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Teaching kids about pornography

Along with that new smartphone that you gave your young teen should be an explicit discussion about pornography.  If you are unwilling to do the latter, then you shouldn’t do the former.

In one study published by Wolak and others in Pediatrics about five years ago, about 42% of youth aged 10 to 17 reported either intentional or unwanted exposure to internet pornography. Accurate research on such sensitive topics is difficult, as most kids are reluctant to acknowledge viewing sexual behavior. Given that about 58% of teens now have smart phones, parents need to add pornography to the list of issues discussed at the dinner table.

Contemporary parents appear to be more relaxed with bringing up traditional sex education topics with their kids. Prompted by increasingly explicit sex educational classes, areas of sexual reproduction, bodily changes at puberty, birth control, and even same-sex relationships seem more common if not always comfortable for parents and kids. Other than advising kids to stay away from pornographic sites, little is said about this sensitive topic.

One reason that parents are reluctant to discuss internet pornography is that it is common among some adults, as is viewed as a legitimate source of sexual pleasure. It’s hard to advise your child not to do something that you find enjoyable. While the impact of pornography on adults is complex, few will argue that exposure of young teens to graphic erotic images promotes a healthy sexual development.  

The pornography available to any 12 year old with a smart phone is not the same stuff that we viewed as teens. These are not just images of adults having sex. There are internet sites devoted to graphic depiction of rapes, torture, and degradation of men and women in ways that I cannot even write about in this column.

How do you deal with this type of stuff with your kids?

Set and enforce clear rules with young teens. If you give your young teen a cell phone it should be with the understanding that you will monitor their internet usage. If you can’t figure out how to do this, then don’t buy them a phone!

Discuss pornography at the dinner table. The way to deal with sensitive topics is to make them less sensitive by frequent and casual conversations. Discuss why some behaviors (e.g., driving a car, drinking, viewing pornography) may be fine for adults but not for kids.  Express your concerns about how sex is portrayed in many of those sites, particularly the depiction of women. 

Acknowledge that sex is lots of fun at the right time with the right person. We want our kids to understand how sex fits into a healthy relationship, and viewing pornography at a young age doesn’t promote that goal.

Next week:  Why do you tolerate your teen’s disrespectful behavior?

Dr. Ramey, who is a child psychologist and Vice President at Dayton Children’s Medical Center, can be reached at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org

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