My Child Saw Pornography, What Should I Do?

It was a beautiful warm spring day and the boys were outside playing. I could hear them running around and screaming (good screaming) as they chased each other.  I love watching and listening in on their make believe world.

Little did I know that their childhood innocence would be snatched away that morning. I’m still emotional writing about this because it infuriates me and at the same time saddens me to know that they can never go back to before that day. I’m not ignorant; I know they would have eventually been exposed to this filth.  But not this young.

We live in a culture where scantily dressed models are on billboards, on commercials and on magazine covers everywhere.  We’ve tried hard to keep their eyes innocent and keep this junk out of our house, but then shit like this happens.

They came in hungry and thirsty from outside, ready to have lunch. We sat together, ate, talked and laughed.  We were all done eating and the boys lingered at the table.  This was not unusual so I didn’t think much of it.  We just sat and laughed a little bit more.  Then my oldest son got a serious look on his face and in a monotone voice he said, “I have to tell you something.”

I always get butterflies in my stomach when I see this face and hear those words.  I’ve learned that in moments like these, I must stay calm. Sometimes I have to “act” calm in order to appear calm because I’m anything but calm.

So, I kept a smile on my face and calmly said, “What’s up, buddy?”

The less shocked you seem when you hear something shocking from your son the better. They need to know you can handle what they are about to say. When this happened my boys were a lot younger, but I have had my share of “shocking” experiences in the short time they’ve been alive. Like finding them playing with poop outside. That was more traumatic for me then it was for them.  I’m sure many of you moms of boys can relate.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I have always responded calmly in these moments. In the past, I’ve found myself getting emotional and losing it. I can’t take those bad parenting moments back, but I have tried hard to replace them by changing my responses now.

I’ve learned the hard way to stay calm when my boys talk to me about ALL sorts of things in order to create an environment where they feel safe and not judged.

I looked at my other son who is nonchalant about most things and he also had a serious look on his face so now my concern was growing.  My oldest son says, “We saw something.” I’m a counselor and I’m trained not just to listen to the words being said. So I’m watching their face, listening to the tone in their voice and watching their body language.  My son’s face gets a nervous look and the tone of his voice is filled with embarrassment and shame and with his whole body slouched over he said, “It was bad things.”

I calmly respond but my heart is racing and I’m wondering where this is going. I replied, “What exactly did you see?”  He said it really fast, “We saw some men and women who were naked….” The rest of the things he told me that he saw made my heart ache. It made me want to scream in anger. I couldn’t believe my ears. I wasn’t mad at them but at the disgusting idiot (I had other choice words going through my mind that I won’t share here) who left those things out for my kids to stumble upon.

Now my other son chimed in and said, “We were playing pirates and then we saw the big box out by the driveway and we were pretending it was treasure. There was lots of cool stuff in it so we dumped it out and that’s when we saw those bad pictures.”

Humanize the Images

I found myself talking faster and asking questions, “Who saw this stuff? Did Mateo see it (my youngest)?  Where is it? What else did you see?” I’m trying to keep my anger and frustration (not at them) hidden so they wouldn’t shut down. I wanted them to share whatever is on their mind concerning this awful stuff.

I remember long ago reading something that said if your children look at porn it’s important to normalize and humanize the human body which helps desexualize the images. For example, say something like, “Did you know breast are something unique God has given females. Guess what? We are able to feed our babies with those breast.”

You can also talk about how sex happens in a relationship with someone you love. This will help them start making connections between healthy and loving relationship and their God given desire. Sex is a beautiful thing but when you only have a desire and a sexy image then you’re treating these people as objects.

They may have sexualized (depending on their age) the images of what they saw, so when we talk to them about the experience and normalize the body God has given us, it helps put the image in their head in another part of their brain. Help them humanize the image when they are ready to talk about it by saying, “That lady is someone’s daughter, sister, aunt, mom…

You want them to talk about what they saw when they are ready to talk about it, so it’s not a dark secret. When it stays hidden it quickly gets bigger and out of control in their little heads. At this age they filter the pornography images through their own perceptions and understanding which is usually not accurate.

Your Children Will Come to You

They came to me!

Oh parents please hear me out. Having talks to our kids about sex have very little to do with talking about sex and much more to do with opening the lines of communication and building trust. As I mentioned above I haven’t done this perfectly but I was thankful for all of those talks we have had about our bodies, love, relatioships, safety and “sex” since they were little because it paved the way for them to come to me at this time.

They felt safe to come to us because we showed them they could talk to us about sex, our body and relationships from a young age.

related article: How to Talk to Your preschooler About Sex Without Scaring Them

So, after all of this unfolded we had a talk about pornography and the dangers it brings. Then my son asked, “Why do people do this? Why were the women naked…?” They had lots of questions. I didn’t have all the answers. I kept wishing my husband was there by my side.  I went outside and they showed me the box of filth. My stomach turned.

