TEENS: Help! My teen has discovered porn

08 July 2016
Reading time5 mins

Pornography is a genuine challenge for today’s parents. With ready Internet access, more and more teens are seeking out, or stumbling upon, free pornographic websites. This raises real concerns about the impact of exposure to these images on teens. Now, it is quite appropriate for teens going through puberty to be curious about sex and start to explore sexual behaviour. However, there is consistent research outlining the detrimental effects exposure to pornography can have on teens.

Recent research indicated that over 90 per cent of teenagers have Internet access. Further research revealed that one of the top five websites accessed by adolescent males was Pornhub, a pornographic website with free material. Now, what harm this does to those viewing such pornographic material depends a lot on the content of that material and the reasons the teen is seeking pornography out. If the content is extreme or abusive, then exposure to such material can traumatise. What also needs to be addressed is what might be ‘normalised’ by viewing such material. If someone is seeking pornography as a way of coping with stress or anxiety, then the seeking can become compulsive and problematic. Most likely, the teens seeking such pornography are feeding curiosity triggered by peers or inadvertent clicking on Internet advertisements. As a result, it is important to consider another source of potential harm: the fear of getting into trouble for viewing such material.

What to do

1. Sex education

Nothing can substitute for a parent engaging positively with their child’s sexual education. By allowing opportunities for open discourse and questioning in a non-judgmental way, a parent can build a safe place for their child to explore sex. This discussion only works from a position of openness and positivity. Negativity or doom-saying will simply drive teens to seek the answers to their questions elsewhere.

2. Cyber education

Parents need to understand the technology they are allowing their teens to use. Know how to block sites, know how to install ‘nanny software’, know how to monitor (and take control if required) of your child’s social media site, and know how to review an Internet browser history. Take the time to read through the material on the Government site www.esafety.gov.au because you cannot educate your teens about something you know nothing about.

3. Online trust building

Parents need to be clear about expectations and rules for Internet and social media use. This needs to be discussed with the teens, as well as rules negotiated and consequences outlined. However, consequences in this context is not that of punishment, but rather learning about trust. For example, the better we are at sticking to the rules, the more freedom and independence we have. If we break the rules then our level of freedom and independence is reduced and greater guidance and supervision provided until we can stick to the rules consistently again. This ‘give a little’ / ‘take a little’ approach allows teens to feel like they have more control over their circumstances which will help get them on board with the strategy and allows parents to guide their teen through the minefield of Internet access.

What if I discover my child has accessed pornographic websites?

If you come to discover your child has accessed pornographic material, then it is important to do a few things:

  • Reassure your child that curiosity is okay. This situation needs to be seen as an opportunity to discuss sex and pornography, and create a dialogue that can answer some of your child’s questions in a safe and healthy way.
  • Discuss what was seen so that it can be put into perspective. Pornography is not reality, it is not how sexual relationships operate and it is not an accurate representation of the average male or female body.
  • Discuss why they ended up visiting a pornographic website. Was it curiosity, was it influenced by peers, was it accidental clicking, was it malware or a virus, or was it influenced by an older child or adult?
  • Review the sites yourself if you can — it is important to know the extent of what they have seen as pornographic sites can vary significantly and can be traumatising to teens. This also informs your discussion of what has been seen and allows you to clearly identify what issues need to be dealt with immediately.
  • If your child has viewed sites involving child sexual abuse, you need to discuss this with police as a child may be in danger, or your child may have come into contact with a possible offender.
  • Educate your child on age-appropriate sexuality. Visit www.true.org.au for detailed information on what is age appropriate or consult a psychologist, GP, or paediatrician.

Most importantly, if you don’t feel confident dealing with any of these issues or feel you need support visit a psychologist, GP, or paediatrician and seek advice.

Worrying about a child’s access to online content? Check out our recent guide: 8 steps to responsible social media use, or our review of the latest parental control app OurPact.

James McManis, BA Psych. (Hons). Assoc. MAPS, is a volunteer lifesaver, pilot, and psychologist at All Abilities Child & Family Therapy Centre in Noosa and Gympie. All Abilities works with children and adolescents as well as their families/carers to develop skills and facilitate positive change. All Abilities is a multidisciplinary clinic offering in-house psychology and occupational therapy. For more information visit www.allabilities.com.au

Written by

James McManis
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