Q:There have been 2 instances in the last year that my 8-year-old son has viewed pornography videos online. Once was on his ipod, while he was searching titles of football players—that led to porn videos on YouTube. I confronted him about the videos and told him they were inappropriate and not for his age. I asked if he had any questions, and he said no. I did punish him (no ipod or video games). I then thought I put a lock on everything. He was caught again by the babysitter while he was playing game online—he searched “Bing” for sex videos. I confronted him again and told him that we were very disappointed in his behavior and that the videos are not age appropriate. I also punished him again, but I’m unsure what conversation I should have with him next.
-What Did He See? Marlton, NJ
A: Dear What,
It can be alarming to have a young child come across—and then seek out—such adult content. But first know that your son’s curiosity is normal. It’s similar to the tendency for young children to watch a movie that scares them over and over again. Many kids will watch disturbing scenes repeatedly because they are emotionally affected by the content, so they seek to understand and master it.
You’re right that children are not equipped to make sense of pornography. They lack the development and life experience that can help them make sense of why these videos are made—and how they differ from real life. To help your son make sense of what he saw, and to prevent him from thinking that he is bad for having seen these videos, try the following:
- Keep in mind that your son is probably curious because he saw something that he didn’t understand. As humans, we cope with challenging material by trying to make sense out of and control it in some way. Don’t jump to worst-case-scenario conclusions; instead, know that your son stumbled on something he couldn’t quite grasp and is now trying to get back to it in order to make sense of it.
- Give him
a different way to learn about sex, rather than punishing him. For one
thing, punishment probably won’t stop him from looking at pornography—it might
even make it more attractive as the “forbidden fruit” – and it will close down
communication with you, he’ll just watch the videos in places he knows he won’t
be caught. The biggest problem with easy-to-access online porn is that it shows
children sex as a commodity, something anyone can buy and sell, rather than
intimate connection and communication between loving, trusting adults. Offer
him books or other resources that are designed to help kids his age learn about
healthy relationships and sex. By giving him more human, age-optimal resources
to satisfy his natural curiosity, you can help him form a more positive
understanding of sex and sexuality. To begin, you may want to try:
- KidsHealth - resources for parents about how to talk to kids about sex.
- tulsakids - developmentally appropriate books to help you talk to your kids
- WIRED GeekMom - Sex Ed Books for kids
- A Mighty Girl - developmentally appropriate books about sex and sexuality
for all kids (not just girls)
- Talk to your son frankly about what he saw, demonstrating that you are neither embarrassed nor judgmental about his curiosity about sex. By letting him know that your concerns are not that porn is evil, but that it will hurt him, diminishing a very special human experience, you will model your comfort talking about uncomfortable subjects, from sex to drugs to ?, that he will confront in adolescence. You are showing, rather than just telling him, that he can come to you without shame to discuss anything that may confuse or upset him.
Remember, there’s almost nothing that we can keep our children from doing, so as parents, we need to teach them to keep themselves from doing things that are harmful to them. The best advice I can offer is to make sure that your son knows you are always available to him as a safe and loving source of advice and support.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,