MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 23-Sep-14 11:38:01

Guest post: How to talk to your teenagers about porn

Most kids will probably experiment with pornography at some point, but how should we broach the subject with them? Here, Stephanie Davies-Arai writes that trust is key - and that speaking frankly to your teenagers is the best way to show you have confidence in them.

Stephanie Davies-Arai

Founder of Communicating with Kids

Posted on: Tue 23-Sep-14 11:38:01

(17 comments )

Lead photo

'Remember that your teenager has had years of imbibing your values'

Most teenage boys – and many girls – will experiment with pornography. It's one of those ‘as long as I don't have to know about it’ things for a lot of parents – but what if you're suddenly confronted by it? What if you find out that your teenager has been watching pornography, and that some of it is pretty extreme?

Of course, there's no ‘right way’ to tackle this, but I would say that whatever you decide to do, trust is key. All teenagers, always, just want us to trust them. The more we demand explanations, or endlessly check up on them, the stronger the message of mistrust.

The media will always scare us with stories of teen porn addiction, but developing this trust requires a process of ‘un-scaring’ yourself about the issues that really worry you, whether it's drugs, alcohol, sex or porn. Your teenager is busy working out their own relationship to all these issues, and doesn't need the burden of your anxiety on top of their own. Over-concern can create a kind of emotional feedback loop of mutual anxiety reinforcement – and to them, anger, sullenness and resistance may seem like the best way of handling it.

Remember that your teenager has had years of imbibing your values – you've had their whole childhood to lay the groundwork. I remember bringing up the subject of porn being passed around on smartphones at school with my then fifteen-year-old son (having just read something about it in the paper) - we had a brief discussion before my son interrupted me with, ‘Mum! Don't worry! We laugh in the face of that sort of thing.’

Comment on issues around pornography when the subject comes up in daily life, and do so with incredulity, humour, intelligence, and outrage - anything but helpless defeat and anxiety


Teenage boys and girls are increasingly making strong, equal friendships where sex is not part of the equation: young people see each other as fellow human beings much more than in previous generations. Don't let the issue of internet porn blind you to the positive relationships your child has. Also remember that teens – and lots of adults - tend to like scary, nasty, gory horror films: extreme, abusive pornographic images may be repellent to us, but we shouldn't jump to read anything more into it than the risk-taking teenage brain seeking out shocking stuff.

I have three sons, and somewhere along the line I made the decision not to allow a small bunch of old, billionaire pornographers drive a wedge of anxiety and suspicion between me and my boys, at a time when I could just be enjoying them. It took some practise to change my view of the subject, but it really helped.

Influence is always more effective than trying to force your views on someone, and it comes more from who you are than what you say. Comment on issues around pornography when the subject comes up in daily life – as it will if you ever watch telly, read a newspaper or just leave the house – and do so with incredulity, humour, intelligence, and outrage, or anything but helpless defeat and anxiety. It doesn't have to be a discussion, kids are learning just from watching how you handle things. But don't always give your view: leave some space for them to develop their own feelings and opinions.

I remember only once giving my three boys some direct advice: ‘Don't look at porn on the internet. I know it’s tempting but it'll ruin your relationships with real girls.’ If you can manage your own fear and replace it with trust, it becomes much easier to bring up the subject, say what you want to say, and then let it go:

‘Be careful with that stuff, it's very powerful. You know it's a form of conditioning?’ or ‘You know that's not real sex right? It's like some weird violent version dreamt up by a small bunch of old men. I'd stay right away from it if I were you.’

Speak matter-of-factly, even carelessly, as if it's bloody obvious - a goes-without-saying topic. Confidence in our teenagers is communicated to them when we lighten up on issues about which, in their eyes, the view of an older generation is largely irrelevant. Over-earnest moral guidance may look like it works in American dramas, but in real life it generally doesn't. No-one likes to feel patronised, especially teenagers. Speak with an absolute assumption that they will get it and then stop. Treat your teenagers as if they are normal, intelligent reasonable human beings. Because they are, aren't they?

By Stephanie Davies-Arai

Twitter: @cwknews

booface Tue 23-Sep-14 16:07:39

An interesting approach. As a mum of 2 teen (or pre-teen) boys, I do find the whole area pretty scary. I will try and take on a less anxious approach as suggested here! I am also forwarding DH the link so he can drop similar comments in when the opportunity arises.

mercuryrev Tue 23-Sep-14 17:04:54

This is a lovely read: so good to hear a balanced, common-sense approach to a subject that's so emotive. It can be hard to keep your own worries in check when dealing with an important subject like this, so it's good to be reminded that the power can be in your hands if you let it. Whenever I need it I will remember the advice not to: 'let a small bunch of old billionaire pornographers drive a wedge of anxiety and suspicion' between me and my teenagers!

