Dr Justin Coulson is one of Australia's leading parenting experts and is a highly sought-after international speaker and author. He and his wife Kylie are the parents of six daughters. Yes... six. And yes, they're all from the one family, and no, they aren't disappointed, nor are they going to try for a boy.

How can I protect my children from online pornography? It seems to be everywhere.  

We all want to protect our children from things that will harm them. But when it comes to protecting them from pornography, we may be fighting a losing battle. In the online world, pornography is prevalent. Some estimates suggest it accounts for as much as 30 percent of all web traffic.

I have heard a number of stories from parents, all concerned about how to protect their kids from online pornography.

A mother of a 7 year old boy told me that her son was exposed to pornography in the classroom when a classmate told him to search 'bum' and 'naked ladies'. The classmate had an older brother who was viewing pornography and had shown him how to find explicit content. This boy, told his friends all about what his brother had shown him.

Another mum found her 9 year old daughter on the computer in the study space of their home at midnight. She confessed that she had heard about pornography at school and had become curious. She had been getting up in the middle of the night to explore the online world of pornography.

Children may be told about pornography in the schoolyard or on the school bus by friends or bigger kids. They could be exposed to it at friends’, neighbours’, family members’ and even our own homes. They are naturally curious and want to know more.

How do we protect them?

There are two ways that we usually attempt to protect our children:

  1. First, we create places of security to keep 'bad things' out. An example of this is putting a lock on a door to keep intruders out.
  2. Second, some parents proactively pre-arm their children and teach them how to be safe in dangerous or challenging situations. An example of this is teaching a child to swim.

To protect your child from pornography, both of these approaches are helpful. We can make the devices we have control over safe by installing appropriate software and filters to stop 'accidental' discoveries occurring. However, this is not enough. Children will discover pornography in places where filters are not in place.

Cocoon, pre-arm, defer

As much as possible, we want to cocoon our children and protect them from pornography. But by the time they are around 7 years old, we should consider talking about pornography. This is called 'pre-arming' them.

To effectively pre-arm:
  • Ask if they know what pornography is. (Most 7 year-olds will not know what it is.)
  • Ask if any of their friends have told them about it, or shown it to them.
  • Share our concerns about pornography and teach them why it should be avoided.
  • Ask them how they could avoid it.

If we discover that our child has seen pornography, remain calm. Instead of overreacting, talk about what they saw and how it made them feel. Tell them it’s normal to be curious, then discuss why it's important to avoid pornography and consider ways they can stay away in future.

The main message is to talk to your children early. Continue talking with them while they’re dealing with curiosity around pornography, and even if you find that they've been watching pornographic content.

If we're open with our children about sexuality and pornography it is much less likely to be a problem because children will be open too.

Remember, stay calm. By overdramatising the situation (or by getting our children in trouble) we make it more likely they’ll create viewing patterns in secret.

If you would like to read more of Dr Justin’s advice, check out his column on Kidspot @ http://www.kidspot.com.au/health/ask-the-expert

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