How to talk to your teen about porn?

By: Niyatii N Shah

It is very likely that our teenagers will come across porn, intentionally or accidentally. What should you do as a parent in that situation? Sexuality educator Niyatii N Shah explains.

Real and reel 

From my experience, children are watching porn - intentionally or unintentionally, by the age of ten. And it’s not easy for any parent to talk about pornography to their child. You may find it tricky to start a conversation especially if your child hasn’t learned about sexual organs, their functions or about sex and sexual relationships. But it’s important and you know that. 

Children who watch porn can be confused and may not be able to understand what they saw. The main objective to talk about pornography is to teach them the difference between real and reel and most importantly to make informed choices. 

Instead of sex being part of a loving relationship,  pron strengthen attitudes supportive of sexual violence and violence against women. For children, it becomes a sport, the goal of which is to imitate what they see on their computer screens. If reality doesn’t match up (and it probably won’t), then they will likely be disappointed.

If you are not in a hurry to have the porn talk, it’s best to explain what healthy relationships look like, talk about changes during puberty, the sexual feelings they will now experience. Talk about respect and consent. Let the process be slow and gradual as per the child’s maturity and comfort. Create a relationship of trust and comfort between your child and you.

If you catch your child watching pornography, it could be embarassing for both of you. That’s ok! Prepare for a discussion based on these steps. 

Step 1: Tell them that you know about their exposure to pornography.

Step 2: Tell them that it is OK, and they should not be ashamed of discussing sex. And it is natural to be aroused by watching pornography. Most of the children want to talk about sex, but don't know whom to approach. As parents, you are one of the best sources of satisfying your child's curiosities.

Step 3: Tell them it is not how actual sexual intercourse happens. Share your views about sex. Stress on the emotional aspect of physical intimacy. 

Step 4: Convince them that pornography is rarely a depiction of the actual thing. Their body is going to change and that it will not look like what they saw in the video. Tell your child that the body parts he or she might have witnessed are by no way a standard against which their self-esteem should be measured. 

Important things to take care of:  

  • Talk about sex in the context of personal sexual need, safety and relationships.
  • Decide your purpose to explain pornography. Is it to explain how fake it is, or from the safety point of view or from the relationship angle or all of these. 
  • Empower them to decide what happens with their body. Let them know they are the boss of their body. Talk about sexual abuse – offline and online.
  • Talk about how sex is for pleasureand also for reproduction. Discuss how it impacts humans about their own image and in bonding with their partner.
  • Take it slow. It’s a process and it cannot be all spoken in one sitting. 
  • Respect the child’s comfort. You can revive the conversation later if s/he does not want to continue.

But if a situation arises where you have to have the talk immediately, here are some tips for you:  

  • Begin with a calm mind. Take a few deep breaths and decide your purpose.
  • Your body language is of utmost importance here. Stay calm in your head while it's racing to decide what to speak to them.
  • Create an opportunity or a context to bring up the topic. 
  • Sit with your child at their level. If she/he is in the chair, sit next to them; if on bed, sit there with them. But do not stand and talk while they are sitting.
  • If you have caught your child watching porn, know where she/he has learnt to watch porn. Is it friends, siblings or he was introduced accidentally.
  • Talk about real life couples and their relationships. Let them know how porn industry has created an unreal space and how it is harming those who learn from it. Real life vs reel life.
  • Talk about physical appearances, body parts, emotions, desires, attraction, sex to your growing child for them to understand sexuality holistically and not only from the angle of sexual intercourse.
  • Talk about the misrepresentation of physical appearance - the make up, big breasts, the long penis’, hairless bodies. It’s important to talk about how couples in real life focus on connecting with their partner emotionally. 
  • Educate your child about him/her now being active sexual beings and that they too will have a natural desire to indulge and that it’s normal.
  •  Make them feel normal by normalizing curiosity. 

Guide them step by step what they should do if they come across inappropriate content. Here are some tips: 

    • Help them understand that sometimes they may come across things that they’d prefer not to see, or that you would prefer they didn’t see. Try to have these conversations regularly.
    • Close the window and report to you.
    • Explain age limits and age-inappropriate sites
    • Talk to other parents and the school about what sort of rules they’re following and what they recommend
    • Find out the kind of things your child likes to do online and agree which websites and apps are the best for them to use. These should include the search engines they use to find information. You can switch on Google SafeSearch and set YouTube safe mode to make sure they see age-appropriate results.
    • Be calm and reassuring - Let your child know they can talk to you or a trusted adult if they come across anything that upsets them online.
    • Talk about positive ways to use tech - show that you understand the important role of technology and the Internet play in their lives.
  •  Assure them that you won’t be angry and that letting you know is a positive step to help them deal with it and understand the world around them.
  •  Create an environment of trust and ensure them that you are there to help and guide them in the right direction. Let them know you are always available if they have any questions.
  •  Make sure you reply to all their questions and be there to discuss it as any other topic.
  •  Ask them questions so they can learn to think and question what they see. Questions like why are women/men being shown in this way and the impact it can have on relationships. 

Kids are curious and because we don't give answers to their curiosity they look for answers outside. Usage of technology also should be monitored. Only education and empowerment will help the kids make a healthy choice in their lives.

Niyatii N Shah is a sexuality educator, intimacy coach, author, TedX speaker based out of Mumbai. She can be found on Twitter here

Have a parenting query? Ask our experts. In ‘Ask the expert’ column, we bring various questions from parents of young adolescents/pre-teens (10-12) on growing up, adolescence, puberty and everything in between; and ask them to subject matter experts. 

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