Sometimes children discover pornography unintentionally, sometimes they may go looking for it, and then there are those times that someone else decides to 'enlighten' your child, exposing them to content that is explicit, potentially harmful and far from age-appropriate.
The way you respond to the situation may change a little, depending on where the exposure to pornography occurs.
Exposure at home
Siblings and friends
Some children may have been introduced to pornography by siblings or friends. In this situation, there are a number of strategies you can use:
- Discuss the issue with all siblings in age-appropriate ways, and ensure everyone agrees to play by the same rules.
- Install parental controls on computers or devices, such as filter software, or safe search mode to reduce the change of finding explicit material. Inform your child the reasons for this approach.
- Let all friends know that devices stay in public areas of your home.
- Set some ‘house rules’. For example, “in our house we don’t share inappropriate images”.
Sometimes children may come across pornography used by parents in the household. If this situation applies, try the following steps:
- Password-protect your devices to restrict access.
- Delete browser histories so children cannot accidentally stumble on what a parent viewed recently.
- Be as discreet as possible, to avoid accidental exposure.
You can take some simple practical steps if your child has come across pornography at home:
- Talk about where is and is not okay to use computers or devices. In an ideal situation, your child should only use them in public areas of the home. Bedrooms, a closed-study, or other private spaces should be device no-go zones for younger children.
- Set a Wi-Fi curfew. Determine a reasonable time to shut off the Wi-Fi, and then do so consistently each night.
- Adjust home modems, device settings and browsers to ensure ‘safe search’ is on.
- Have regular conversations with your child about content they are engaging with. This may lead to some great conversations about topics important to your child. Open lines of communication can help build trust in your relationship, and may reduce the need to monitor your child’s browser history or spy on them.
Be aware that the more controlling your interventions are, the sneakier your child may be.
Exposure at School
Many schools have firewalls and other security measures to protect children from explicit content. However, some children find ways around these measures. Others simply use their own devices and internet access to circumvent the school’s restrictions.
Consider the following steps when children are exposed to pornography at school.
Who to tell
- The school principal should be advised of the exposure, and will want information about who was involved, what was seen, and how it happened.
- In some (more serious) instances, the school counsellor or welfare officer might be informed and included in working through the incident.
Talking to the school
- Ask the school how they will handle the situation. This is a good time to ask about school policy surrounding these issues.
- Some schools may be open to interventions, class/student discussion groups, and further education about pornography within the school.
- Expect the school will update its filters, and increase security around technology to the extent that it is practical.
- Expect the school will review its policies related to student use of personal screens, such as in playgrounds, classrooms, libraries, or on public transport travelling to and from school.
Talking to your child
If your child is shown pornography by peers or older students, have a chat to them about things like:
- Peer pressure.
- Being willing to say 'no' and stand out from the crowd.
- 'Group-think' and what it means to be able to think differently to all of the other children.
Exposure at Play
When your child is exposed to pornographic content in the home of a family member, friend, or neighbour (or perhaps at an extra-curricular activity), there are a number of actions you can take.
Inform the responsible adult
- Talk to the leader of the group, the team coach, the teacher, or the relevant responsible adult about who was involved, what was seen, and how it happened. Organisations should have policies and procedures in place to deal with all types of notifications.
Work out the best way to prevent it from happening again
- Like schools, organisations may be required to review their policies about supervision, participation, online security, and other technology decisions to protect children.
- If the viewing occurred in a private home, talk to the relevant responsible adults about ways to better ensure the safety of children in their care. This type of conversation needs to be carried out sensitively, but clearly. You might say, “Hi, just so you know, our child does not have access to adult content at home and I’m concerned my child may have seen inappropriate content at your house. Can we have a chat about how access can be limited when they visit your place?”
You may find that other adults are eager to protect all children, including yours, from the potentially damaging effects of exposure to pornography. Try to discuss safety, expectations, roles of responsible adults and resolutions to prevent similar occurrences of exposure.