismatch between the impact of porn and what most people want in life – porn makes it harder to have good sex and relationships, to do well at school and to make the most out of life. (More on this here.)

Other ideas:

  • Ask your child whether they have ever come across anything online that has upset them. 
  • Notice positive values your child holds, or positive ways in which they see themselves (for example, fairness; someone who stands up for other people) and explore with them how industries like porn try to get people to forget about these parts of themselves. Explore what the impact of this might be, and how they can resist manipulation.
  • Think together how porn might impact upon their friends, and how they might want to help their friends avoid negative effects.

How to talk to your child

  • Purposeful conversations about porn don’t have to be ‘head on’. As above, you can discuss it as something that might affect their friends, or have a discussion about a relevant news story.
  • This topic might come up because you know your child has been watching porn, but if not, don’t act as if they probably have or they probably haven’t been. Your child spotting your assumptions (in either direction) might hurt.
  • Ask them what they think, and explore open-mindedly their views and the views of their friends.
  • Don’t be judgemental, including if your child shares with you that they have viewed porn. In fact if they do, that’s a sign you’re having the right kind of conversation!
  • Even if it feels uncomfortable, try to talk openly with your child about sex (including beyond discussions about porn). Children are more likely to be drawn to porn and impacted by its messages the less they know and feel able to ask about real sex.

Day-to-day life

As opportunities come up day-to-day with your child:

  • Spot examples of ways in which powerful interests (e.g. government, companies, the media) try to influence people, and examples of people weighing it up or resisting it.
  • Explore how people might feel in situations where someone else has treated them poorly; help them to spot examples of prejudice and help them to think about its impact. 
  • Explore with interest their hopes, for the short-term and longer-term; and their moral views. 

These conversations will not only help them to make wise decisions about porn, but are also of great value for their wider development.

Other information

Make sure your child knows where to find accessible and sensible information about porn. CEOP's Thinkuknow and Pleasure vs Profit are both good sources. 

If you are interested in exploring further the impact of porn on young people, see the film ‘adolescent brain meets high-speed internet porn’ on yourbrainonporn.com

Talk to other parents and your child’s school

The best approach to protecting your child and their peers is a team approach – between you, your child’s school, and other parents. Keep in mind that children can be hurt by the porn use of their peers, as well as by school cultures which tolerate porn use.

Schools should have:

  • Internet controls in place so that no person can access porn via their internet connection.
  • A programme of teaching about respectful and equal relationships that all children receive (adapted to different ages).
  • Steps they take to prevent and tackle sexual harassment and sexual bullying. 

Check that your child’s school is doing these things, and if they are not, ask them to. It's also worth talking to other parents about their views on porn and young people, and invite them to consider the facts and advice discussed here.

What’s probably not so helpful

  1. Taking false comfort that concerns about porn are ‘overblown’, and ‘moral panic’. We need to recognise porn’s harms so we can make a plan to prevent and tackle them.
  2. Blunt conversations or information in which boys are told that porn ‘objectifies women’. Not only can this feel abstract and personally irrelevant, it can also make boys feel that they are being ‘got at’ – which can lead to a ‘backlash’ reaction. Instead explore how porn use conflicts with the things they want to get out of life and the person they are or want to be (e.g. someone who is a critical consumer, and can stick to his values under pressure).
  3. Avoiding conversations that feel uncomfortable. Remember the role you have to play here, gather ideas from other parents, and ultimately rise to the challenge and have a go!

 

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