Your child may discover online porn unintentionally, or they may go looking for it. Either way, you can play a role.
For young children, accidentally encountering pornographic material can be confusing or distressing. At worst it can be harmful.
Older kids and teenagers may be more curious and actively seek out pornography online. For them, the risk is that exposure to graphic, violent or misleading messages about sexual practices and gender stereotypes could give them the wrong idea about sex and intimate relationships.
We have worked with leading parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson to provide practical support and resources to parents on this sensitive issue.
This page is for parents and carers. It covers:
- How do kids find pornography online?
- How can I protect my child?
- What can I do if my child has found pornography online?
69% of parents believe educating their children about pornography is essential, as their potential exposure is highly likely.
77% see themselves as responsible for providing this education in the home. Yet less than half reported having actually spoken to their children about pornography.
Find out more in eSafety Research, Parenting and pornography, December 2018.
How do kids find pornography online?
- Your child may actively search for explicit content online, out of curiosity or perhaps because their friends are talking about it.
- A friend or sibling (or an adult) may share inappropriate content (see also advice for parents about unwanted contact and grooming).
- Your child may accidentally type the wrong word or phrase into an internet search or mistakenly click on a link to something that looks interesting but turns out to be pornographic.
- They might click on links in phishing or spam emails, dodgy links and pop-ups (even on harmless websites).
- Or they may also encounter pornography on free games websites for children. Some popular children’s cartoons have been hijacked with a pornographic version — which can be very distressing for a child to see.
From Dr Justin Coulson
A mother of a 7-year-old boy told me that her son was exposed to pornography in the classroom when a classmate told him to search 'bum' and 'naked ladies'. The classmate had an older brother who was viewing pornography and had shown him how to find explicit content. This boy told his friends all about what his brother had shown him.
Another mum found her 9-year-old daughter on the computer in the study space of their home at midnight. She confessed that she had heard about pornography at school and had become curious. She had been getting up in the middle of the night to explore the online world of pornography.
How can I protect my child?
Start by making your home environment as safe as possible.
Set some ‘house rules’
Discuss the issue with all siblings in age-appropriate ways and ensure everyone agrees to play by the same rules. For example, ‘in our house we don’t share inappropriate images’.
Talk about where it is and is not OK to use computers or devices. Ideally, 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.
Let all your children’s friends know about these rules too.
Talking regularly and openly with your child about what they are doing online will help build trust, and may reduce your desire to monitor your child’s browser history or check up on them without them knowing.
Use the available technology
Take advantage of the parental controls available on computers, modems and other devices, and ensure the ‘safe search’ mode is enabled on browsers. Find out more about taming the technology.
Consider setting a wi-fi curfew. Determine a reasonable time to shut off the wi-fi, and then do so consistently each night.
Explain to your child the reasons for putting controls in place. Especially for older children and teens, being too controlling may lead them to hide their behaviour and not be open with you.
Make sure your child is unlikely to come across it on your own devices
- If you access any form of content you would not want your child to see, be as discreet as possible to avoid accidental exposure.
- Password-protect your devices to restrict access.
- Delete browser histories so children cannot accidentally stumble on what a parent viewed recently.
- Turn off auto-complete in browsers so that previous search terms adults may have used do not appear.
Age-appropriate conversations about sexualised content can help young people process what they come across online and reinforce the importance of consent and respectful relationships.
Consider raising the subject of pornography yourself
Particularly for young children, you might feel that talking about pornography will simply make them curious and more likely to explore on their own. It is OK to delay the conversation if your child is generally open with you about what they are viewing online, and you are reasonably sure they have not been exposed to pornographic content.
But by the time they are around 9 years old, parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson recommends that you should consider talking about pornography to help protect them from the potential impacts of coming across it accidentally. Every child is different, so it is important to decide when you think it is right to raise the subject with your child.
For help, see our advice on the hard-to-have conversations.
Take a long-term view
Discussions about sex, intimacy, and pornography best take place when your child feels they can trust you. This is a long-term challenge that means investing time in your relationship with your child, rather than a quick fix for the moment when you discover they have seen pornography. If that happens, see what can I do.
Reinforce that if they do see something they do not understand, they can come and ask you about it — no topic is off limits.
What can I do if my child has found pornography online?
Try to approach the situation calmly. If you are upset or angry, your child may feel like they cannot come to you about other concerns in the future.
Thank them for being brave enough to let you know and reassure them that you will sort it out together.
Listen, assess, pause
If your child has accidentally viewed 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.
It may be tempting to give a big lecture right there on the spot but sometimes this is not the best option. Take some time to plan your approach to the topic. You will have a better outcome if everyone stays calm.
Reassure your child they are not in trouble
Try to understand rather than criticise or punish.
When children fear punishment, they may close down emotionally. They may be reluctant to talk, and may struggle to listen or understand. This could lead your child to hide their behaviour or not want to approach you in the future.
Try not to remove your child's device or online access completely, as they will see it as punishment.
If they say they have not been watching (or been shown) pornography but you know they have, it is best to tell them what you know rather than getting mad at them for lying. The conversation is likely to be ineffective if you are upset and they are defensive.
Be sensitive to how they feel
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.
Seek professional help if you are concerned your child is very upset or struggling to process what they have seen.
