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I Caught My Kid Watching Porn. What Do I Do?

So, you caught your teen watching porn. Or maybe you borrowed their smartphone, tablet or laptop and noticed their search history was X-rated. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will; everyone knows the Internet is for porn. (If you didn’t know that, here are some singing muppets who can explain it to you.)

So, when you do catch a child watching inappropriate videos – what do you do? (Other than have a momentary aneurysm.)


I caught my kid watching porn — what do I do?

  • Don’t freak out and don’t get mad. Staying calm is possibly the most important thing a parent can do in this situation, all experts say.
  • Bring it up later, casually and in a neutral environment (i.e. not standing in your child’s room, hovering over the offending laptop).
  • Reassure him or her that it’s natural to be curious. Invite questions about what they’ve seen.
  • Use the rest of the conversation to talk about your values around sex and relationships.
  • Explain that porn is not real; just like the explosions and fights they see in action movies, the sex in porn is scripted and fake.

Today’s parents have a raw deal. Not only do we have to figure out how to have the ‘birds and the bees’ conversation from scratch (since most of our parents didn’t bother), but thanks to the Internet, we also have to have the porn conversation. Stats are difficult to come by (especially in India), but by roughly age 6, most children have seen a pornographic image. And 42% of Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 said they saw porn online in the last year, whether purposefully or accidental, according to one widely reported study.

So how do parents deal with the inevitable?

First, all experts say that it’s best if the porn conversation comes before any actual catching in the act (or in the browser history); like sex ed, the topic of porn can easily be made age appropriate. It’s as easy as saying (possibly in the moment of pulling up a favorite YouTube cartoon), “I know you like this video. But there are some videos online that we shouldn’t watch. If you ever see a video that you don’t understand or feel uncomfortable about, tell mommy/daddy.”

It keeps your kid from being totally blindsided and gives them a course of action for any inappropriate content – important preparation for children too young to really understand (but old enough to be disturbed by) pornography. It also sets up an open line of communication between the two of you.

Easier said than done, and most of us, particularly with older kids, probably haven’t done it. It’s still better to have a similarly proactive (if more adult) chat about watching porn with your teen. But whether or not you have, your mind may still short out in the actual moment of confrontation with the naked truth. What do you do then?

What to say when you catch your teen watching porn

Experts say the first (and really only) rule is: Don’t freak out or get angry. Getting upset with children for watching porn does three things, none of them good: First, it shames them for acting on very natural and healthy impulses. Two, it can set up pornography as a ‘forbidden fruit,’ and make it more attractive. Three, it shuts down any communication between the two of you and sends the message that your child will only get judgment or punishment from you, rather than truthful answers to questions about a very integral part of life.

If your kid has broken an actual rule – such as, say, ‘No screen time after 8 pm’ – it’s fine to be upset by that and enact whatever consequences you have set up for such rule-breaking. But otherwise, the most important thing you can do is remain calm in the moment.

The second most important thing you can do is talk about it – but do it later. An ideal scenario, according to experts, would go something like this:

Rather than angrily confronting his son [immediately], J. Carlos waited for a calm moment when they could have a casual conversation. He emphasized that it was natural to be interested in sex, but that pornographic images are not representative of relationships, and that his son should feel comfortable asking him about anything he had seen.

“He asked me what things were like when I was younger,” J. Carlos said. “He felt really safe talking to me about it, so that felt really great.”

The rest of the conversation you’ll have to wing; we all have different values around sex and relationships, and you’ll want to communicate your own. But if there’s one point you drive home to a preteen or teen watching porn, consider making it the one J. Carlos drove home to his son: Porn is not illustrative of actual sex.

Unless parents explain that actual sex isn’t like pornography, how are children watching porn to know otherwise? Which means he or she could be imbibing a whole bunch of confusing, demeaning or dangerous messages around consent, sex and love that affect future relationships. (Listen to The Swaddle’s interview with Cindy Gallop, a sexual values advocate, who talks about the effects of watching porn without this kind of mediating message.)

If you’re searching for a way to explain it, try this analogy, which writer Dave Eagle used after finding a porn site on his 9-year-old son’s search history:

“Look, you and I can go to the park, bring a baseball and our gloves and a bat.  I can throw the ball and you can hit it, and then I can catch it, and we’re playing baseball, right?”

[…] “But then we watch a Sox game, and we see that they’re playing on a completely different level. They’re hitting 100 mile per hour fastballs, and leaping over fences to make catches. That’s not the baseball you and I play, but it doesn’t make our game any less fun.”

[…] “Those people you saw in the videos, they’re playing a whole different ballgame. It’s like Olympic-level sex, and I guess I don’t want you to expect that that’s what most people are doing.

Good luck!

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