How to talk to under 8’s about pornography

If your child has access to an internet-enabled device, including computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones, there is a chance they may come across inappropriate material, including pornographic content.

In some instances they may accidentally type the wrong word or phrase into a computer search or mistakenly click on a link to something that looks interesting but turns out to be pornographic. Another child (or adult) may expose them to pornographic materials. They may also encounter pornography on free games websites for children. Some popular children’s cartoons have been hijacked with a pornographic version which can be very distressing for a child to see.

Father and son sitting on lounge with laptop

Avoiding TMI

When dealing with children under 8, parents need to strike a balance between protecting their children and avoiding increasing their curiosity. If you’re reasonably sure your child hasn’t been exposed to pornographic content, you might feel that raising the subject will simply make them curious.

No one wants to have a pornography discussion with their children. You know your child best and can make the call about how to talk about online pornography. The important thing is to have that conversation. Only you can protect them and prepare them for the possibility of encountering explicit content online.

While you may want to avoid the issue of too much information (TMI), you should try to respond to your child's curiosity with honesty and candour.

5 tips for Discussing Pornography with Children under 8

If you think your child has seen pornography, it is important to talk to them about it. Keep the discussion light and open, answering questions honestly but briefly. Then ask, "What other questions do you have?" or "Does that explain it enough?"

You may wish to make it part of an ongoing discussion with your child about sexuality and sexual development.

  1. If they have seen it, avoid punishing themMother and son on laptop sitting at table

    When children fear punishment, they are likely to close down emotionally. They may be reluctant to talk, and may struggle to listen or understand. While your first response may be to ban access to devices, try to keep lines of communication open and avoid punishing your child.

  2. Build a trusting relationship

    Investing time in your relationship with your child helps them feel loved and accepted, and builds trust. Discussions about sex, intimacy, and pornography best take place when your child feels they can trust you. This is a long-term challenge, rather than a quick-fix for the moment when you discover your child has seen pornography. In the moment, refer to tip #1 above, and remember to focus on understanding, not reprimanding.

  3. Prepare

    Work out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Discussions about sexual topics can be difficult and planning ahead is a good way to ensure a smooth conversation. Map out what you want to say. See the example conversation below for some tips on what to say.

  4. Spend time together talking

    These discussions are best held in a one-on-one environment. Go somewhere together - perhaps for a walk or a drive and make sure your child feels at ease. These environments can help everyone feel more comfortable. You might also wish wait a few days before having your talk, to allow enough time for processing and planning.

  5. Ask lots of questionsChildren on laptop on floor

    Asking questions helps you to gauge your child's level of knowledge and keeps you from lecturing. Focus more on how your child is feeling than on what exactly they saw. Remember that a young child may be feeling confused or upset by what they have seen and will need reassurance.

Keep these objectives in mind when planning your conversation. Talking about online pornography with your under-8 child will help to:

  • protect them as much as possible from the damaging impact of exposure to pornography (or in the event that they have seen it; more pornography)
  • prepare them for a time when they may be exposed to pornography.

Example Dialogue

Sometimes it may be best to couch a specific discussion about pornography in a broader discussion about sex, protecting our bodies, abuse, or other similarly delicate topics. Other times (for example, if you've had a 'sex' conversation or a ‘body-safety’ conversation) a chat about pornography may be sufficient. Your approach will depend on your own family values and maturity level of your child.

Ask: Have you heard the word pornography? What do you know about it?

Ask: Do any of the kids at school ever talk about it? (Sometimes questions about your child's behaviour may be too confronting, so asking about their peers feels safer.) What do they say?

Ask: Have you ever seen it? If they answer yes, ask, "Did someone show it to you? Or did you find it yourself?" Reassure your child they are not in trouble. Find out what you can about how they came across it.

Ask: Do you have any questions about what we have been talking about?

Ask: What do you think is the best thing to do if someone tries to show you pornography? Discuss options. Discourage them from seeking it out, or looking at it if someone does show it to them.

Father and son on laptopEstablish and discuss limits:

You might explain that this is one reason that computers and devices are best used in open areas at home, rather than in bedrooms. This may be a good time to talk about any parental controls you plan to install on devices.

Reassure:

Let them know you would like them to always know its ok to talk with you if they have questions.

If you have children 8-12 years of age, see here for more ideas. And for teenagers, try this guidance.

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