I’m not a fearmonger when it comes to parenting. In fact, I think fear is a terrible motivator for making parenting decisions. But if children are being exposed to porn at young ages, the loving thing to do as a parent is to equip them to know how to respond. The most frequent parenting question I’m asked is, “When should I talk to my child about sex?” My adamant answer is, “Much earlier than you might think.” If you’re concerned about your child being exposed to porn, you have to talk about sex, and you must do so early.
Let me tell you what played out at the sixth-grade lunch table that day. When the phone with the images was offered, my son responded, “I don’t look at porn.” The owner of the phone, perplexed, asked, “Then how will you know how to have sex?” My son responded that his parents had told him all about it. Jaws dropped. Not one other sixth-grade boy at the table had yet talked with his parents about sex, or, it would seem, about porn. But they were by no means lacking in instruction.
We may stall on the sex talk, but the world will not. If we delay introducing the topic because of personal discomfort, shame, or uncertainty about how to begin, our children will form their first ideas about human sexuality based on the reports of their peers, the images on their devices, or the pop-ups that introduce them to porn. They will also assume their parents are not willing or equipped to handle discussions about sex.
Ask the Right Question
Too many parents are still asking the wrong question with regard to children and explicit content. We can no longer ask, “How should I prepare my child for if
they see porn?” Instead we must ask, “How should I prepare my child for when
they see porn?” External controls
are important, but they only shield your child from a handful of instances when porn can make an appearance. Mobile devices are everywhere, and your neighbor’s unsecured Wi-Fi is easy to find.
We must begin giving our children internal controls as early as possible. We must give them a way to flee danger as soon as it presents itself. Just as parents of my generation taught their kids a script for when they were offered drugs, we must teach our kids a script for when they are offered porn. And we must be ready to have frank, fearless conversations about what they may have already seen, conversations free of any hint of condemnation. We must maintain a safe environment for openness and ongoing dialogue about this and other difficult topics.
Your children may very well be exposed to porn before they are developmentally able to understand what they are looking at. They need your help to know how to respond. Give them red flags, a script, and a plan.
Red Flags, a Script, and a Plan
Though not developmentally ready for a full-blown explanation of the nature and dangers of porn, young children can learn two red flags to help them avoid contact with it, two red flags that also guard against predators. Teach your child at a young age that “naked is private,” and that “don’t tell your mom and dad” means danger. Both of these red flags will help them recognize when they are being shown something you wouldn’t want them to see.
Train your children how to respond to an offer of porn by giving them scripted words to use, and a plan of action:
Parent: “If someone shows you a picture of something and asks you not to tell anyone, what should you do?”
Child: “Tell them ‘no thanks,’ and then come tell you.”
Parent: “If a picture of something strange comes up on the computer, what should you do?”
Child: “Ex it out, and then come tell you.”
Rehearse this language, just as you would rehearse what words to use in other situations, like if a stranger offered a ride home from school.
Culture of Confession
Children need to know they can come tell a parent without fear of getting in trouble or setting off high drama, even if (especially if) they looked at what was offered. When we give them permission to come to us, we reinforce a culture of confession in our homes. We may not be able to shield our kids from pornographic images, but we can give them the internal tools they need to protect them from becoming entangled in secrecy, shame, and a warped view of sexuality.
Whether they are 8 or 28, we want our children to choose confession over concealment every time. Reward their courage in coming to you by reacting calmly, affirming that they have done the right thing, and then helping them process what has happened and what to do moving forward.
We must communicate clearly to our children that porn is telling a lie and that we will tell them the truth. As your child gets older, talk frankly about what porn is, about how it teaches a perverted view of sexuality, and about how it exploits both the viewer and also those revealed in the images. Talk about the consequences of having a wrong view of sex and sexuality, the dangers of lust, and the sin of objectifying another person made in the image of God.
If you have preschool-aged children, begin gathering resources now to help you naturally introduce the topic of sex in age-appropriate ways as opportunities present. (In other words, if you take your kids to the zoo in the spring, be ready to broach the subject if the animal kingdom introduces it.) Rather than think, How long can I put off the sex talk? ask, How soon can I begin to equip my child to filter messages about sex and sexuality in age-appropriate ways?
Be the first voice your child hears about sex and sexuality, and about fleeing porn exposure. Don’t let fear cause you to delay beginning this conversation. And don’t let fear cause you to have the conversation in a way that scares your child or casts sexuality in a negative light. Get educated about what resources are available to help you confidently and calmly discuss sex as a beautiful gift from God, to be enjoyed within the good boundaries he has set. Lovingly teach your kids red flags, a script, and a plan. And trust your heavenly Father that even this parenting hurdle is one he can help you surmount.
Check out these additional resources. (By listing these resources I am not giving them an unqualified endorsement. As with all parenting resources, the responsibility lies with you to read discerningly, take what you can use, and leave the rest. Happy digging!)