Children and Exposure to Internet Pornography

The number of children brought into my office because of the discovery, by their parents, that they have a pornography viewing habit has increased lately. Mostly males, aged 9-13, are dragged into my office, head down in shame, to discuss as a family or with me individually, about why they have been looking at such material.

Pornography is not suitable for children. But, most of us (dare I say all of us?) attain some form of pornography during our childhood. My friend Matt had a large assortment of porno magazines he stole from his father and kept beneath his comic book collection in an old boot box stashed under his bed. A purloined Victoria’s Secret magazine, likely from their father and not their mother, would always show up tucked into a friend’s pillow case at sleep overs. It’s important to keep in mind that sexuality and being curious about sex is a normal part of development. It is also important to be aware that it isn’t the 1980’s anymore, children aren’t looking at airbrushed Sport’s Illustrated swimsuit editions or playboys; they’re being exposed to something much more hardcore. Violent even.

While the fallout of this is yet unknown I have observed some of the effects over the years of working with the same *children, watching them grow into young adults. I have noticed that many of these boys have developed a compulsive habit of watching pornography. I call it compulsive because they have reported to me on a number of occasions that they don’t necessarily want to watch the pornography but must do so daily in order to feel normal. This group of now young men, views violence as a component of sex, coercion as necessary in a sexual relationship, and despite the heavy viewing of sex over the web, the act of sex itself feels awkward, too intimate, and is feared. Often times, though a sexual relationship is desired, the reliability and low risk makes internet pornography preferable.

Is it the porn’s fault?

There is certainly a case for the exposure to violence and sexual violence as contributing factors for behavioral and emotional problems in children and adults. There have been enough studies about violence on television to safely make the correlation, but there is another factor that I did not mention previously. In most cases, when the boy who walked into my office under the persuasion of their parents to discuss the dreaded topic of the pornography found on their laptop, or tablet, or phone, it was not the exposure to the pornography that I found most concerning, but rather the parent’s reaction to it.

Parents can be shaming and react with their own anxiety about this issue. It is true that we as parents would rather not have our children exposed to pornography, and if they are, pray it not be the violent hardcore type. But I’ve seen parents do everything to prevent this and yet somehow nature prevails. Despite the firewalls, the net nannies, and spy software, children are still finding a way to get online and watch what they’re not supposed to be watching. Lets try to remember what it was like being twelve-years old, and try to imagine if such material was available at the swipe of a finger.

I still suggest that we continue to try to prevent it. Though it may be futile, I still think it is important that we make an effort. At least our children will know we think they shouldn’t be watching this stuff. However, be careful not to shame your child. Think twice before you punish or castigate your child for watching pornography. What would be the most effective course of action, more so even than installing a firewall, is upping our game as parents and improving our ability to talk about sex and modeling for our children healthy sexuality. It is our job as parents to teach our children about the world; however, when it comes to sex it seems parents tell their children what not to do, rather than giving them guidance. Instead, children turn to media for their sexual educations, and in some cases this includes pornography. It’s not enough to “have the talk” with your child, instead it needs to be a dialogue, a two way conversation, that is continuous throughout their childhood. It seems to me that the most detrimental effect exposure to internet pornography has on our children is not the pornography itself, but rather, it’s the shame that the pornography evokes and the practiced concealment of that shame. By helping to guide your children through their development and allowing for healthy sexual development, we as parents can prevent the shame that is often associated with sex.

*Psychotherapy is confidential. Though this article does not present identifiable information about any one patient, the handful of patients I refer to within have been expressly asked for their consent to be written about.  

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