I Had 'The Porn Talk' With My Tween, And This is Why You Should Too

I Had ‘The Porn Talk’ With My Tween, And This is Why You Should Too

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A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across this post from Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach and columnist for The Washington Post who I have been following for years.

As a mom of three, the post totally stopped me in my tracks. “You think your child hasn’t seen porn?” Leahy writes. “They have. TRUST ME.”

My first reaction was, “God, she’s probably freaking right.” The internet is saturated with porn, and despite our best efforts, our kids have access to so much of it, and at earlier and earlier ages. Still, since my kids are in elementary school, I didn’t really think she was speaking directly to me.

Middle school kids? Yeah, maybe. High school kids? Probably—definitely. But little elementary school kids? Nah.

And then, two weeks later, it happened.

I got a call from a friend of mine who had learned that at a recent fifth-grade party, the older brother of the kid who was hosting the get-together had shown the younger kids porn. The details were foggy, but the kid’s older brother had shown it to them on his iPad, almost as a prank or a gag.

When I heard this, I felt sick and froze in my tracks. Then I took a few very deep breaths and started to get myself together. Porn? What kind? For how long? Again, the details were somewhat unclear (it was relayed by a few fifth graders, who clearly didn’t know exactly what they were seeing), but it wasn’t just kissing or boobs. It was full on sex and penetration. Witnessed by ten-year-olds.

This was one of those parenting moments that no one prepares you for. At all. Ever.

I felt lucky that my son and I had already had the “birds and bees” talk several times over, and that talk about sex and body parts was pretty common in our house. But porn? How was I supposed to explain that to him?

“Hey, kid, sex is a natural and normal thing that only is supposed to happen between two consenting adults…except sometimes adult actors like to film themselves doing it in less-than-loving or comfortable ways for money so that other adults can watch them. Oh yeah, and it sometimes involves whips, chains, costumes, and/or butt plugs”?

There was really no good way to do it, but I felt like I had no choice. The last thing I wanted was for my son to have seen something graphic, explicit, and possibly scary and strange without some guidance from me.

So, on a cold November afternoon, I sat my son down for “The Porn Talk.”

Interestingly, he said he hadn’t seen anything that day at the infamous party (I believe him, though it’s possible he saw something for just a second and wasn’t sure what he saw). As I started to discuss what porn is with him, he told me I had already addressed that before when we’d talked about Internet safety and cyberbullying (go, me!).

Still, I thought I should probably take the opportunity to talk about the whole thing in a tad more detail because clearly this wasn’t going to the only time something like this happened.

So I told him again what porn was, in as simple and realistic terms as I could. I told him why some people like it, and why others don’t. I explained that it was kind of like a sex “show” and that it often doesn’t reflect what sex is really like for normal people. This was important to me, because I wanted my son to know that the way women and men look and act in porn can be pretty different from real-life sex.

Of course, I also emphasized that it was wildly inappropriate for someone his age to watch, and that if anyone ever showed it to him, he should not feel embarrassed to tell me.

After a few eyerolls and a chorus of “I know, Mom’s,” my son switched the topic away from online porn to online video games. As well he should.

It was difficult to find much guidance out there for how to handle this sort of thing. My husband remarked that when he was a kid, this sort of thing just did not happen. Back then, it was all about finding old issues of Playboy in someone’s garage, or a scrambled porn channel on cable that you and your high school friends watched, laughing, with one eye open.

Nothing hardcore. Nothing violent. Nothing available at your fingertips. Nothing like this.

It turns out that I didn’t totally fail in my approach to “The Porn Talk” with my son. In a fantastic article on The Huffington Post, Kristen Howerton, marriage and family therapist, blogger, and mom of four, explains how vital it is that each and every one of us talk to our kids about porn—and the sooner the better.

“It’s important to remember that curiosity about sex is normal. Unfortunately, what isn’t normal is the extreme and often violating nature of sex depicted in pornography,” writes Howerton. “Internet pornography is a disturbing introduction into human sexuality, and it’s reasonable to feel alarmed and disappointed. However, it is also critical that you respond with concern, empathy and reason instead of anger and judgment. Your reaction could shape your child’s view of sex, and the most important step is to approach the situation in a way that will leave the door open to an ongoing conversation.”

Howerton outlines some no-nonsense tips for how to go about the discussion, including trying to remain as emotionally neutral as possible when discussing it (easier said than done, I know); making sure to keep the talk positive; not shaming your child; educating your child about the problems with porn; and explaining what the boundaries are in your house in terms of porn viewing.

“If you haven’t previously installed controls on the devices in your home, now is the time,” writes Howerton. “I cannot tell you how many parents have told me, ‘We didn’t do controls because we talked about it and we trusted them.’ […] The best way to approach porn in your home is to MAKE SURE IT’S NOT AVAILABLE TO CHILDREN IN YOUR HOME.”

Let’s just say that after what happened to me, I am taking her advice very seriously. I’m going to check (and re-check) the parental controls we have going in my home, and make sure everything is up-to-date and running as smoothly as possible. And as uncomfortable and unpleasant as it may be, I’m going to continue to have these sorts of discussions with my son about porn, sex, and everything else.

Look, none of us want to think about our kids viewing porn. But it’s going to happen. And we need to take a proactive approach to it, tackling these issues early, often, and with utmost seriousness.