Your Conversation Blueprint

Kids are curious about sex. Spoiler alert: this is normal and healthy. This natural curiosity can, unfortunately, be hijacked by easy-access pornography, which provides highly unrealistic and unhealthy depictions of “sex,” and is a low-quality substitute for teaching what real relationships and real intimacy look like. In an ideal situation, a child would feel comfortable telling their parents about what they heard in the hallway at school or found on the computer by accident. However, they can often be too scared to say anything or initiate conversation themselves for fear of getting in trouble or not knowing how their parents will react.

In today’s digital age, your kids will likely encounter porn whether you’ve discussed it with them or not—which is why we encourage you to talk with your kids about it in a safe and healthy environment. Trust us, you want your child to ask you about porn, and not the internet. Empower your kids by educating them in an honest and ongoing conversation about the harms of porn.

But how do these conversations start, and how do they continue? Well, you’ve come to the right place! After years of consulting with leading experts and psychologists in the field of porn and relationships, and presenting all over the world to hundreds of thousands of students, we’ve compiled some key advice. Below, you will find tips, stats, and other helpful information so that you can successfully navigate a conversation about porn with your kids.

What To Do

Set the tone.

How you start this conversation will set the tone for how this, and many future conversations about porn with your children, will go. Keep that in mind as you think about what you want to accomplish with this first discussion.

Prepare yourself.

Before you educate your child on the harms of porn, it is important to make yourself aware of the science behind how porn impacts individuals, relationships, and society, so that you are prepared to help educate your child and answer questions they may have. You can get the facts on the Fight the New Drug website, where we have many videos and articles about the harms of porn. You can also utilize our documentary series Brain, Heart, World.

Recognize the need.

It’s estimated that 94% of kids have seen pornography by age 14, so your child is hardly abnormal. Understand that the age at which it’s appropriate to talk to your child varies depending on your family’s values, specific cultural circumstances, societal influences, media exposure, and individual curiosities. However, children are being exposed to pornography at increasingly younger ages. In fact, the average age of first exposure is between 8 and 11 years old. There are always age-appropriate ways to discuss this with your child. And there are always resources available to you to help you navigate this discussion.

Choose the right time and place.

When you plan to have this important conversation, set time aside so you won’t feel rushed or interrupted if you have plans immediately afterward. This could be during one-on-one time with your child, a car ride, or talk before they go to bed. Have the conversation in a location that is comfortable for both you and your child. Sometimes choosing a more private location for this conversation can be helpful in allowing your child the freedom to ask questions and express themselves openly without fear of being overheard.

Create open communication.

Ultimately, the goal in having this conversation with your child is to help them understand the harmful effects of porn, while also creating a safe space for them to open up to you, now or in the future. You want them to ask you about porn, rather than searching for it online, so ensuring that they understand they can open up to you is key. Try to make it a point to be patient and understanding, no matter what questions your child has, or what experiences they have had with porn.

Make it a one-on-one talk.

Sometimes, having a separate conversation with each individual child can be the most productive, if you have the option to talk to multiple children. This allows you to cater the discussion to each child’s particular age and situation, and use language that’s appropriate for their level of understanding. It also allows children to open up to you without fear of embarrassment if they disclose any past experiences with being exposed to or seeking out porn.

Layer the discussion.

Covering every aspect of this subject in one conversation is not necessarily realistic or effective. Your first conversation with your child should ideally lay the foundation for an ongoing dialogue. It’s important to communicate this to them, too, that this isn’t a one-time talk. Over time, continue to increase their knowledge regarding the harmful effects of porn by having candid, age-appropriate conversations. The more you know about the harmful effects of pornography, the more you’ll be able to add to conversations in the future.

Support your plan with science.

Combine your family’s plan regarding porn with the power of scientific evidence, including concrete evidence of pornography’s harmful effects will help your child fully understand the consequences of viewing pornography. Think about how we educate our kids on the harmful effects of drugs. We talk about our individual family values while also discussing the harmful physical effects of drugs, such as rotting teeth, lung cancer, overdose, addiction, and sometimes death. And remember, there are always resources available to you to help you navigate this discussion.

Allow your child to react

If your child has questions or concerns, you want them to know they can express them. Your child may respond with disgust, defensiveness, or silence. No matter how your child reacts, try to stay calm and make sure they know why you are talking to them about this. Where appropriate, humor and laughter can be disarming and instigate a bonding moment between you. It’s important for your children, especially if they might be struggling with porn, to know that you’re not bringing this up to accuse, punish, or judge them. Reminding them that this is a safe conversation and you’ll love them no matter what is key in starting an ongoing conversation about the harms of porn with your child.

