Parenting in 2020. None of us saw this coming. Yet here we are. With so much going virtual, new challenges and opportunities will certainly arise and have already, and with them are some of the same dangers that have been present for a while. I’m talking about something all of us parents probably know about, but often don’t like to talk about. Kids and online pornography.
Let’s start with the basics. Internet, social media, and many apps give our kids access to the world in ways we would have never dreamed of a generation ago. While some of this access is beneficial, with it comes potential for exposure that we would not want for our kids. First exposure to pornography, for many, happens between 8 and 11 years old. Also, just so it is said, this is for boys and girls alike. For some it happens earlier, and may shift to younger as the generations change and this unprecedented time of Covid-19.
So what can parents do? First, of course, comes “the talk” with mom and dad about the “birds and the bees”. This is a great start, but it needs to be just that, a starting point for open-ended conversation. We often find that frequent and honest conversations with our kids about sex, online behavior, and checking in on what they are seeing online can lead to a safer bond where kids feel open to talk to their parents when they have questions or when situations arise online. “The talk” needs to become continuous talks.
Secondly, much like virus protection software, all devices that children and teens are using need to have some form of accountability software on them. This may feel invasive, and you may be told so by your kid, but there are enough horror stories out there to validate this need. Catfishing, sexual predators, manipulation, bullying, and so much more can often go on under the radar, and there are negative emotional and psychological effects of being exposed to adult content at a young age.
Parents often ask which software is best. That is a moving target. I’ll share a couple of links below, but I encourage you to do your research. New technology and new challenges arise as quickly as the newest app replaces the old interest of our kids. While these suggestions are good, do your own research as well!
Finally, the adults that I work with who struggle with pornography addiction usually have two formative experiences in common. This is not to say that one automatically causes the other, but I’ve seen it coincide enough to say that parents should take note. Firstly, those who did not have any “talks” with their families often found themselves being educated by the false reality of pornography and did not know any better until it was too late. Secondly, those whose parents melted down or blew up after first discovering their kid’s engagement with pornography often fell into a cycle of shame and self-loathing that fueled much of their drive to view pornography moving forward in their lives. I do not blame those parents, but their response left a deep wound that many struggle to come back from. To this end, I implore you, as parents or guardians, if you discover your kid has been engaging with pornography, handle with care. It’s not too late. Take a breath. Collect yourselves. Once you are collected, respond with support and understanding, not judgement. Talk to your kids about how destructive this can be, and find a way to remind them that they are loved and that their choices, though understandable, can have some disastrous consequences.
Parenting in 2020 is not for the faint of heart. With all of the crisis going on around us, I encourage you to take some preemptive steps in this area to make sure your kid’s engaging in pornography is not one more crisis to sneak up on you this year!