My Teen Watches Porn and I Don’t Know What to Do
Do you pretend that your teen doesn’t watch porn? Read on to find out what you can do to have ongoing conversations with your teen about porn watching.
By Divya Sainathan
When Shrinika opened the door of her 12-year-old son’s room and walked in with a plateful of pakoras, she found him scrambling to turn something off on his laptop. “What are you watching?” she asked as she went and stood by him. He had managed to minimize the browser, but a pop-up showing a large pair of breasts in a flimsy see-through bikini kept flashing. A shocked Shrinika took one look at her guilty son’s face and charged straight out to complain to her husband.
“My husband rushed angrily into our son’s room and started hitting him. I tried to hold him back, and my son kept saying, ‘It’s not my fault. My friends introduced me to it!’”
When tempers had cooled and the initial shock overcome, the parents sat the boy down and questioned him. They discovered that their child and his friends were sharing pornographic content at school and in coaching classes, carrying a private collection around in their handy mobile phones.
“We give our children phones so that they can let us know they are safe--where they are going, how they will be coming home, do they need to be picked up from their class or their friend’s place? What do we do now? How can we keep in contact with our son if we take away his phone? What is to stop him from lying to us and watching porn on his friends’ device?” questions Shrinika, voicing her fears.
Today’s children can view porn in the safety and comfort of their homes or the privacy of their desks in class, thanks to Wi-Fi or data-enabled smartphones. According to annual statistics released by a well-known porn site, 90 per cent of the porn consumption in India happens through smartphones.
India ranks third in the world in the consumption of online pornography, with a majority of users believed to be 18 years and above. Reality is, any child can tick an ‘I am 18 or older’ box on the Internet. Thus, when we give our child a smartphone, we must never forget that we are giving them easy access to a world of graphic adult content.
Parents need to take concrete steps to educate their teens about porn. When children go online, a lot of content they receive is specifically targeted at them. Browsing filters can help block unwanted adult content while allowing access to useful websites. Filter usually work on Wi-Fi, operating systems such as Windows and Mac, and mobile OS such as Android and iOS. There are several apps that allow you to monitor your child’s smartphone activity as well.
WHY PORN WATCHING IS PROBLEMATIC FOR YOUR TEEN
However hard we try, we cannot entirely stop (or prevent) our teen from watching porn. They could seek adult content on their own or be exposed by accident. What should we do then—do we need to talk to them about porn? Absolutely, and here’s why. According to a study which collated 20 years of research on the effect of pornography on children’s attitudes and behaviour,
1. Porn watching is likely to reinforce gender stereotypes and behaviour that is discriminatory to girls/women. Porn consistently shows women as objects of pleasure, reducing them to their most appealing body parts and making them engage in insulting, degrading, submissive sexual acts.
- Boys could come to believe that the purpose of sex is to satisfy men. Girls could get the impression that they are expected to do anything that makes the boys happy
- The needs, sexual preferences, consent or comfort of women are ignored, boosting the stereotype that women’s opinions don’t matter
- Hardcore and violent porn romanticises sexual aggression against women, implying that sexual dominance of women is normal and appealing
2. Children who watch porn could be more inclined to have casual sex, i.e., sexual relations without being in a committed relationship.
- Children may not consider a loving relationship as a prerequisite for sex, thus showing less concern for the opposite sex and their future partners
- The need for sexual satisfaction could override the need for a relationship based on love, trust, mutual respect and intimacy
3. Exposure to porn could lead to problematic behaviours such as sexting (sending sexually explicit messages via mobile phones), child-on-child sexual abuse, and cyberbullying.
4. Porn promotes unhealthy sexual practices such as not using protection while having vaginal, oral or anal sex.
5. Low self-esteem, body-image issues, and eating disorders —Impossible physical standards set by actors in porn can make children feel inadequate and ashamed of their perfectly normal bodies. They could follow harmful diets to lose weight and look a certain way. By showing men and women with ‘perfect’ bodies engaging in exaggerated, aggressive, unrealistic sexual acts, pornography sets some impossible expectations. Children need to be shaken out of this illusion or, even better, warned about it beforehand.
6. Anxiety, depression, isolation—The cycle of guilt and the fear of being caught can make teens shun friends and family, not seeking help when they find themselves anxious and depressed after being exposed to sexually aggressive content.
7. Addiction—Porn keeps a viewer clicking on links and pop-ups till one is entrapped. By glamourising sex over everything else, porn could induce a young person to constantly seek sexual gratification.
GEARING UP FOR A DISCUSSION ON PORN
A 2018 study conducted across several metro cities by an Indian market research firm revealed that 90 per cent of parents agree that while the Internet helps their children with education, pop-ups can expose them to dangerous content. These parents are aware that their children spend at least 2 to 3 hours online every day. Yet, 6 out of 10 parents do not impart ‘sex education’ to their child. This needs to change.
It is recommended that we start talking to our children about their bodies right from their preschool days. If your child hasn’t come to you with any questions about sex, you can open the topic when they are around 10 or 11, or when signs of puberty start showing.
By normalizing sex talk, you demonstrate that you are an approachable parent who believes in keeping open lines of communication while imparting accurate information. Having a free, open, continuing discussions with your child on sexuality, intimacy, gender expectations, body image, and individual rights will empower them to form healthy relationships and critically view sexually explicit media.
Here are some ways to take the initiative:
- Prepare yourself—Read up on topics related to sexuality, our bodies, our rights, and healthy practices and attitudes. Reflect upon your own values about sex and relationships.