Help your child find resources

If your child is struggling with pornography, help them know that there are resources to help them. Using filtration software can be helpful, but keep in mind that filters alone likely won’t prevent your child from seeing pornography. You could work with your child to come up with a plan to stop consuming pornography before it becomes a habit, and how you can help them make that happen. Assist them as they set detailed goals, and help them to be accountable. If they are ready to make a change, Fortify is a free, online, video-based recovery resource that allows your child to create their own personal “Battle Strategy,” monitors progress and helps stop the cycle of going back to porn. It also allows you to be added as an accountability partner so you—or another trusted person if they prefer it not to be you—can receive updates on your child’s progress. Parental consent is required for youth younger than 13, but you can learn more by visiting Fortify. You may also experience a reaction from your child that is dismissive or unwilling to recognize porn consumption as a problem, but don’t give up. Keep educating them through a open, loving dialogue and be there for them. When they recognize it as a real issue, they will know where to go. If your child has seen pornography but isn’t struggling with porn, let them know about resources that can further help educate them on the harms of porn, and help them become an advocate in this movement for love.

Be supportive.

If your child is struggling with porn, they need you to help guide them through navigating the role porn is playing for this rising generation. They need to know that you’re on their side and are willing to be there for them, whether that be as they fight a struggle with porn, or just educate themselves on its harms.

What Not To Do

Don't assume your child is exempt.

Too often we hear parents say things like, “MY kid would never look for porn!” Statistically speaking, however, that’s very unlikely. It’s estimated that 94% of kids have seen pornography by age 14. And unfortunately, once they’ve been exposed, many keep going back. Unfortunately, even the most well-behaved, innocent, and sheltered kids see it. It’s no longer a question of if your child will be exposed to pornographic material online, but when. Let this fact empower you to action, instead of paralyze you with fear.

Don't assume your child is “addicted.”

You may not even really think about it, but according to research, casually throwing out the word “addict” or “addiction” around someone who is seriously struggling with compulsive behaviors is not helpful and can discourage progress. Dramatic reactions rarely help a person struggling with porn, and using the word “addiction” is often an overreaction. While porn addiction is certainly real, calling someone an addict immediately can make them feel powerless in changing their habits. There are real differences in needs and ideal pathways of change. Let’s make space to allow the individual who is struggling to define their own problem with whatever language most resonates with them: “habit,” “compulsion,” “problem,” “struggle,” “challenge,” “addiction”—or any other term they can relate to!

Avoid shaming—it won't help.

It can be easy, when feelings of hurt or disappointment come up to intentionally or unintentionally shame the person who’s causing those feelings. What does shaming look like, you may be asking? It’s like humiliating someone to make them feel like a “bad” person or unworthy of love because of something they’ve done. It’s important to keep in mind that shaming someone who is struggling with porn usually does not help, and does not push them toward healthy change and motivated recovery. In fact, research shows that shame only makes things worse. Shaming can wound family relationships and discourage progress in recovery. as well as break trust and honesty in the parent-child relationship. Try to separate the person from the behavior. Keep in mind that, many times, most porn consumers may not have chosen to see porn the first time. They may have seen it by accident, or been forced. They may have been so young that they didn’t understand, but it sparked a struggle all the same. All in all, avoiding shame will likely lead to a better outcome for all parties.

Try to avoid saying ``just stop.``

If your child is struggling with porn, recognize that getting over an addictive or compulsive habit like porn consumption is not easy. Porn consumers can be painfully aware of all the reasons they should stop, but they frequently can’t do it on their own. According to a 2014 study by German researchers Simone Kühn and Jürgen Gallinat, their findings suggested that heavy porn consumption is linked with less grey matter in the brain. Brain grey matter is what’s used to make decisions, which means the more someone uses porn, the less capacity they have to make fully thought-through decisions—including the decision to quit. To learn more about how porn affects the brain, be sure to check out “The Brain,” the first episode of our 3-part documentary series.

Don't be surprised if they relapse.

Someone with a deep porn struggle might not be able to quit cold turkey. Relapses don’t mean that your child is starting from square one or that they aren’t making any progress. Relapsing can happen as a part of recovery, but it should be handled as a step forward instead of a setback. Regardless, try to remind yourself that their setbacks are not your fault. Help remind your child of the progress that they’ve made already. Tell them that you have hope that they will get over this, and fully recover. Try to be their encouragement and their support.

Don't blame yourself if they struggle.

You may still be reeling if you end up learning your child has a struggle with porn, but hear this: if your child is struggling, it is not necessarily a reflection of you or your ability to be a quality and attentive parent. The fact of the matter is that porn is an unfortunately common issue for children and teens in today’s world. So take a deep breath, don’t beat yourself up, and remind yourself that this is not your fault. In the end, your child is responsible for their own fight, while they will need your support. And while you can support and facilitate them in their recovery, they do have to do some of this work on their own. You may begin experiencing feelings of inadequacy, but try to remain optimistic and encouraging. If you are putting in a lot more work into their recovery than they are, you might be enabling rather than helping. And that’s not great for either of you. So keep fighting, keep encouraging, and keep loving! We’re with you!

Success Stories

They supported me like I know so many parents out there wouldn’t have. They made sure I knew they weren’t angry with me, they told me the extreme dangers of pornography, and that they would be there to help me at any time no matter what.

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