You come home to what seems to be another ordinary day.  However, as you stop to say hello, you unexpectedly see your teen in the middle of looking at porn.  You’re not sure on what to say or do.  After all, you’ve put off having a conversation about pornography, thinking that they were simply too young for it.  In actuality, most children in the 21st century have seen porn by the time they are 7.  Regardless, you want to be a wonderful parent and you want to do what’s best for your teen; therefore, how do you navigate this situation?  What do you say?  What do you do?  This article will guide you through all of these questions and more.

Approach the Conversation Carefully

Though our society is accepting a wider range of sexual expression, for others the acknowledgement of enjoying pornography may feel embarrassing, shameful, or even morally wrong.  When talking to your teen about their porn use, adopt a non-judgmental stance.  Don’t be accusatory, aggressive, or sound disappointed.  It’s possible that pornography goes against your belief system, and that’s okay. You are the parent. A “good” parent helps their child learn to navigate their world. [MM1]   However, having an accusatory or shameful tone will make your message harder to hear.  People, including teenagers, tend to withdraw or become defensive when accused of doing something terrible.  To be clear, you’re not forgoing your morals about sex and sexuality; you’re simply framing your beliefs in a more agreeable manner.  If you believe that porn goes against your family’s morals, explain why that is without shaming your teen (e.g., “A lot of people like to look at porn.  Though that’s fine for them, our family believes that it goes against our religious teachings because of x, y, and z.).  Conversely, the approach can be somewhat different if porn aligns with your morals (e.g., “I know it’s a little late, but I wanted to talk to you about porn.  I want to discuss some of its complexities, and help you create a safe way of using porn.”).[MM2] 

Phrasing your conversation carefully is important for another reason.  It’s very easy for teenagers to internalize sexual messages.  For instance, if a parent is mortified that they caught their teen looking at porn, the child can interpret the child’s behavior, and even sex in general, as something horrible and worthy of shame.  The child’s interpretation of the parents’ reaction to their porn usage tends to be carried through into adulthood.

To combat potential, negative internalization, use normalization.  A high majority of teenagers has looked at porn at some point, so make sure your child knows this (e.g., “What you did is completely normal, a lot of people your age, and in general, look at porn.”).  Make it clear that they are not weird or alone in viewing pornography.  Once again, you don’t have to approve of their porn use; normalizing their behavior simply makes your child more accepting of what you say.  With that being said, what do you say to your teen?

Concrete Examples of What to Say and Do

  • If you catch your teen in the middle of looking at porn, calmly excuse yourself from the area (e.g., “Sorry, I’ll come back later.”).
  • Come back in approximately 20 minutes, or whenever you feel appropriate.  Don’t avoid the topic by waiting too long.
  • Start the conversation in a non-judgmental manner.  Here are some examples.
  • “Hey, I was hoping that we could talk about what happened earlier.  I realized that we never had a talk about pornography.  Porn is something that a lot of people use, but it’s also complex.  I want to make sure that you understand the complexity of pornography.”
  • “So, I noticed that you were looking at porn.  I’m not mad or anything; you were doing something that many teens do.  I just figured now is a good time to talk about how our religion views porn and why.”
  •  “It just came to my attention that we’ve never discussed porn.  You’re already a teen, so I know I’m a little late.  Regardless, I want to make it clear that you’re not in trouble at all.  Porn isn’t a full reflection of sex, so I simply want to discuss some of the things you may have seen.”

