Family, Sex

How Smart Parents Respond When They Find Out Their Kid Has Found 'Adult' Content Online

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How To Take Back Your Parental Control By Turning Unwanted Media Exposure Into Sex Ed Opportunities For Kids

I was recently asked how parents can respond with age-appropriate information when they find out their children have been prematurely "exposed" to adult material online despite their best efforts to establish Internet security protocols for their kids via parents control apps and the like.

These are the three main points I advise parents to keep in mind in such situations:

1. Breathe

If your child has seen adult content, the first thing to do is BREATHE. Stay calm. Don’t do more harm by freaking out.

Think of it this way: Just like when your toddler falls, it is best to stay cool. A toddler sometimes seeks out their parent to gauge how severe their own fall was; they can register it from the look on your face or the pitch of your voice. When you take it seriously while staying calm, your child is assured that you can handle the situation.

Now is not the time to go into questions like, “Who showed you this?” or “Why did you do this?” or “What were you thinking?” Asking those types of questions will NOT help the child process what happened. You can deal with these questions later if you then still believe it's important to do so.

Also, don't get hyper and allow your voice go to a range that only dogs can hear. That is confusing for children and not helpful.

RELATED: Your Kids WILL See Porn — This Checklist Makes Sure They're Prepared

2. Ask

Ask your child what they felt and thought. Most likely your child was grossed out by what they saw. You can start by validating that. Lots of the adult content available is strange even to adults. Imagine if you were seeing the one it for the first time!

If you don't know where to start, the easiest thing to do is to ask your child what they already know. Often this includes some misconceptions you can simply correct, like “the man pees inside the woman."

You can also ask what they were looking for. Sometimes children stumble on adult images or videos unknowingly. Other times they know exactly what they want to see. Maybe your child knows about sex already. Maybe they're older and already starting to think about sex. Maybe they're even considering having sex for the first time. Asking the questions allows you to respond directly at your child’s own maturity level.

3. Share

It's crucial to communicate to your children (of any age) that searching the web, and more specifically, searching for pornographic content, is NOT the best idea when looking for sex education. What they'll find online is terrible sex ed! Just like a romantic comedy, these movies are fantasies created for adults and then put on film, not instructional videos.

Another important point of info to share with your kids is that “there are things you can’t unsee.”

You can relate this to something you know they were already scared or affected by seeing and ask them if they wished they hadn’t been exposed to it in the first place (for me it was the movie “Alien”).

Also, you can share that viewing this kind of content isn't good when you're not ready for it. Children don't know how to process it, especially when no one around them is willing to talk about sexuality.

I’ve heard people use the excuse that generally telling kids about sex “breaches the firewall of innocence.” I argue that NOT telling them about sex keeps them ignorant about a very basic human behavior, which only leads to unnecessary confusion and leaves kids at risk of being exposed to sexual behavior, imagery and concepts without the ability to process it.

There's a big difference between acknowledging something and encouraging it. I am merely suggesting you acknowledge sexuality as one of the facts of life.

Make sure to follow up with real information about what sex is and what it is not. Most parents look for age-appropriate information, but the fact is that all children are different.

Even within the family, siblings can be vastly different in mental, emotional, and intellectual readiness for information about sexuality, regardless of their specific age. Unless someone knows your family history and background, relating specifics is tough. Information from books or sites gives a range of ages because there can be huge variance (e.g., first menstruation can be between ages 9 and 16 with an average of 12). 

It's of the utmost importance to find information that is useful and pertinent for your specific child.

RELATED: What Every Parent MUST Tell Their Kids About Porn (BEFORE Age 13)

And on a final note, I'd like to reflect on the way we use the word “exposed” in relation to children and adult content.

Our kids are exposed to far worse imagery all the time, and many of us don't think twice about it.

Violence in cartoons for children comes to mind (e.g. Bugs Bunny and Road Runner). What does the depiction of violence do to our children long term, when they see characters who repeatedly harm each other but suffer no real consequences? As a society, we don't think about that much. Yet, when it comes to sex and nudity we are terrified of the perceived long-term consequences.

In my mind, and according to some solid research in the area, repeated viewing of violence is more damaging for all of us than repeated viewing of (most) sexual acts.

Some of the adult content that is out there is scary and confusing and bizarre, to be sure.

The important point is to make the whole situation as much of a non-event as possible, but also enough of a lesson that children learn not to do it again.

And my bottom line is that it isn't what kids see that is ultimately so damaging, but rather the reaction of adults that can be problematic.


The MamaSutra

​​Dr. Lanae St.John, ACS is a San Francisco Bay Area Board Certified Sexologist, Parenting & Relationship Coach, and Sex Educator who teaches Human Sexuality to college students at City College of San Francisco, writes a blog as “The MamaSutra” and has recently completed a manuscript for a parenting book about human sexuality. She is also the proud mother of two daughters with whom she actively embodies her message of empowerment, freedom of expression, and a sex and body-positive mentality.

This article was originally published at The MamaSutra. Reprinted with permission from the author.