Guilt. Shame. Shock. Anger. Confusion. What happens now? (I’m talking about how parents often feel after they catch their teen looking at porn.) You know you are going to have to talk to your teen about porn, but you aren’t sure what you will say or how to have this conversation with your teen in a productive and healthy manner. This conversation is an excellent opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with your teen. You got this!

A few things to think about BEFORE you talk to your teen:

You control the tone of the conversation, and how you approach this conversation is significant.

Your response has the potential to communicate that sex is dirty, being curious about sex is unhealthy, and that your teen is perverted or has something wrong with them. This is NOT the conversation you want to have.

Remember—this is an opportunity. You can have a tone and approach that opens the door for future conversations and draws your teen toward you OR you can have a tone and approach that slams this important door shut and pushes your teen away. (And they won’t be talking to you about anything personal for a long, long time.)

You may have a lot of thoughts and emotions of your own to process. Take your time and make sure you are in the right frame of mind with your emotions in check

Ask yourself: What are my goals for this conversation?

If you have multiple children using multiple devices, make sure you are not jumping to conclusions about who was looking at what.

Spouses look at pornography too. This isn’t the time to play detective, but make sure you have your facts straight. Nothing feels worse than when someone accuses you of something you didn’t do.

Even if you found something on your teen’s phone, there is still the chance that they were not seeking anything explicit or pornographic.

They may have mistyped a URL, accidentally clicked an ad, or clicked on a trick link. They could have been “Cyber-Flashed.” Some popular apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram leave the door wide open for other users to send things unrequested. The apps themselves sometimes “recommend” explicit content. Facebook is notorious for individuals sending a friend request, followed by explicit material after you accept the friend request. Even a friend or sibling could have been using their phone.

[Any of these scenarios still require a conversation, but one on digital safety. This online class covers all the bases.] 

Educate yourself about pornography and its effects.

The website linked at the end will be a big help before you talk to your teen. Understand how pornography affects the brain and the chemistry of addiction.

A few things to think about AS you talk with your teen:

DO:

  • Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. Here’s an example of a conversation.
  • Remember the Closer/Further Rule: Are my words, tone, attitude, body language more likely to cause my teen to want to move closer to me or move further away? (Literally and figuratively.) Am I exhibiting a calmness, openness, and compassion to my teen? “It’s safe to move closer to this person.
  • Be direct, matter-of-fact, and calm—“I found pornography on your phone, (or tablet, or laptop) and I’d like us to talk about it.” [Be prepared for a variety of possible reactions—guilt, shame, or embarrassment over getting caught, or even anger and resentment for feeling like their privacy has been violated.]
  • End the conversation by asking if they have any questions, reaffirming that they can always come to you to talk about anything or when they feel tempted. Ask them how you can help them and above all else, tell them you love them no matter what and are willing to walk with them down this path.

DON’T:

  • Interrogate. Gently ask questions. You probably want to know when they first saw pornography, how often they look at pornography, what they use to view pornography. Ask your teen how they feel after looking at porn. (Keep a good poker face even if you hear some things that make you uncomfortable.) You know your teen. You know how to gauge your teen’s responses.
  • Lecture. You may have your own reasons why you don’t want your teen viewing pornography. Consider the following reasons as well:
    • The brain chemistry of addiction. Watching porn releases dopamine (“feel good” chemical) and oxytocin (bonding chemical). Both play a role in addiction.
    • Because of this, viewing pornography is an escalating behavior. The viewer will feel the need to see more porn and more explicit pornography to get the same chemical “high.”
    • Porn presents a distorted view of human sexuality and creates false expectations. It also leaves out the relational intimacy that contributes to good, healthy sex.
    • Pornography affects real-life relationships. Using porn is associated with less satisfaction in relationships, less close relationships, more loneliness, and more depression (Hesse & Floyd, 2019).

A few things to think about AFTER you talk to your teen about looking at porn:

  • Follow up. Teens often freeze-up when they are uncomfortable. They may need a day or two to process your conversation. Their thoughts, feelings, and questions might take a few days to form, so it’s a good idea to follow up a couple of days later with, “Now that you’ve had some time to think about our conversation, what thoughts or questions do you have?
  • Talking to your teen about sex and looking at porn is not a one-time talk. As a parent, you want this to be an ongoing conversation. Be an “askable” parent. Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they feel comfortable talking to you about hard topics and asking you questions.
  • You may want to make some practical changes in how you use technology in your home. (Electronic devices used in common areas of the house, devices charged in your bedroom at bedtime, etc.)
  • You are the best app to protect your teen online. If you choose to install apps or programs that restrict or report content on a device remember, teens find workarounds. Ultimately, the battle against pornography is won by knowing the truth and character development. Your relationship with your teen is the first and best line of defense.
  • Fight the New Drug (This website is a gold mine for info!)

Image from AdobeStock.com

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