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Why Parents Need to Talk About The Dangers Of Internet Pornography

A generation ago, accessing pornography required effort. Unless an older sibling had a stash, or a parent subscribed to an X-rated cable channel, teens had to actually leave the house and often craft elaborate plans to be able to view it. Now a veritable buffet of porn is as close as the nearest Internet-connected device—and its ubiquity has affected teen attitudes toward sexuality, body image, violence, and treatment of women.

The Growing Influence Of Porn

“It’s well understood among teens that free online pornography is the primary source of sexual education for teen boys,” says Dr. Wes Crenshaw, a Lawrence, Kansas-based family psychologist who is co-writing a book on parenting teens in the Internet age. “I always say that learning about sex from porn is like learning about animals from watching Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.”

For parents who feel uncomfortable just explaining the birds and the bees, starting a conversation about online pornography might seem like an insurmountable challenge. But given the prevalence of the material, professionals who counsel adolescents say such conversations are vital.

“You should assume with 100 percent certainty that your kids will be exposed to explicit content,” explains Crenshaw. “Get involved in that conversation early on.”

Start by stressing that real-life intimate relationships have little to do with what’s being portrayed online. Says Crenshaw: “Most Internet pornography is a cartoon of human sexuality.”

And if you’ve already discovered your teenager viewing Internet porn?

How To Talk About Porn With Your Teens

Stay calm and don’t be confrontational, advises Jonathan Singer, Ph.D., LCSW,  an assistant professor at Temple University and National Association of Social Workers expert who specializes in counseling children and teens.

“Most kids who look at porn on the Internet are not going to become porn addicts,” Singer says. “You can say, ‘I saw somebody was looking at porn on the computer, and it wasn’t me. And there are only two of us in the house. There are a lot of things I’d like to discuss with you about porn. I’m not mad; you’re not in trouble. I just want to find out what’s going on.’”

Singer suggests that parents actually view some of the sites that their teenagers are visiting. Then they know what issues to address. Don’t speak in abstractions. That might mean saying, “Penises are not typically 8 to 12 inches long. Most people don’t like being slapped and tied up and forced to give blow jobs to a dozen guys,” Singer explains. “Debunk the myth,” Singer says. “Be very clear and honest.”

Preventing Porn In Your House

Parents can also consider adding a porn filter to their home network. While it’s not a panacea, it does make clear that you don’t approve of viewing pornography, explains Darby Fox, a child and adolescent family therapist in New Canaan, Connecticut. Making it harder to access might just discourage a teen from viewing it altogether.

“A huge percentage of teen pornography is viewed in the home,” says Fox. “A little bit at school, a little bit at other places.”

Above all, parents should take seriously their role in teaching their teens to self regulate so they grow up to be healthy, independent adults.

“When your teenagers leave home to go live in a dorm or get their own place, and they’re able to say, ‘I could look at porn but I’m not going to,’ then you have won as a parent,” Singer says.

Laura Putre

Laura Putre is a freelance writer in Northeast Ohio. Her work has appeared in Slate, Belt Magazine, O Magazine, and TheRoot.com. Follow her @lauraputre