What Do I Do? I Caught My Son Looking at Online Pornography

How to have the awkward but inevitable conversation with your teen about sex and sexuality

So, you just found out your son has been looking at online porn, and you want to know what to do. You might even be freaking out a little.

As I say in my book Spare me 'The Talk'!, porn does not turn men into perverts or rapists any more than showing straight porn to gay people makes them straight. However, media does impact the ways that we look at (and operate in) the world. Viewing pornography on a regular basis can have harmful and damaging effects — especially during adolescence when we are forming who we are and what we are aroused by.

But don't worry. The tips below will help you have the awkward but inevitable conversation with your teen about sex, sexuality and online porography. You can do this.

What not to do

1. Ignore it. We don’t like thinking of our children as sexual creatures any more then they like thinking that of us. But they are.

2. Shame him. Sexual curiosity (especially in early adolescence) can trump judgment, fear, rules and even religious mores. We live in a world in which answers to any question are only a couple of keyboard clicks away—this is no different for them. Plus, many kids’ first exposure to pornography is accidental.

3. Fall into the "I-looked-at-porn-and-I-turned-out-OK” trap.  The word "pornography" means something completely different than it did even just a generation ago. Online porn is graphic, moving HD images (of things that should never, ever be HD).

4. Freak yourself out if their Internet history contains something scandalous, shocking or upsetting to you. We are all susceptible to falling into “YouTube holes” (or “Pinterest holes” or “Amazon holes” etc.). Our kids are even more susceptible to this, and it happens with porn as well.  Their browser history may not be indicitive of their actual sexual interests.

5. Set hardcore blocking software on their devices. It’s easy to not look at porn if you can't look at porn. But this runs the risk of either shunting their behavior into the secrecy category or having them go bananas once they are out of the nest. 

What you can do

1. Give them dependable, trusted resources to get their questions answered, so Google is not their only option. Books are great—there’s one by this guy named Jo...

2. Ask about their thoughts and beliefs and habits around porn use. Many parents are shocked to learn that the average age of porn exposure today is 10 or 11. Some of our kids may have been looking at porn for months or even years before we find out.

3. Monitor their behavior (rather than block it). Being able to look at inappropriate or unhealthy things but choosing not to is what we want. Knowing they are accountable for their behavior (and may have to have an awkward conversation about it), builds muscles of self-control and restraint. It’s the difference between raising a good kid, and raising a good grown-up. 

4. Make sure they know that monitoring is not about you not trusting them — it’s about them showing us they are trustworthy. And those are two different things. 

5. Make sure you child knows that porn is sexual, but that it is not sex.

Remember that communicating with your teen about porn is the best way to help them develop safe, healthy outlooks on sex and sexuality. However, you can always help communicate some of these issues to your kid with books when the conversation just gets too awkward.

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