Thursday 25 Feb 2016 | Peter Janetzki – Counsellor/Psychotherapists/Educator | 1182 words
When I was a child (which some would say was in the dark ages but in reality it was the pre-digital era) pornography was not readily available to children. Because the primary mode of delivery of porn was print media or role to role film which most families didn’t have access to. Consequently exposure was limited to finding your Dad’s or someone else’s Dad’s stash, or having the courage to attempt to purchase the said material (which was kept under the counter) at the local store. For me this was not an option as in the relational world of my neighbourhood the store keeper would have told me off and informed me that he was going to tell my mum. And what was often seen was pretty tame compared to what is being pushed upon our children of today.
The technologically revolution ushering in the digital era has forever changed a child’s limited relationship with pornography!
The research is very clear that by our children’s late teen years almost every one of them will be exposed to porn, and it is our boys who will become the major consumers of pornography spending more time and with greater frequency than our girls, which in turn becomes the “cornerstone of the autoerotic sexuality of males”.
In response to the proliferation of porn some great resources have been developed to assist parents in developing cyber protective behaviours in our children. One of the most recent ones is a children’s story book title ‘Not for Kids’ written by a colleague of mine Liz Walker and beautifully illustrated by Anita Mary. Check it out http://www.notforkids.info/store/ even ask your council library to get it.
After the ‘Porn Harms Kids’ symposium Liz asked me if I know of any resources for parents for after their children were exposed to pornography, and I didn’t know of any of the top of my head, hence this blog. But before I answer the question at hand I think that there are a couple of imperative actions that we as parents most do with our children growing up in the digital world.
- Because children’s brains are growing and developing they are naturally inquisitive. Seeking to understand ourselves and our world including our sexuality is normal. Therefore it is vital that we as parents create an environment at home where it is safe for our children to ask and share about anything. So engage our kids in conversation from a young age and make your home a place where we as a family talk and talk about anything and everything.
- Have an age appropriate conversation about what to do if our children see something (not just on the computer but anywhere) that they don’t understand or don’t like focusing on that it is important for them to come and talk to us about it. Wendy Francis (email@example.com) has produced this fridge magnet ‘Turn, Think & Tell’ which is just the ticket for kicking off such a conversation.
Now back to the key question of what to do when your child has been exposed to pornography?
First of all don’t panic and don’t react. Young children don’t have adult concepts or understanding of sex and sexuality. Reacting sends the message that this is really bad and for kids they internalise this as ‘I have done something bad’ or ‘I AM BAD’. Which only adds to their confusion – the confusion of seeing this stuff that they don’t understand and yet triggers strange feelings, and the confusion of Mum or Dad reacting so it must be a big deal but they don’t know why? The message of being bad is not the message we want to accidently impart to our children.
A couple of things that can really help us as parents to not react is slowing down and breathing and taking a little time to get over the shock before engaging in a conversation with your child. Also manage your own fears don’t buy into thoughts like ‘my child will now grow up to be a porn addict’ or ‘this will turn them into a sex crazed nymphomaniac’ instead that this is an opportunity to help my child develop some critical thinking skill so that they can navigate our sometimes crazy world better.
Remember if we are anxious about this and if we have an anxious child then their anxiety will feed of yours!
Secondly find out what they say by asking them. Avoid asking them to show you just ask them what was it that they saw and listen to the words that they use to describe it. This then becomes the language of engagement. There is a time to clarify using the correct anatomical names as part of the normal conversation i.e. a child might say “a man was playing with his private parts” and an appropriate reply could be “a man was playing with his penis”.
Thirdly find out how your child felt about seeing this content. It is important to normalise their feelings no matter what they are. Responding to them like “it made you fell yukky that’s okay I think it is yukky too” allows our child to see that their feelings are not wrong or bad, rather they just are.
Fourth is to ask if they have any question. Often children don’t have any questions at that time however reassure them that they can come and ask there question or share their concerns any time with yourself.
Fifth is to talk about your family values. Teaching our children about what is appropriate and not appropriate is a crucial part of developing self-censorship skill. For young children it may be something like, “as a family we don’t like yukky things that scare us or confuse us so that’s why we don’t watch things like that. With older children the question, “what is the message in this & is this the kind of message that we accept within our family?”
Sixth teach critical thinking skills and self-protective behaviours. Ask them what they will do if they see something like this again. The two resources above can help here especially ‘Turn, Think & Tell’. My daughters grew up knowing that there is heaps of yukky stuff out in the world, not just on the internet, but on billboards, TV, advertising, movies and music videos. And as a result of sitting with them watching and discussing many of the messages that bombarded them I am proud to say that they grew into their teens with an ability to think for themselves and the ability to change TV channels when something inappropriate came on.
Lastly monitor your child & trust your parental instinct. For most children once they have processed what they saw they move on and get back to the busy job of being a kid. Occasionally some children may become distressed and anxious following an inappropriate exposure to distressing materials. So monitor and if there are changes happen to their normal routines and patterns and your gut says something is still up then seek out help from a skilled child/adolescent counsellor/psychologist/therapists.