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Ask The Expert: I Caught My Child Watching Inappropriate Videos

Dear Your Teen:

My 12-year-old daughter keeps going onto porn sites and adult chat sites. How can I stop this? I’m worried about her safety.

EXPERT | Jamie M. Howard, Ph.D.

It’s very important to put an end to this behavior because exposure to porn and adult chat sites can cause young children to develop unhealthy attitudes toward sex. Porn gives misinformation about typical sexual relationships. Additionally, early exposure to porn can cause children to think obsessively about sex.

This interferes with thinking about more age appropriate and important topics, like maintaining friendships and working hard in school. It is even more dangerous if she is participating in adult chats. She will likely experience threatening and/or uncomfortable comments that cause her embarrassment, disgust, and guilt.

There are a few steps to take to stop this behavior.

How to Block Porn:

1. Have a frank conversation.

First, tell your daughter that she may not watch porn under any circumstances until she is an adult. (You can define “adult” with the age you’re comfortable with.) Explain why it’s unhealthy to watch porn. They will be viewing a graphic account of adult behavior not suitable for children. Porn provides misinformation about sexual relationships. And women are often treated very poorly in these interactions. This would also be a good time to discuss your values as a parent.

2. Install parental monitoring.

Next tell your child you will be installing parental monitoring software on all devices in the home—cell phones, tablets, and computers. With this software you can block all porn sites and monitor the sites that your daughter goes on to make sure she is staying away from this material. (Start by googling “parental control software.”)

3. Make sure she can’t access porn at a friend’s house.

You may also need to give a heads up to parents of your daughter’s friends that you’re carefully monitoring your daughter’s online activity. You don’t have to go into specifics. But you want to know whether they will be supervised on playdates outside of the house. Until she develops a track record of staying safe online, you should carefully monitor her outside of the home as well.

4. If she can’t stop, get help.

Usually this method of “stimulus control” will be effective at extinguishing behavior. However, some children are particularly driven to engage in risky behaviors, possibly due to a mental health problem like a manic episode. If your daughter is particularly resistant and/or goal directed in obtaining porn to watch, then I recommend contacting a mental health professional for a diagnostic evaluation. It’s possible that she would benefit from treatment to reduce this strong urge.

Jamie Howard, PhD

Jamie M. Howard is a clinical psychologist in the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center of the Child Mind Institute and the director of the Center’s Trauma and Resilience Service.