Adults only: How to safeguard your kids from seeing porn online

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

It’s not a question of if, but when

According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, Australian boys are exposed to pornography, on average at eleven years of age.

Parenting expert and author Dr Justin Coulson says that these days, protecting our children from exposure to pornography is almost impossible.

“I have countless stories of good parents and good kids who have had this thrust upon them, in spite of the very best conversations and the very best intentions.  No matter how hard we try we need to be aware that it’s almost guaranteed to happen,” he says.

I grew up in the pre-internet age, and I find this advice really difficult to get my head around. I may have been a late starter, but I saw my first glimpse of a porno when I was 15. The thought that my kids could stumble upon it while they’re still in primary school scares me. Particularly because the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says pornography on the internet these days isn’t run-of-the-mill.

“There is wide ready access to vast amounts of very violent, degrading and concerning pornography that could impact our children’s development,” Julie explains.

Who do you want to be your child’s sexual educator?

Justin says we all have to make a decision: do we want the internet to teach our kids about sex, or is it our job?

If the idea of chatting to your child about sexual content is as attractive as drinking cold pea soup, Justin has some simple steps to follow.

1. Start talking to them about body safety from a young age, start talking about intimacy at around six-years-old, procreation around seven or eight and pornography before they go in to grade 5.

2. When you get up to the chat about pornography, start with general questions. For example:

  •          Have you ever heard of something called pornography? (then talk about what it is)
  •          Have you heard of it happening in your school?
  •          Have any of your friends ever talked about it?
  •          Have any of your friends been exposed to it?

Then you can ask more personal questions:

  •          Have any of your friends talked to you about it?
  •          Have you ever searched for it?

Ultimately, you’re trying to make your child feel comfortable talking to you about pornography. You want them to feel like they can ask you questions if they’re curious, but you also want to help them find solutions to the problems that arise (eg. if it’s upset them, finding a trusted adult to talk to about what’s happening).

What to do when you find out your child’s seen porn

If you do discover your child has seen porn, Justin says it’s important to stay calm. Don’t get angry at your child, or (for example) at other grownups who weren’t supervising.

Listen to Justin and Julie on Kinderling Conversation:

After you’ve taken a few deep breaths, find out if they have any questions.

“Be led by your child’s curiosity,” Justin suggests. “If your child doesn’t want to talk about it, if they’re not curious, if they’d rather just put it behind them, then that’s fine. Let it go and say I’m always here to talk.”

If they do have questions, be prepared to answer them. Avoid being an authoritarian figure and shutting down the conversation. Justin says if you make it off-limits it becomes more attractive.

Either way, you need to help your child feel empowered to deal with the situation. Ask them what they think they could do if they come across it again. Make sure they know they can talk to a trusted adult.

You can’t fence the ocean

While there are technological precautions you can take to protect your child, like being on top of the way programs are set up on your computer and fixing privacy settings, Julie says no one should ever “set and forget.”

“Technology in and of itself is never a panacea. You’re never going to totally prevent access because technological protections can be circumvented. The resilience and critical thinking that we want to develop in our children so that they know how to react appropriately is a really important defense.”

Hear the rest of our Safety Net series:

Justin says you can’t always predict the way inappropriate content will slip through. It could be at a sleepover, or when curious children are searching the meaning of rude words.

I’m a supporter of using appropriate safeguards to protect children in the same way I’m a supporter of fencing the pool,” he says. “It keeps children out of obvious and immediate danger, but you can’t fence the ocean.”

Regardless of how alien it might feel to some parents (like me) the ship has sailed on this one. We need to arm our kids with the language and understanding of how to deal with inappropriate content when they come across it online.

And taking steps to do this is the best way we can protect them from the impact of seeing violent and degrading porn too early in their lives.

For more resources on what to do if your child accesses inappropriate content, check out Justin Coulson’s resources at the eSafety Commission’s Iparent website.