Encourage your child to talk to you about any questions they have about what they come across online. Let them know they can talk to you at anytime.
And depending on your child’s age
Avoid ‘too much information’
- You do need to protect your child by discussing what has happened. But you also want to avoid getting into territory that may make them more curious.
- Keep the discussion open, especially with younger children, answering questions honestly but briefly. Then ask, ‘What other questions do you have?’ or ‘Does that explain it enough?’
- Ask whether they think it is a good idea to look for those kinds of things on the internet again. (Hint: not a good idea.)
- Encourage your child to think of ways to stay safe. You could refer to the advice about rules and technologies to use at the top of this page and in taming the technology.
Consider having ‘the talk’
- It is never too early to start talking about consent and respect in relationships.
- Depending on the maturity level of your child, and your family culture and background, you may wish to talk about what sex is. Discussions about love and intimacy are important, as are discussions about boundaries, appropriate ages for intimacy, and other personal values.
- Your child's teacher may be a good source for finding age-appropriate materials.
- Read more advice, including tips for talking to younger children and pre-teens in the hard-to-have conversations.
Acknowledge peer pressures
- If your child has been 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.
- Reinforce that it is never a good idea to share pornography with friends.
If your child encountered pornography at school or another organisation like a sporting club, tell the relevant responsible adult
- Tell the school principal, leader of the group, coach, teacher, or a relevant responsible adult. They will want information about who was involved, what was seen, and how it happened.
- Ask how they will handle the situation. They should have policies and procedures in place to deal with all types of issues.
- You should expect them to review these policies, update filters and increase security around technology as much as they can.
Talk to a relevant adult if the encounter happened in someone else’s home
You might say, ‘Hi, just so you know, I am 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?’ Consider sharing the link to this page.
For teens, the most important message is that pornography is not real life.
Try to maintain trust
- When talking with your teen, remember that attempts to control their thinking or behaviour could result in them shutting you out and becoming defensive. A ‘my house, my rules’ dialogue might not have the effect you want. They may ignore you, and possibly even do the opposite of what you suggest.
- Read more advice about talking with teenagers in the hard-to-have conversations.
Explain that it is important for them to understand differences between pornography and real life
- Teens are typically savvy enough to find, or avoid, pornographic content online, rather than encounter it ‘accidentally’.
- However, pornography is not a good way for them to learn about sex. It can harm their sense of self, damage relationships, be unhelpful for positive relationships, and affect their psychological wellbeing. It can also make it difficult for them to understand what consent means.
Talk about consent, respect and safety
- Talk about the importance of always having permission to touch, hug, or kiss another person. Pornography often includes scenes or images that teach the opposite.
- Help them understand that if someone says ‘no’, they should respect that decision. And if your child says ‘no’, they should expect their ‘no’ to be heard and not argued with as a ‘perhaps’ or a ‘yes’. Also let them know that they can change their mind — it is OK to say ‘no’ after saying ‘yes’ earlier.
- Teach them that disrespect, violence and abuse are not OK, and that they are responsible for their own safety and being respectful towards others.
- Pornography can sometimes portray violence and unrealistic notions of sexual relationships. For example, it may teach that group sex is what everyone wants. Lessons about sexual safety (such as using condoms) are often absent.
- Help teens recognise that what they see in pornography is often unreal and exaggerated, and is rarely safe.
Talk about the importance of intimacy in close relationships
- Physical relationships are usually shared with someone special to us. Intimacy is about more than physical closeness. It is about emotional closeness, and building trust.
- These factors are often missing in pornographic images and video material.
- Talk to your teen about what trust and emotional closeness means for them and in their relationships.
Talk about body image
- Most people do not look like the actors in porn videos or pictures.
- Explain that the way the actors look may be digitally altered and they may have surgically ‘enhanced’ parts of their bodies.
Talk about acting, fiction and make-believe
- Emphasise that the performers in pornographic videos are actors who do what they do for money. There are multiple takes of scenes, and storylines are contrived. This is not how things happen in real life.
- Ask whether any of their friends have talked about wanting to copy things they have seen online.
- If your teen is in an intimate relationship, emphasise that they should only do what they feel comfortable doing and avoid being pressured to do otherwise.
- You might also ask whether they have seen others being affected by viewing pornography. It can make people feel bad about themselves, or have unhealthy relationships with their boy/girlfriend as a result of wanting to have ‘porn-inspired’ experiences.
Help them understand their responses
- If you think your teen has been viewing pornography regularly, help them understand their response to it.
- You may wish to help their understanding by using resources that focus on relationships. Ask their teacher or school counsellor for recommendations.
Discourage them from viewing it
- With younger teens your conversation will probably end with you asking your child to avoid pornography.
- Ask them how they feel about your request, and then work together to find ways to reduce the chance they may see pornographic content online. You could refer to the advice about rules and technologies to use at the top of this page and in taming the technology.
- With older teens, conversations are best if they are less about telling your child what to do, and more focused on paying attention to what they think they should do. Sometimes, the harder you push, the more they might resist.
- Consider asking your teen where they stand on viewing pornography, and whether your discussion has changed the way they see it.
- Make sure they know where to go for help: find a counselling and support service.