Apparently, because I called them in for lunch, they were taken away from this filth.

Thank you God!

I went outside to see where this “treasure” was. It was right there, on the side of my yard.  I picked up the rest of the filth they thankfully did not see. Apparently the owner of this stuff was purging all of the dvd covers (not the dvd’s) of his porn videos and placed them on the ground, uncovered, in a box by my house.

If you know my husband he’s an even-keel person.  He was fuming when I told him about this situation. It took everything in him to not walk over to the house of the owner of this filth and punch his face out for leaving it out like that. I thought I was concerned and upset on how this would affect my children, but when I saw my husband’s response I realized this is much more serious.

My Child Saw Pornography What Should I Do?

I highly recommend you have a talk with your kids about pornography, even if they have NOT had exposure to pornographic images in the past.  Even if you’ve had the sex talk, though these two topics intersect, but they are not the same talks.

I want to urge you to take it seriously if your child has been exposed to any form of pornographic images.  I’m not saying get all crazy, because you’re concerned they are going to become porn addicts but just nonchalantly have a talk with them. Start by defining what is pornography.

70% of children 7 to 18 years have accidentally encountered online pornography, often through a web search while doing homework.”

Talking to our kids about pornography when they are little is not about being ruled with fear but it’s about educating them to know what to do when a situation arises. It’s about establishing a connection with them for future conversations.

Note I said, “when” and not “if” a situation arises. The reality is children now have access to a cellphone, tablet or other devices by the age of 3 years so we need to prepare them in the case they ever accidentally come across it.

If you have girls make sure to talk to them as well. I worked as a high school counselor and I’ll be the first to tell you, though boys are affected more by pornography because they are visually stimulated, girls can still end up viewing pornography.

 A study out of Europe documents what I believe is true all over the world–parents simply underestimate their kids’ online exposure to pornography. They underestimate the enticing pull of these images–especially for kids who don’t know how to deal with the shocking memories they create.

The quotes I share here are from the website Porn Proof Kids and the founder of this blog also wrote a book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures:  Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids (affil link) that I highly recommend if you’re looking for a resource to share with your child. The e-book version is only .99 cents right now on Amazon. The paperback book costs more, but well worth it. I love how kid friendly it is.  This is not a sponsored post on behalf of the author; it’s just a resource that I’ve enjoyed as a counselor and parent and highly recommend.

Strategies We Used

I share here Simple Way to Talk to Your Preschooler about Pornography for those of you who have younger kids.

Define pornography. Before this horrific situation happened, my only concern was to keep my boys as far away from pornography  as possible. The reality is we are not with them every second of the day and this filth pops up in seconds.  Sit down and define pornography to your kids it doesn’t matter if they’ve seen it or not. Many times as parents we think that if we bring something up then we are planting seeds of curiosity in our children.  However,  if we do it in a healthy way and have regular talks with them then it will give them age appropriate information and help them feel safe.  It will also open doors for them to come to you in the future with their situations.

Label pornography.  When you see pornography teach your children to say, “That’s pornography, look away or walk away.” If it’s on a billboard, tv or movie screen … look away. If it’s at the home of a friend or in the bathroom at school, don’t linger and look–walk away and tell an adult. Labeling porn for what it is and then practicing the act of looking away is a great way for our kids to start training their brains at a young age.  I believe this would also work with adults. I had a friend tell me that when my boys and her kids were together in the car she heard my son say, “That’s portography, look away.”  I was so proud of them for doing this even if they couldn’t say the word “pornography” correctly.

Talk. Unfortunately, images can last a lifetime in our memory. I still remember something awful that I saw when I was a little girl while on our car ride home with my family. Let your kids know, even though they may already know, that they can talk to you about any questions they may still have about what they saw.  Those images they saw may last a lifetime.  Let them know if they find themselves curious about something that later pops into their mind they can always ask you or another trusted adult.  Talking about it in a healthy way with an adult helps to desexualize the images and feelings that go along with them. Let them know that they can always come to you if they’ve seen it and they will not get in trouble. Praise them when they do tell you and show lots of grace. Keeping the communication lines open is really important because you want them to come to you when they see something. You want them processing these things with you and asking you for help if they find their curiosity spiraling out of control.

Dr. Manning assures us that “talking it out can help get the image out of your head and into a different zone, where it can be perceived and challenged differently.”

This encourages open communication in your home. Set the tone by letting your kids know that that no topic is off limits which they may want to talk about. Obviously, there are age appropriate ways to discuss certain topics with your child but don’t make it off limits.

