Let’s just assume that every single parent is going to have a moment of bearing witness to their child’s behaviour that makes them want to run and hide – or just resign from parenting. In the early years it’s usually those big explosive behaviours in public. And then later, it’s usually to do with something social that a child has started or got wound up in that is far, far from a family’s moral code. It can be deeply disappointing, humiliating and isolating – so read on and feel better.
You’re not alone. Even though your friends beautifully scrubbed up children with their many smiling, cooperative pictures on social media might indicate that it’s only your own rogue who does naughty stuff, rest assured, it happens to everyone.
Now we’ve got that bit of reassurance out the way, let’s really dig down into managing yourself, your child, and the situation in those curly moments of parenting when you make THE discovery that your child has been exposed to pornography.
Managing yourself first
Tears welling, nausea, shame, worry, guilt – all normal first moments after the discovery that your child has seen, sent, been sent or looked for pornography. Making the shift in your mind from innocent child to one now exposed to very adult concepts can hurt deeply and it’s quite normal to want to blame someone – your child’s ‘bad apple’ friend, your internet parental controls, or the app developers who don’t think about protecting children from their content. Normal. Not useful.
It’s also quite normal to want to confront your child about the discovery as soon as it’s made. Not useful either.
This is a deeply defining moment in your parenting journey and one that will lay the foundation for all such interactions to come as you raise your child through the tween and teen years. This moment is important – so take your time. Here’s some steps:
- Take a deep breath. Put your child’s device down (or calmly ask them to put it down) and walk away for a few minutes. Accept that you’re going to feel a range of strong emotions – even the ones you might be feeling about your child. Breath some more and let them settle. Until you hear yourself say to yourself, “Right, what are we going to do about this?” you’re not ready to deal with your child. Calm enough, thinking logically not emotionally, and thinking about a sensible plan of management means you’ve survived the first bit.
- Back to the device. Try and get an accurate picture of just what’s happened. Accept that children are curious creatures and we’ve provided them with a portal to a very adult world. Most of us are not raising saints and most likely, we weren’t saints ourselves growing up. We just didn’t have ready availability to the content that our children do. Assessed the damage?
- Make a content management plan and a conversation management plan. Content management – if your child’s friends are involved and you know the parents well, you might think about a gentle, non-blaming or shaming conversation with them down the track – we’re a village. Check your parent controls and tighten them up. Think about adding other controls at the system and device level that makes sending, receiving and searching even more challenging. Delete the content from your child’s device so they have no further access but take screenshots first.
- Conversation management. This is going to be tough so make a plan. Choose the time, make sure that there aren’t sibling ears around, practise your conversation opening line that doesn’t indicate your child is in trouble. “I came across something we need to talk about…” or, “I’m hoping we can have a young adult conversation about a tricky subject…” Know when to walk away and when to pick it up another time. Be prepared to talk about the non-negotiable steps you’ve undertaken and those that you both would think would be sensible moving forward. Plan to listen and to reassure – not to assume and berate.
Managing your child
Having the sex talk with a parent is bad enough for most children, having to have it when you’re in the spotlight is akin to agony! The most important consideration is your child’s emotional health. For many children, seeing pornography is deeply disturbing and a comforting parent who asks if they’re OK helps. In chatting to your child, you need to have a balance between ‘non-shaming, not the end of the world’ you, and ‘I don’t want this to happen again, so this is what I’ve done’ you. Firm and fair.
Teaching your child how to manage exposure better next time helps too. Teach your child to immediately turn their device over if they’re sent porn or stumble across it. Help seeking is the obvious next teaching point, with clear reassurances that they’re not going to get into trouble. If they’ve gone curiously looking for it, ask your child if they have questions about sex or choose educational material for them to read that’s age appropriate to answer their questions.
And it goes without saying, that if you’re very worried about your child and their reaction to viewed content or their compulsion to seek it out, start with a confidential chat with your family doctor.
Managing the situation
We’ve covered a lot of this but let’s have a quick word on approaching other parents. It truly does take a village to raise a child, so if your child is involved in a friend group circulating porn, it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect all children involved from harm. Not easy – especially if your child was the initiator, but most parents will thank you for the opportunity to manage the conversation early with their own child.
This is yet another learning experience on the long, long journey of parental learning experiences. Your calm, problem solving, protective approach is the greatest gift you can give your child. You aren’t a bad or negligent parent – just one learning about 21st Century child raising the hard way like so many others. Hang in there – you’ve got this!
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