I'm a parent - HELP!
Talking to your children about the issue of porn can be about as awkward as it gets for parents. And let's be honest, most teenage boys are often more likely to communicate with shrugs and grunts than actual words. If you're anything like me, you know that as parents we often feel like we are making things up on the fly. But you don't have to feel that way when it comes to porn. Here are a few tips to help you to begin thinking through how you can address porn with your children.
When should I first talk to my children about porn?
Talking to your children is the best way to begin and continue protecting them from porn. The first question parents often have is: "when should I first talk to my child about pornography?" My answer is always "younger than you think".
Conversation about body parts, about what is public and what is private should take place from a very early age. Considering that some studies have found that the average age for first exposure to porn, particularly among boys, is as low as 11, it would make sense to begin the conversation with your children a few years before that.
Some parents worry that by talking to their children about porn it will encourage them to go looking for it. There is a risk here; and so parents need to think carefully about how much information to talk about at each stage of a child's development. However, by not saying anything, parents run the risk of others having that conversation with your child. And in my opinion, there is far more risk involved in saying nothing and hoping for the best. Start the conversation early and keep it going with some measure of regularity.
Starting the conversation can be difficult. Below you'll find some other resources to help you begin and continue the conversation.
What resources are out there for parents?
There are a number of resources that are helpful in talking to children from a young age about human sexuality.
Some helpful books written from a Christian perspective are 'The Story of Me' series by Stan Jones. This series has four books in it (I've just linked the first one above). The first book is designed to be read with young children, with the fourth book designed for teens.
Another book that is helpful with the specific issue of porn is 'Good Pictures Bad Pictures' by Kristen A. Jenson. This book deals with pornography addiction and the brain, and seeks to equip children with some tools that will help them respond when they do see porn.
Both of these books are designed for parents to read with their children. Starting young will help to keep the conversation going and hopefully prevent it from being awkward.
There are also heaps of online resources that could be helpful to look at with your children. These include:
Protect Young Minds - This website is run by Kristen A. Jenson who wrote 'Good Pictures Bad Pictures'. It includes links to a bunch of resources, including books on how to protect your family from porn. There's loads here for parents.
Educate Empower Kids - This website has a wealth of resources to help parents and kids think through porn. They've also written books on how to talk to your children about porn, as well as recovery from porn addiction.
Fight The New Drug - The team at Fight The New Drug have been working for a long time to raise awareness of the harms of porn and help people recover from addiction. This would be a great site to explore with your teenagers. There's extensive info on the harms of pornography, blog posts, news articles and videos. For someone wanting to get free of porn, their 'Fortify' program is definitely worth a look.
Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner - This Australian Government website is fairly new in the scheme of things and has been put together to help Australians with online issues. It covers the gamut of issues that parents may be concerned about, including sexting and pornography, as well as cyber-bullying and social media. It is a great resource for parents who are concerned about potential online dangers.
Porn Harms Research - If you want to go further in terms of reading some research on porn, this website is worth a visit. It's directed by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in the US, and contains a wealth of peer-reviewed journals.
What do I do if I discover my child has been looking at porn?
Firstly, take a deep breath. It will be easy to get angry and to shame your child and that may only serve to heighten their feelings of guilt and shame. It may also inspire them to work harder on keeping their habits secret. Do your best to keep calm and not get angry. Considering the statistics on the prevalence of porn use, as sad as it may be, it shouldn't surprise you.
Secondly, ask your child thoughtful questions. It will be good to know when they first saw porn and when they regularly look at it. Ask them why they look at porn, and particularly how they feel before and after. There may be other things going on in your child's life that is causing them to find escape or comfort in porn.
Keep the conversation going. Talk about the harms that porn can bring. Do your research and work through with your child what you find. Whatever measures you put in place to protect your child, make sure you talk with them about it first. Check in regularly with your child and if its possible, be their ally in this. You might want to have these conversations in the car, or while doing something together where you can sit side by side; this is particularly helpful with teenage boys and may enable them to speak more freely.
Lastly, consider some of the following protective measures for your family.
Internet filtering is one way to protect your children from seeing material on the internet that isn't appropriate. Filtering is not foolproof; there are ways to get around it. But for the most part it is pretty effective. However, it is especially helpful in preventing viewing pornographic material inadvertently. It can also give teens a moment of pause that might help them make a wise choice regarding
opendns.com is a great place to start. Their Family Shield service is free and is a great way to help block adult content. They also offer a premium service that costs $20 US per year. The filtering runs through a home router and so protects every device that has internet access through that router. Definitely worth a look.
Google Safe Search - you can set up Google so that it will filter the searches that you or your children make. It's not foolproof, but it is an extra layer of protection that blocks most pornographic material.
Accountability software is another means of protecting your family from porn. This is software that can be installed on your devices to keep track of what everyone in your family is looking at online. The software tracks each user and then reports back to nominated people (in this case, you) on a regular basis. Check out:
Covenant Eyes - Plans for families start at $15 US per month. This covers every device in the home with separate accounts for each user. They also offer filtering.
XXX Church - This website has far more than accountability and filtering services and is worth a look just for its blogs and articles. It also has recovery programs. Their filtering and accountability service can be found here. They have monthly plans for $7 US or annual plans for $65 US.
Monitor Your Devices
Once you've got filtering and accountability software running, it's worth taking stock of the devices in your home.
Become familiar with parental controls on your devices and how to put them on.
For Apple iPhones/iPods/iPads etc. you can find info here.
For Android products you can find info here.
For phones and tablets, its worth becoming familiar with the apps your children are using. Some apps might look innocent, but they can be used in ways you might not want. Do your research and talk with your children about them. There's plenty of information about safe apps for kids online. A good place to start is the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner (mentioned above). Their website has a page on safe apps for kids. You can check it out here.
You can also create user accounts for your computers where you limit access for each account. If you give each member of the household their own password which they keep private you can then set appropriate controls for your child.
For PCs running windows, you can find help here.
For Macs, you can find help here
Set Clear Boundaries
I often talk to parents who feel like they can't limit their children's use of devices. My encouragement to parents is that they can't afford not to set limits. Parents, be parents! Sure, talk with your children about these boundaries, but you need to decide what you think is wise for your family.
In my opinion, it is wise to set some boundaries regarding the use of devices in the home. Set limits on screen time. Ensure that the use of devices happens in the family areas of the home. Beware of allowing your children total access to the internet via their devices in their bedrooms at night. Buy your kids a good ol' fashioned alarm clock and charge everyone's devices in your own bedroom at night. I think it's always wise to start with the reins nice and tight and then slowly loosen them as your kids get older.
Continue The Conversation
Did I mention that conversation is important? Whatever it is that you decide to do with your children, keep them in the loop and work with them. More than that, it's worth remembering that all of these suggestions in terms of filtering and accountability are external boundaries. While they are excellent tools to help protect your children, they won't in and of themselves fix the problem of porn.
Internal boundaries are far more powerful. They're our beliefs about morality, God, the value of people, relationships and sex. Understanding that porn distorts sex, removes relationship, love and commitment, and treats people as commodities is what will help people leave porn behind in the long term. It's about fighting for joy and not settling for a cheap and unsatisfying alternative to real relationship.
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