Imsosorryalan Tue 23-Sep-14 19:54:18

Interesting. As a mum of two young daughters, I'd like to know how to handle it from their point of view esp as they may come under pressure to 'perform' as on pornography sites. I makes me worried for their future!

ABlandAndDeadlyCourtesy Tue 23-Sep-14 21:09:18

.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 23-Sep-14 21:28:16

Thank you for your interesting post OP. I have one DS(7) and have already spoken to him about Internet porn. I agree with you about little chats when the opportunity arises, rather than an anxious, fraught lecture.

netty7070 Wed 24-Sep-14 10:36:29

Well done; this is a sensible and realistic approach to this issue. You're so right that our children have already been absorbing our values for a long time before they may be exposed to internet porn.

RandomFriend Wed 24-Sep-14 11:37:39

Thank you for this post and the sensible advice.

RedundantExpat Wed 24-Sep-14 19:23:34

Good advice. thanks.

SkaterGrrrrl Wed 24-Sep-14 19:55:02

Well put. Thank you.

lilacmamacat Wed 24-Sep-14 22:12:42

I think for older teenagers/ young adults, this TED Talk could be quite useful tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Why-I-Stopped-Watching-Porn-Ran

nooka Thu 25-Sep-14 02:21:53

This sounds quite similar to our approach. I have a 15 and a 14 year old and we tend to talk about all sorts of things at all sorts of times with nothing taboo (although ds and I have had some ding dongs at times about areas where we have strong feelings!). In practice they both seem to enjoy written/drawn porn/erotica, which I don't have that big an issue about as it doesn't harm anyone making it. Some of it is very odd though! We certainly use humour a fair bit grin

We've also talked a lot about protecting yourself, being careful what you say on line, treating other people with respect, thinking about how other people interpret your words/actions etc.

On the whole my children are pretty great, and we've only had fairly minor issues about dodgy stuff, our areas of concern have tended to be around friendships. We try and encourage our children to bring their friends home or to chat with us so we get an idea about them and their values (trickier with ds's online friends). dd did date someone very briefly who was so shy (with adults anyway) we really didn't get to know her very well or understand her values, and that was a bit concerning.

familiality Thu 25-Sep-14 10:58:16

I like what Stephanie Davies-Arai wrote about how central trust is to having conversations about difficult topics like porn. I also think that the foundations for these kinds of conversations were probably already laid with your children when they were younger. If they weren't then you are unlikely to suddenly 'correct' this in their adolescent years.

The fact is that although you as a parent remain an important influence in your child's life, their attachments start to shift from parents to friends, and hopefully one day to their partners. Their friends and others also have influence. You are no longer the only influence in their lives. You have to content yourself with being one of many influences at this point. To try and 'control' their access and views on porn at this stage in life is probably a futile task. The best you can home for is some influence.

The fact that we cannot 'control', take charge, or influence things in our children's lives in the same way we could when they were younger, does not mean we cannot be 'present'. Parental presence (the sense that an adult is around, available and watching) is one of the most consistent factors shown by research to reduce unhelpful and anti-social behaviours. There is a balance to be struck here. I do not mean you should watch your child every moment of the day, but there has to be a sense that you are accessible and that you are watching and present some of the time. the more anti-social the behaviour the more a parent might wish to increase their parental presence. I do think that as parents we need to put in place safeguards and maintain some presence in our children's online lives as well. We cannot show interests and monitor their lives offline, and then leave them to their own devices online. We need to be present in both places. As the primary source for porn is probably online for most young people, parents should show at least some awareness of children's online lives. I think this is as much as we can probably do.

Stephanie Davies -Arai also suggests that we have informal conversations where we might share out views. I would agree. An argument s not the right time to start telling your child your views. It's unlikely to help.

Overall, a lovely post.

Thank you.

