Many parents worry about their children coming across pornography online and the effects this can have. Some children may look for it out of curiosity, others stumble onto it by mistake.
There are many ways we can come across explicit content online. It can happen through clicking on links in phishing or spam emails, missed keystrokes (or misspelled words), dodgy links and pop-ups (even on harmless websites), or even through friends or siblings who share inappropriate content.
Parents play an important role to help manage their child’s online experiences. A discussion about pornography may not have been in your plans, but children who are exposed to this kind of content by accident will benefit from your guidance. These tips can help you find ways to start talking about pornography and other sensitive topics with your child.
While it’s unlikely that older children will 'accidentally' find pornography, this might still occur. Teens are typically sufficiently savvy to find, or avoid, pornographic content.
Here are some handy tips for parents of children under the age of 12 who unintentionally find pornography.
Try to approach the situation calmly. Clear and helpful conversations about sex, intimacy, and relationships require trust. If you are upset or angry, your child may feel like they can’t come to you about other concerns in the future.
It’s great that you are now aware of what has happened. If your child has come to you about seeing something, thank them for being brave enough to let you know and reassure them that you will sort it out together.
Encourage your child to talk to you anytime about any questions they have about what they come across online. Remember, they may be upset about finding pornography and it is important to be supportive and to acknowledge how upsetting it can be to see this type of content.
If your child has accidentally stumbled upon explicit content, ask them to fill you in on the details so you can help manage the situation. For example, find out how they found it, where it happened, who (if anyone) showed it to them and how they felt when they saw it. This is a chance to understand what happened and how you can help your child avoid a repeat experience.
Remember, understand don’t reprimand.
Punishing children for accidentally doing things - even bad things – might strain relationships, and damage trust between you and your child. This can drive unwanted behaviour underground or make your child reluctant to approach you in the future. Try not to remove the child’s device or online access, as they will see it as punishment.
It may be tempting to have a big lecture right there on the spot but sometimes that’s not the best option. Take some time to plan your approach to the topic. You'll have a better outcome if everyone stays calm.
It is important to talk with your child about how the content made them feel. This makes the conversation less confronting and allows them to talk more openly about their experience. Does your child feel good, bad, safe, scared, uncomfortable, curious, repulsed or something else? Any or all of these feelings are normal reactions.
Depending on your family values and the maturity level of your child, you may wish to talk about what sex is. Discussions about love and intimacy are important, as are discussions about boundaries, appropriate age and timing for intimacy, and other personal values. Your child’s teacher may be a good source for finding age-appropriate materials on this topic.
Ask whether they think it is a good idea to look for those kinds of things on the internet again. (Hint… it’s not).
Encourage them to think of ways to stay safe. Suggestions could include; avoiding using keywords that could lead to similar content, installing parental controls on devices, keeping devices in public places, especially for younger children.
It is crucial to have regular conversations with your child about what they are viewing online to help them have positive and safe online experiences.