- Be approachable—Understand that your teen may be embarrassed or uncomfortable to discuss some things with you. They can approach the parent they are comfortable with. Reiterate that you are always available to answer questions or just to listen to your teen.
- Ask questions—Choose a time when everyone is relaxed, and ask your teen questions that lead to a discussion on porn:
- Do you have any questions about your body/feelings/needs/urges?
- When you want to learn about sex, where do you go for answers?
- Do you and your friends talk about porn? What are your thoughts?
- Have you watched anything that you found disturbing/arousing?
- Do you think real-life sex will be similar to/different from porn?
- Are the bodies and actions shown in porn real?
4. Make it simple, direct, age-appropriate—Use correct terms for genitalia, bodily functions and sex-related processes. Keep your answers brief and as factual as possible- don’t delve into long winded moral or ethical explanations. If you don’t know something, suggest looking it up together. Speak with a straight face, with no hesitation. Don’t use euphemisms, roll your eyes or betray embarrassment. Don’t shoot down any questions. Assure your teen you are glad they came to you with their questions.
Check in on your teen regularly and follow up on things discussed in previous conversations about sex and porn.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CATCH YOUR TEEN WATCHING PORN
Even the most open-minded parents can be shocked out of their wits when they catch their teens watching porn, or when they find pornographic content on their devices. Feelings of shame, guilt, shock, disappointment, anger, fear and/or denial get the better of our judgment.
We panic, lash out at our teen and shame them for their behaviour. We seize their phones and cut off internet access, blocking their channels of communication with their friends. And we fail to ask ourselves the most important question of all—What can I do help my child?
For starters, we must accept that we cannot stop our teens from watching porn. Cutting off access will only make them hostile and secretive, and shut the door on a decisive parenting moment. Shaming serves no purpose as well. Our hurtful words will give them the impression that we love them less because of their behaviour.
It will take a monumental effort to unsee what we saw, suppress our fears and anxieties, put a lid on our value judgments and initiate calm, rational discussions. But this is the only way forward. We must understand the needs of our child and help meet them in a safe and healthy manner.
Here are some helpful ways to respond. Remember to keep your voice calm and your tone objective and reassuring while talking to your teen.
- Ask questions about your teen’s initiation into porn
How did you start watching porn? Did you stumble across it accidentally? Did your friends put you up to it? Did you seek porn out on your own?
You could probe further, and ask them what went through their minds when they first watched porn—did they consider it fun or risky? Their answers will determine the approach you need to take.
- Explore reasons for your teen to be drawn to porn
a) Do you want to learn about sex?
Explain how real-life sex is nothing like what is shown in porn videos. In real life, people have imperfect bodies, care for each other, don’t cause pain to each other, respect each other’s needs and boundaries. Sex is based on mutual consent, and one can always say ‘no’ to something they don’t want to do.
Porn videos feature actors who are paid to act like they enjoy what they are doing. They may actually be in terrible pain, especially the women. Also, their bodies (penises and breasts in particular) could be the result of medication or surgery.
Direct children to well-researched, thoughtful, sensitive books, forums and websites that will answer their questions better than poorly scripted, crudely made porn videos or magazines.
b) Do you want to feel aroused?
Assure your teen it is perfectly natural to have sexual urges at their age. However, pornography is not a healthy way to satisfy themselves. Porn is a million-dollar industry designed to keep viewers addicted. It could trap children into watching hardcore or extreme content that may be too violent or deviant for their young minds to process.
You could also talk about masturbation, and what behaviours are acceptable when done privately.
c) Do your friends urge you to keep watching porn?
Inform them that they have the right to say ‘no’ to things that make them uncomfortable. While it is good to value friendship, it is better to avoid toxic relationships where one’s values and concerns are not respected.
- Explain how porn is an exploitative industry
Porn depicts men and women performing actions that can be violent, exaggerated and degrading. The actors are reduced to their body parts. They often use demeaning words for dramatic effect. They are paid to engage in sexual acts that show men dominating women.
This is no way to treat each other in real life. Every person deserves to have their bodies, minds, rights and feelings respected. No one can touch us or do things to our bodies without our permission.
Each of us has unique character, personality and talents. We are beautiful in our own way. We are not just the sum of our body parts.
- Choose your words carefully
When we use language that shames and blames our child, we make them want to hide what they are doing. Secrecy will prevent them from seeking support when they need it.
Parents are the single largest influence on a teen’s decisions on sex. We must use this influence to empower our teens with the knowledge and skills required to navigate sexuality and relationships in a healthy manner. By viewing porn consumption as a teachable moment, we can turn a risky situation into an experience that shapes our teen into a mature, assertive, self-confident, considerate, sensitive and healthy individual.
In a Nutshell
- Porn consumption is on the rise because of easy access through smartphones
- Parents avoid discussing porn and sex with their teens for various reasons
- We must create opportunities to have conversations with our teens regarding sexuality and relationships, irrespective of whether or not they have watched porn
- We must educate our teens about sex and that porn is not a suitable source of information on sex, sexuality, and relationships
What you could do right away
- Watch out for signs that your teen may be watching porn. Initiate ongoing conversations about sex and reinforce the importance of having accurate information about sex
- Set rules regarding device usage—laptops and tabs only in the drawing room (public), no taking mobile phones to bed, no devices in the bathroom, etc.
- Maintain a list of credible information sources such as books, websites, apps, and support groups. These will equip you to field some challenging questions about sex. Encourage your child to refer to these sources instead of porn, in case they want to look something up on their own
About the author:
Written by Divya Sainathan on 10 January 2020.
Sainathan is a writer and editor with a special interest in early childhood education.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 14 January 2020.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and currently heads the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
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