One of the things a parent can most dread is seeing their child view pornography, or fearing that they cannot prevent this from happening. If you either discovered your child watching or being exposed to porn or you’re dreading that this may happen and you are looking for ways to prevent this, read on.
Most of us vividly remember when we were first exposed to some sexual stimulus: a stash of magazines (if you are an older parent) in your friend’s garage or you may remember how you came across pornography on the internet (this means you must be a younger parent). Either way, sexual stimuli that are evoked through a visual image create powerful memories in the brain, which is why we can so vividly remember our first exposures.
The power of that memory can be compared to the power of a memory your body creates in response to food poisoning. You don’t have to train your body to remember that you ate food that was rotten and it will remind you to never eat that fish or return to that restaurant again. That same stream of learning happens when we are exposed to visual sexual stimuli because it elicits a comparable arousal response in the body. However, it is typically more complicated than that. When we are young we have confusing feelings surrounding the stimuli because no one sits us down and explains to us what the physical response is that created the memory in us. Now, as a parent having witnessed your child being exposed to such a stimulus, this situation could trigger the exact same memory of the response you felt when you were first exposed (e.g., disgusted, ashamed, avoidant, or “frozen”).
This page will help you deal with that bodily sensation. I want to assure you that even reading this will help you make sense of these highly confusing events that may have shaped your outlook on life, sexuality, or fear and inhibition surrounding sexual stimuli.
I will explain to you how your body came up with the physical response that is linked to your memory. It is important to explain this link to your child, ideally before an exposure to sexual stimulus occurs. How you tell a child about this physiological response of the body and the strength and feeling that comes with it is dependent on the child’s age. The younger the child, the less detailed the information should be and the more story-like it should be presented. The images you may use to explain to the child how his or her body may feel is more concrete than an image or technical detail that you can give. For a 6-8 year old, you would explain that when we are exposed to things on the internet or somewhere else that may make us feel yucky inside or tingling in their body. At the same time, reinforce that this information should be shared with mommy or daddy, “If you see something that makes you feel weird, I want you to tell us about it”.
Now, if the child has been exposed, this can make them feel uncomfortable. The best way to communicate with them -even if you may have to navigate your own anxiety at the same time- is to assure them that you love them and are grateful for them telling you. It is important that you take action so that the child will see that it was a good thing for them to share this information with you.
For pre-teens or teenagers the conversation about inappropriate materials that cause these strong memories can be more detailed and more technical. Instead of focusing on the content “You shouldn’t watch ____”, focus on explaining their feelings and their bodily responses to them. This will help them own these responses and enable them to self-regulate. Explain to them that there are some people who do not use their cell phones and computers wisely and there are a lot of times that people are taking naked pictures to shock, provoke, and create these strong memories because they do not know better. Now is not the time to go into a moral discussion, but to focus on when or if they are exposed to something that makes them feel uncomfortable or their genitals feel tingly that they need to self-regulate. You can also explain more in-depth that when the genitals are stimulated by seeing or hearing something that it is a normal physiological response, but we don’t want strong memories attached to pictures that give a false sense of what relationships are for.
The conversation about technology and porn has to be put into the larger context of relationships. The child needs to understand that the physiological response in their genitals may cause them to want that type of feeling again (especially when bored, stressed, lonely, or tired). However, feeling a sexual arousal response is best to be experienced in the context of a (maturing or adult) relationship.
As parents we have the responsibility to not live in fear, but to deal with our fear in a productive way. If we are preoccupied with fearing what may happen, we are kept from being strong parents that advocate healthy relationships in which sexuality can exist in a positive way.
Even if we had our unique set of experiences that shaped our current view of sexuality and relationships, feel invited to continue your personal growth and development so that you can be the best parent ever: dealing with your strong memories in a healthy way, thereby teaching your child to do the same.
I would love to hear from you!