Gerhard Pretorius
(Familiality)
www.familiality.abft.co.uk

P.S I recently wrote a post about having difficult conversations with teenagers. I used the example of 'racism', but the same principles are likely to apply to conversation on pornography.)

www.abft.co.uk/2014/09/12/let-it-gooooo-let-it-go/

nooka Thu 25-Sep-14 16:40:23

I think that you are totally right about trust and presence. The one thing we have always done is to have all of our internet connected devices in our main living areas. We've never used parental controls (dh disagrees with them on both a practical and philosophical front) but until fairly recently we have been able to see/hear what they are up to online and provide advice and oversight on a fairly casual basis. That makes me feel more confident now they have laptops and handheld devices which they can obviously use anywhere.

We've also talked to both of them about what they are looking at and reading and shared what we are up to too. For example dh was watching Anita Sarkeesian on the objectification of women in gaming, which led to a big family discussion about how many of the games we play are really OK and how many are problematic (too many sadly). I think talking about these things and helping our children to develop and test out their own views is a fairly good inoculant to all the crap that's out there, and possibly all you can do really.

ijustdonotknow Tue 03-Feb-15 20:50:42

I'm sorry to bring up an older thread but can't see anything more relevant or useful. I like very much the sentiments above but I don't know what to say to my own 14 year old who is seeing some quite hard core porn - things I've been quite shocked by. I just feel very confused but feel I need to talk with him but what to say? I believe he should be allowed a private life, he should be able to develop an enjoyment of sex but I don't want this to be his main source of info, won't it be harder to relate to young girls his own age after seeing this?

Also nobody above mentions that presumably he's looking because he finds it arousing and stimulating - and what else is available to him at that age? I find myself wishing there was some kind of "nice porn" I could direct him to - just like offering healthy snacks over a diet of pop and crisps. My own parents are very uptight and I don't want to pretend no one ever has sex as they have always done.

I have talked to him in general terms about pornography and he affects not to be in the least interested. I've not let on that I know what he's watching because I really just don't know what to say. What would you say?

He's been pretty naive to leave his history on my computer and I'm glad I have that access. Actually it's not so much that he's naive as that he has a very low estimation of my ability to use my own laptop.

We generally get on well and can talk at length about other topics though not as much as before - I guess that's normal - at least in this culture. I do know there's an element of loosing my boy that makes me sad. Blocking porn on the internet would not stop him watching it on his phone. Would it be right to say I know other boys watch it but it's not for you? I don't think so but I do keep his phone at night. Sorry this has all gone a bit rambling. I've been turning it around in my head for a few weeks without getting anywhere.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 01-Apr-15 11:41:51

Supervising internet access and not allowing it on their phones they take outside the house, usually works.
well, it did for me anyway.
I don't understand why parents wouldn't do this tbh, we all know whats out there and by giving children these devices and unsupervised access we are encouraging addiction to porn.
give kids the opportunity and they will, in our day it was underage sex when parents weren't around so parents tended to leave the kids less.
you have to go with the times and if the times dictate internet porn, then you steer your dc away from the internet, especially social media.
It isn't rocket science.

cdwales Fri 03-Apr-15 08:28:23

Great post! I agree with 'familiality' The point is well made that you have had 13 years to influence their views - after that you are blocked because they need to do that to develop BUT they feel that the views you gave them pre-puberty really are their own.
When mine were under 13 this online porn was not an issue and always matters sexual are tricky because they need to be receptive - it ought not be delivered gratuitously 'out of the blue' but in a context. Now the daily news and events at school supply plenty of contexts alas so it now boils down to the last great inhibitor...
Parental embarrassment.
My mother was a nurse and Health Visitor and Relate councillor who had no hangups (as did my biology teacher). So it is easy for me and Stephanie above. So the key issue is how do parents who have been given hang-ups tackle them? Children and YPs are very good at detecting embarrassment in their parents and teachers!
I don't have the answers but surely this deserves some investigation?

dansmum Mon 15-Jun-15 20:08:18

We have always had an open bathroom door policy. My kids know that real people dont look or behave like people in movies ( including porn) ds has asked lots of questions. I tell him...if you dont like what you see, or if people are hurt it isnt good. Remember those girls are someones daughter/wife or mother. If it's consenting it's fine. If it isnt respectful..it's not ok.We do joke about real relationships and stupid porn'storylines'. And that being with a Real life man or women (who are lumpier, hairier) is far more fun than being alone with a video can ever be.we have had discussion about the adult film industry, exploitation, role that both wmen and men have towards it. There is no aspect that we wont discuss. Better get accurate discussion from me than garbage chat from school. Then I have to trust him to make his own descisions.

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