Get Their Thoughts on Porn

Before you discuss your thoughts about porn, see how your teen views it.  Showing that you actually care about their perspective can make your teen feel respected.  [MM3] As a result, this can help your teen feel more comfortable talking about a difficult and personal subject.  Additionally, knowing where your teen stands on porn allows you to phrase your conversation with them in a more productive manner.  For instance, if your teen believes that porn equals reality, then you can spend extra time debunking that belief.  [MM4] Meanwhile, if your teen expresses a lot of shame for looking at porn, you can tailor your conversation to be more sensitive to judgment.  Imagine that you are trying to teach your teen how to drive a car.  Understanding what they already know about driving, as well as their feelings towards it, allows you to create a “lesson plan” that isn’t redundant nor insensitive. [MM5] 

Provide Education

To recap, you caught your teen looking at porn, and though you are a little late to the conversation, you still want to have it.  Before espousing your values, educate your teen on objective facts regarding pornography.  One objective fact is that porn does not always display a progression of sex that the layperson experiences.  While some porn videos show kissing, touching, oral sex, then penetrative sex, some videos go straight into penetrative sex.  Additionally, some porn videos do not show the emotional connection needed for some people to have sex.  It’s important to inform your teen that porn does not reflect a sexual experience nor preference for every person.  This connects to the next fact.

One important fact is that pornography does not equal reality.  These actors and actresses are giving a performance that magnify the sexual appeal of porn.  Essentially, pornography does not reflect how the average person has sex.  You don’t learn how to drive by watching The Fast and the Furious, nor do you learn how to be a soldier by playing Call of Duty.  Porn also does not reflect the looks of the average person.  Not every man is as ripped as Vin Diesel, and not every woman has large breasts and a thin waist.[AM6] .  Also, just because you enjoy gay porn does not mean you are gay. There’s a difference between entertainment and education, and porn is no different.  Remind your teen of that.

Additionally, another fact to emphasize is that the actors’ sexual performance is simply one slice of their life.  Porn stars are people.  They are complex individuals with hobbies, aspirations, and loved ones.  Highlighting this fact decreases objectification inside and outside porn.  Similar to how porn stars aren’t just sex objects, so are our potential, romantic partners.  A fear of porn use is that it leads to objectification.  As a parent, you can mollify this fear by talking to your teen about it.

It can also be useful to talk to your teen about Internet safety.  Though it may seem obvious to us as adults, some teenagers may not know the dangers of viruses and catfishing.  Inform your teen of the importance of anti-virus software, and the risk of downloading porn from certain websites.  Additionally, make sure your teen knows never to give out personal information, especially regarding pornsite advertisements.

Expressing Your Morals

You approached the conversation with a careful tone, and provided useful education surrounding pornography.  The stage is now set for you to express your morals regarding porn.  As long as you’re not shaming your teen, there isn’t an objective, “correct” message to give to them.  Pornography is a complex subject that even religious leaders, politicians, scholars, feminists, and parents disagree on; therefore, the issue isn’t necessarily your message, but how you deliver it.  Try to be non-judgmental by using “I statements” (e.g., “I believe that porn is…,” “I feel that pornography can…”).  This carries a less accusatory, critical tone, which allows your child the freedom to form their own beliefs. 

Expressing your morals in a non-judgmental, non-assertive manner can be especially difficult regarding the content of some pornography.  For instance, it is difficult for some to stay neutral upon seeing their teen view rape, incest, or BDSM themed porn.  Similar to “I statements,” you can also say, “Some people believe x, while others feel y.  It’s up to you to determine your beliefs.”  I understand that it can be very difficult to have such a hands-off approach.  Just remember that no matter how hard you try, you cannot force your teen to share your beliefs.  You can only guide them by having a discussion on these sensitive issues.

Give Healthy Space

After talking to your child about pornography, give them space on the issue.  Don’t try to force them to share your beliefs, and don’t constantly ask them about it.  Simply have an open-door policy: make it clear that your child can come to you with any questions regarding porn, or sex in general.  You have to respect their freedom and boundaries regarding their sexual expression. 

Conclusion

Though it can be scary to know that your teen is now showing interest in pornography, remind yourself of the skills that you just learned.  Approach the conversation without judgment, provide education, share your morals without forcing them, and give healthy space.  Pornography can be a challenging subject to have with your teen, but now thanks to your tools, it doesn’t have to be insurmountable.

When You See Your Teen Looking at Porn image When You See Your Teen Looking at Porn image