Talking to your 8-12 year old about pornography

Children entering puberty and adolescence may be curious about sex and sexuality. Changes in the brain and body combined with other hormonal changes can increase your child’s interest in this area. They may hear things in the playground or at a friends' home, and they might want to know more - but asking mum or dad about sex can be embarrassing. Sometimes they may seek information out themselves or someone else may show them images and videos – and these may include pornography.

Two young girls laughing at somthing on a tablet

An Ongoing Conversation

Having these conversations can be difficult. You may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, or don't know what to tell your child. Unfortunately, if you avoid the topic, your child might seek information from less reliable sources, like the internet. Evidence indicates that children as young as 9 are being exposed to images and videos that are pornographic.

If your child is over the age of 8, you may have already talked with them about things like gender, body image, sex, keeping bodies safe (from abuse) or even pornography. If not, now is a good time to start planning these conversations.

One way to get started is to seek advice from a school counsellor, or a trusted friend. Your child’s teacher may be able to point you towards suitable resources to help you explain things.

Four tips for how you can start having these conversations with your pre-teen

  1. Build trustMan showing his young son something on his mobile

    It is almost impossible to have influence when there is no trust. Investing time in your relationship with your child helps them feel loved and accepted. Discussions about sexual matters will be more effective when you have a trusting relationship with your child.

  2. Prepare

    Work out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Sometimes discussions about sexual topics can be more difficult for parents than for children. Plan ahead and make a discussion outline for what you want to talk about.

  3. Take the time

    These discussions are best held in a one-on-one environment. Go somewhere together - perhaps for a walk, or a drive and make sure your child feels at ease. Being in a neutral environment can make things more comfortable for both parent and child.

  4. Ask lots of questionsMan on laptop sitting next to young daughter wearing headphones whilst on mobile phone

    Rather than lecture, try to ask questions. This will help avoid your child tuning out or becoming defensive. If you know that your child has been exposed to (or is viewing) pornography, it is best to let them know this, rather than getting mad at them for lying. It is far better to say, "When I found you looking at pornography the other night..." rather than, "Have you seen pornography?

Kicking it off

The following questions are a great way to get a discussion going. Tailor the discussion based on your knowledge of your child and their level of maturity and development.

What to say?

Begin by asking if it is ok to have a chat about one of those awkward topics. Let them know you have read some things recently that got you thinking, and you'd like your child's opinion. After they have agreed to talk with you try these discussion starters.

Ask: What do you know about pornography?Young boy taking a selfie

Ask: Do any of the kids at school ever talk about it? What do they say?

Ask: Have you ever seen it? If they answer yes, ask, "Did someone show it to you? Or did you find it yourself?" Reassure your child they are not in trouble. Try to find out what you can about how they found it and why they were searching for it.

If they have seen it, ask: "When you saw it, how did it make you feel?" Discuss those feelings. Children at this age may feel "yucky" - even violated - but they may also feel curious or scared.

Explain: Let them know that pornography teaches attitudes towards sex, and sexual behaviours which are often unhealthy. Ask them, "Even though it's really uncomfortable, can you tell me what you have seen?" You may wish to discuss some of the content portrayed in pornographic material (such as lack of respect and consent, violence, and dangerous sexual practices) to help them understand why you are concerned about them viewing it.

Ask: “What do you think is the best thing to do if someone tries to show you pornography?” Let your child suggest some options. Discourage them from seeking it out, or looking at it if someone does show it to them.

Work with your child to find ways to protect against pornography exposure. You might talk about your ‘house rules’, such as not deliberately visiting these sites, avoiding searches with potentially dangerous keywords, using devices in open areas at home and not behind closed doors, being offline by a particular time of night, and any other ideas they can think of. You might want to update ‘safe search’ on all devices and let your child know if you plan to install device-level filters that can block adult content.

Reassure: Let them know it's always ok to talk with you if they have questions.

Avoiding TMI

We want to avoid the issue of too-much-information (TMI), but we should also be sure to respond to our child's curiosity with honesty and openness. Check if your child has any other questions or if you have explained things enough for them.

Depending on your child's questions and maturity, you may wish to discuss issues related to 'consent', 'intimacy in close relationships', and 'respect'. Teach them that pornography usually fails to teach these things. Emphasise that we should always have permission (consent) to touch, hug, or kiss another person. Help them understand that if someone says "no", they should listen (which teaches respect).

No one wants to have a pornography discussion with their children. But to protect and prepare them, the conversation is essential. Keep it short. Be honest. Try to make it part of an ongoing and open discussion about sexuality and sexual development.

If you have children under 8 years of age, see here for more ideas. And for teenagers, try this guidance.

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