My child has been exposed

How do I respond when my young child has been exposed to porn?

Every young child will respond to exposure to porn differently. However, depending on the age, stage, and temperament of your child, exposure to porn can sometimes create confusion and turmoil. This reaction is common because today’s online porn is most often violent and extreme. A child’s brain is still developing and they are often unable to make sense of what they see. Our aim is to create a safe space for our kids online. We've put together suggestions to guide you on how to respond when you've discovered your child has been exposed to pornography.

STAY CALM and reassure your child that they are not in trouble. Kids will only share details with us when they feel safe, and there is no risk of being in trouble. 

Focus on FINDING OUT ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE. No parent wants their child to see porn, so it’s naturally upsetting. When we are worried or panicked as parents, we can often start lecturing and assume the worst about our child’s experience, rather than finding out the details of what happened. To respond most effectively, we need to understand how they have interpreted the experience—and that regardless of their reaction, their feelings are entirely valid. Ask questions such as how they came across it, where they saw it, who was with them or if anyone showed it to them, and how it made them feel. Be prepared, however, that they may not want to answer too many questions. Once you have an understanding of their experience, you can then make an informed decision about what to do next.

OFFER REASSURANCE if they are upset, and let them know that you will help them navigate this. If you feel out of your depth or your child is showing clear signs of struggling (which is completely normal!), we suggest seeking professional help to support you both.

TAKE SOME TIME to consider how you want to help your child move forward, upskill with the facts, and decide on the best approach for you and your family. We have collated a list of some great resources that can help you prepare yourself and equip your child with tools to increase resilience to the impacts of porn.

AVOID TAKING THE DEVICE AWAY. We suggest that removing a child’s access to devices should not be a direct response to pornography exposure—they may see this as a punishment and make them less likely to share things with you in the future. Remind yourself that they may not have seen it on their device but rather on someone else’s. If you need to remove the device to set up technology protections, EXPLAIN YOUR ACTIONS and let them know that it’s not because they have done anything wrong but that you are doing this to protect them.

Sometimes you may find out that they have been exposed to the content through someone else or it may be the case that someone else tells you that your child is watching pornography, and when you question your child, they deny it. Such denial is most likely due to feelings of SHAME AND EMBARRASSMENT. In addition, they may feel CONFUSED AND UPSET by the content. We suggest your initial response is contained and validating their experience. Acknowledge that seeing pornography is confusing but can also create excitement and curiosity. Avoid overreacting as this will most likely shut down conversation—the opposite of what you need.

What is most important is to CREATE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR MORE TALKS. The ‘talk’ is not the way to go anymore. It’s multiple conversations, so when they reach teenagehood, the discussion is just a natural progression in the depth of knowledge without the awkwardness. So let them know that you are ready and able to answer their questions about sex and relationships—and that even if their problem seems trivial, foolish or terrible, you will always be available. If you want to upskill on the facts head here for details.

Finally, remember this is not likely to be a one-off discussion because children process things over time, so let them know THEY CAN COME TO YOU ANYTIME to continue the conversation. If you haven’t found what you need, feel free to reach out to us and ask.

Want to make sure the online environment is set up to support the protection of your child from porn? Go here. 

Want to know how to have the essential conversation with your young children about inappropriate online content? Go here.