Open area internet use. Laptops, or for that matter anything that has internet access, happens in the family room. Not because I think that at this age my boys will be looking for inappropriate things (although they may), but because the reality is that things pop up on the screen even if they don’t go looking for it. The last thing I want is this awful, unsolicited experience that only lasted a few minutes to turn into regular pornography use because they had access to it in the privacy of our home. Set up filters and wi-fi passwords so that your kids don’t have access to the internet at all hours of the night. Don’t give them more power than they can handle. Even “good” kids can make bad choices in the middle of the night when they are exhausted and their guards are down, while texting or chatting on the phone with friends. The Porn Proof Kids website says,

To put it simply, pornography activates the sexual part of the feeling brain before a child’s thinking brain even knows what sex is. That can set up a very confusing and compelling curiosity which may drive the young child to seek out more and more pornography.

Replace the thought.  This is something I practice regularly in my own life. I replace my negative thoughts, lies I may be believing, or bad feelings with good things like a song, a prayer, a verse.  It is known that our brain develops pathways for everything we do and the more we do something, think upon  something the stronger their pathways get so it’s important that we teach ourselves and our children to replace those thoughts so new pathways start being developed. Author Linda Graham, MFT says:

Fortunately, the human brain has always had the biologically innate capacity to grow new neurons – lifelong – and more importantly, to create new synaptic connections between neurons lifelong. All of us can create new patterns of neural firing from new experiences. All of us can pair old even maladaptive patterns with new, more adaptive, patterns of neural firing. All of us can all create new neural circuitry, pathways and networks that allow us to relate, moment by moment in new, healthier, more resilient ways.

Replace the Habit. Replace the desire to want to look at pornography with a good habit by simply getting active or starting a new hobby. Do something active like riding a bike, running, walking, shooting hoops or just being outdoors helps shake off the one track mind at that moment. It’s been proven that being active helps our brains and it helps us destress and shake off something. Young boys have a lot of energy inside of them with the surge of testosterone they are getting at puberty. They need to find a way to release the tension and energy. But don’t let them get on video games to release their tension, this will serve counterproductive. However, exercise or some sort of activity that will get their heart pumping for 10 minutes will increase their natural endorphins, which help us feel better. When we exercise, we metabolize overstimulated stress hormones—restoring our body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. So, help them find a healthy outlet for this pent-up energy. One of the things we are doing with our oldest son is helping him find an activity that he can do to help him de-stress and funnel all of that physical and mental energy into something positive. Outside of their normal hangout time, my husband is going to start a hang out time that involves jogging and bike riding. Sometimes pornography viewing is a result of some emotional need not being met. Other times it may be that they are stressed or just bored. It’s important to find new healthy coping habits to avoid the old destructive habits and to avoid relapse.

Pray. We are a faith-based family and I am a huge believer in the power of prayer. I can’t begin to tell you how praying for their little hearts and minds is one of the best things you can do for them.  No matter what tools we give them we will not be there every time they encounter a temptation so pray, pray and pray some more for them to make good choices and when they don’t that they come to you or another trusting adult. The last thing they need is for them to end up with a deep dark secret that’s out of control. Darkness needs light.

“Forgetting” a pornographic image takes patience and continued effort. A person who’s been exposed to pornography and wants to “forget” those images, needs to, over time, weaken or starve neural pathways. How? By using their pre-frontal cortex or “thinking brain” to redirect their thoughts.

Before writing this article and as a result of this situation I found myself doing research on the effects of pornography.  I was surprised to find how many resources are out there against pornography, many that are not even faith based.  Any way you look at it, pornography is not something you want to view.  Many resources take a scientific approach, sharing the severe effects pornography has on the brain and body. The moral approach shares how pornography supports sex trafficking, abuse and demoralization of women. The biblical stand point clearly states that pornography goes against everything God wants for us.  Whatever view you take, it’s safe to say that pornography does a whole lot of damage.

Your Turn!

Have you talked to your child about pornography? How did they respond?

Note: This happened some years ago, my boys are now 11, 8 and 5. I still hear them to this day calling out pornography when they see it out on billboards.  Since, then I did have to talk to one of my boys that what they saw shouldn’t be discussed with their friends. If they still had questions about what they saw they can always come talk to us. As a result of this situation we started a weekly “pillow talks” which  encourages open communication. During this time they are allowed to ask us or tell us anything they want to discuss.  I also use this time to check up on them and ask them generic questions like, “Have you seen something that’s made you curious? or Do you have any thoughts or feelings about the changes in your body that you want to talk about?”

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  1. Excellent article, Mari! We have not talked with our young boys about this, although they have a strong sense of what is and isn’t appropriate and will call things out as such. You’re right though, this is so very important! We can do everything in our power to protect them, but things will happen, like careless, idiot neighbors who have no respect for others. We have to train up our children to know how to handle these types of situations. Thank you for the resource suggestions.

  2. Jenny, Thanks so much for your kinds words and for sharing our article. My hope is that many will be able to use it as a resource. It’s nice to know that our awful situation can be turned into something that where we can help others.
    Yes, definitely check out the resources I mention in the article to give you more info. on how to talk to your kiddos about it.