Today was a really sad day for me.
I saw a little girl who had been viewing pornography for over a year without her parent’s knowledge. She was 7 years old and had asked her parents when she was going to be a teenager, as she wanted ‘boobies’ and a boyfriend. Her mother and father were hit with the reality that things were not right when they starting ask her more questions.
I also saw 15 year old girl who had been frequently pornography sites (videos and picture books) up to 5 times a day on her school laptop. She was viewing a variety of live bestiality and gay pornography that they didn’t even know existed. She has been seeing me for over 3 months.
This blog post is specifically written for parents who have just discovered their child or teenager is viewing pornography regularly. Given research tells us the average age of exposure is 10 years old, I will be predominately speaking to parents of tweens. Here are the top four questions parents ask me:
- Should I be feeling this sad?
- How could I not have known?
- What did I do wrong?
- Is this going to affect them for life?
- What do I do now?
- What other resources do you recommend?
Should I be feeling this sad?
It is completely normal to feel shock, disappointment, personal guilt, anxiety and grief. I just want to validate that these emotions are appropriate. One of the biggest challenges you will have is processing them away from your child. If you need to independently seek support, do so.
How could I not have known?
Simply put, you don’t see what you aren’t looking for. There are so many assumptions that guide what we ‘see’ or ‘don’t see’ in our young people’s lives. You might have assumed your child could be trusted. You might have assumed they knew better. You might have assumed that pornography was a male issue and wouldn’t reach your daughter. Our assumptions guide our parenting decisions. When we know better, we do better.
What did I do wrong?
A part of a parent’s responsibility is to protect their children so it is understandable that parents feel responsible and guilty when things go wrong. However, when it comes to the internet there is so much that parents can’t control. We can’t eliminate the risk altogether, or change the past.
How you respond now is far more critical that what has happened. The more time you spend in regret and guilt the less time you will spend productively engaging as a parent today. Parents tell me that their biggest challenge is regaining their confidence, and not blaming themselves.
Is this going to affect them for life?
Many parents who discover their children or teenagers are accessing pornography say, “My child or teenager has a pornography addiction.” These are strong words. Remember that their brain is impressionable yet mouldable. Nothing is set in concrete. What is a habit now, can be reversed.
More than anything, our children need to be empowered and educated to make wise choices. Exposure to pornography can be an important learning curve for any child. I often explain to parents, “It is not if your child will see pornography, it is what they you do when they do see it that will make all the different.” Unfortunately 84% of boys, and 63% of girls see pornography before they leave high school.
What do I do now?
If it’s an isolated incident which resolves quickly, there may be no need to make more of it than that. But if it continues, please get some professional help. This is one issue I plea with parents not to try and deal with ‘in house’. Pornography addictions find a permanent residence in shame, guilt, lies and hiding. They have far reaching affects on relationships, because they aren’t just about pornography. The issues is far broader than that.
What Other Resources Do You Recommend?
You may also need to review how you are managing your tween or teens online time, and set up a new set of boundaries and software. To help here are a few resources for you to consider:
For some thoughts about reviewing how you are managing your tween or teens online time, check out my blog post, “Managing Social Media During Rocky Times: Three Approaches to Consider”
For a social media contract, and other thoughts about managing social media, check out my parenting book “Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal”.
For options regarding safety software, check out:
For ongoing support and tips, you might want to follow these Facebook pages:
The Cyber Safety Lady
Common Sense Media
Dr Kirsty Goodwin
Code 9 Parent
RECOMMENDED READING: Content from this Blog is from Michelle’s book ‘Parenting Teenage Girls’ in the Age of a New Normal‘