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How to talk to your child about porn

By Collett Smart - psychologist 2 min read

Young people innately want to know more about love and sex, yet porn has the ability to destroy everything that is good about romance, love and relationships.

Studies have revealed that children as young as nine are exposed to pornography, even when they did not intend to access it. The flood of porn so easily available online has become our kids’ primary source of sexual education, forcing them into an early awareness of unhealthy, risky, violent and dangerous sexual practices.

If not specifically addressed, it is likely to erode their emotional, mental, physical and relational development. Young people innately want to know more about love and sex, yet porn has the ability to destroy everything that is good about romance, love and relationships. There is nothing empathic or kind about porn.

In actual fact, pornography worries young people themselves, so the adults in their lives must absolutely engage in this conversation with them. Remember: just because your child does not mention it, does not mean they have not been exposed.

Often, kids don’t tell because they are worried about their parents finding out what they have been doing online, or felt they were to blame if someone showed them something.

We will need to have lots of small talks, at every age, stage or level of exposure. This is why it is so important for young people to have someone to talk with when they first encounter porn. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • When we discover a child has seen pornography, we must not shame them! Shame often leads porn viewing to become a secretive and potentially a more compulsive behaviour.
  • Explain to them, “Your body’s response is normal. To be curious or even aroused when first encountering pornography is our body’s natural inbuilt physiological response, but it’s what we choose to do after our first encounters with pornography that put us onto a healthy or destructive path. Do you continue to look for more and more opportunities to watch porn, do you tell a trusted adult about it or do you find alternative healthy activities to engage in?”
  • Talk about porn as a poisonous script for sexual behaviour versus lessons in intimacy. “Pornland” sex contains distorted messages and is filled with myths and stereotypes, and is often violent and abusive. It is the opposite of healthy intimacy.
  • Pornography normalises treating people as objects.
  • Make them aware that consistent viewing of pornography leads to negative biological and psychological effects. There is growing evidence of the negative effects on the brain.

When you discover your child has seen porn

Use my BREATHE method.

Be ready and breathe. Be armed with knowledge about this topic. Take some time to work this out if you need to, but don’t avoid talking about it.

Reassure your child that you are not angry. Explain calmly what you found and tell them that you are there for them and you will now work through this together.

Expect initial denials or promises, because kids are embarrassed or afraid of your reaction.

Activities. Ensure your child’s life is filled with lots of healthy online and offline activities.

Technology check. Have you set up blocking software and parental controls on children and teens’ devices. Is technology out of bedrooms? (Note: Social media is not recommended for children under the age of 13.)

Have a plan. Sit with your child and draw up a plan for what they can do when future exposure occurs—because it will!

Enlist support. If viewing has become compulsive, seek the help of a child psychologist.

Adapted from Collett’s book, They’ll Be Okay: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times (Hachette, 2019).

Read more of Collett's articles.


Porn avoidance plan

Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. She lives with her husband and three children in Sydney. The heart of Collett’s work is to support parents. or