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True Confession: I Showed Porn to My Children

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… and they’ll never forget it

It’s true. I had naked people all over the big-screen TV in my living room. I was trying to show a YouTube science video when I accidently pulled up a soft porn video. Flustered, I rushed to turn off the TV while my kids cackled in laughter. I tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, but my kids couldn’t stop laughing, and I couldn’t hide my distress. My oldest was 10 at the time, and I knew he would never forget it.

If you have an 11-year-old, they’ve probably seen porn. The average age of first exposure to pornography is somewhere between ages 9 and 11. As more middle school and elementary aged kids get smartphones with unfiltered Internet access, this number is only going to get younger. Don’t believe me? Here’s some data:

  • In a 2010 survey of English students between 14 and 16 years old, almost one-third claimed that their first exposure to Internet pornography was at 10 years old or younger.
  • In a 2011 survey, 31 percent of adolescent boys admitted visiting websites that were intended as adult-only.
  • In the 2009 book Porn University, Author Michael Leahy published a large survey of American young people, revealing that 51 percent of males and 32 percent of females claimed to have viewed pornography for the first time before they were 13 years old.
  • In a 2012 Australian study of pornography use, men who were frequent pornography users said their first exposure was between the ages of 11 and 13 years old.
  • A 2009 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 85 percent of adolescent males and 50 percent of adolescent females had been exposed to pornographic material.

Most kids don’t look at porn once— they keep looking. There is good neuroscience behind the attractive and even addictive nature of pornography, both written and visual. (YourBrainOnPorn.org is a great place to start understanding the science behind this.) By the time our children become young adults, most view pornography regularly:

  • According to a 2014 Barna Group survey, among males 18–30 years old, 79 percent viewed pornography once per month and 63 percent viewed pornography greater than once per week. Among females 18–30 years old, 34 percent viewed pornography once per month and 19percent viewed pornography more than once per week.
  • A 2008 study in the Journal of Adolescent Research revealed that 67 percent of young men and 49 percent of young women found pornography acceptable.

They say you know porn when you see it. Kids know it too—and they usually want to keep looking, keep listening, or keep reading. Talk to your kids about porn when they are 7–10 years old, before they start encountering it on their own. Internet filters and other safeguards are important, but nothing is foolproof. As parents, we need to teach our children what to do when they find porn. Even though they may find it interesting and want to keep looking, they need to shut off the screen or close the book or magazine and tell a parent. Kids need to understand why porn is not good for them—that it can be addictive, just like drugs. I also talk about how porn can make it harder to love real people, that after a while you can start to like porn better than real relationships, but only love from real people can make you happy in the long run.

Here are 5 ways to “porn proof” your kids and your home:

1. Read the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen A. Jenson, MA. This read-aloud book is an Amazon.com #1 bestseller in sexual health recovery. From the Amazon description:

Good Pictures Bad Pictures is a comfortable, read-aloud story about a mom and dad who teach their child what pornography is, why it’s dangerous, and how to reject it. Using easy-to-understand science and simple analogies, this groundbreaking book engages young kids to porn-proof their own brains.

It only takes a few taps on a mobile device for a curious young child to find an endless supply of deviant, hard-core, and addicting pornography—all for free. Unfortunately, many young kids are being exposed to pornography without the slightest clue that it can damage their developing minds.

The 5-point Can-Do Plan teaches kids how to avoid the brain-warping images of pornography and minimize the troubling memories of accidental exposure that often tempt kids to look for more and lead them into a dark and destructive addiction. To stay safe in the digital age, kids must install an internal filter in their own brain. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures shows them how.

Parents will appreciate this resource to porn-proof their kids because it makes a difficult discussion easy and empowering. How? By teaching kids simple concepts about the brain and the process of addiction, and by giving them a specific strategy for keeping safe from the poison of pornography.”

2. Turn on porn filters and parental controls on all your mobile devices, even your own phone. iPhones and iPads have offered porn filters since the release of iOS 7. You do need to ensure that they are turned on in settings.

3. For computers, get Internet filtering software such as K9 Web protection, Covenant Eyes, Mobicip, Net Nanny, and Screen Retriever. In our house we use K9 Web protection. Every time one of our kids tries to go to a restricted site, the computer makes a dog-bark sound … and we know to go check on them. It was free and easy to install.

4. Get rid of your own porn: The first porn kids see is often from their parents. Kids find magazines hidden in closets, or see online porn triggered by frequent web searches. Watching TV at night is another source, especially if the TV is already set to a channel that shows explicit content at night.

5. Model healthy love for your children: The best way to teach your kids that they don’t want porn is to give them what they really want: love. Model healthy romantic relationships for your children. Show your children how you love them through words, service, actions and touch. As children grow into teenages, there is a tendency to touch them less, and they may even shirk off hugs and pats on the back. If you don’t hug your children, they will find someone else to provide them with physical love, and it might not be what is best for them.

As for the naked people on my living room TV, they are gone. We now have porn filters on all our mobile devices. Instead of playing YouTube and other online content directly off our unfiltered SmartTV, we now stream online content off our devices and cast them to our TV via Chromecast or AppleTV. Every once in a while one of my kids mentions the naked people on our TV, and the kids start cackling. My children will probably never forget their first exposure to pornography. The images will be ingrained in heads for years to come. I hope we don’t ingrain too many more.

 

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD, is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children. Connect with Dr. Berchelmann at KathleenBerchelmannMD.com

 

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