4 Sneaky Places That Normalize Porn Use for Kids

Younger kids access stuff out there that isn’t exactly 100% porn or isn’t so intense that it seems to be really bad. That leads them into thinking porn isn’t so bad and eventually looking at a lot of hardcore porn. – A 21-year-old student

As the quote above indicates, we really do need to develop a culture in our homes where we commonly discuss what all members are exposed to and encounter. Parents who do not allow their children to have smart phones may lull themselves into believing they don’t need to talk with their kids about sexual content. That is simply not true.

There are so many ways and places a child can be exposed to illicit sexual material today that we simply must prepare our children to know how to respond when they are exposed.

1. Other Illicit Content in Your House

I was sitting with some guys at school and someone asked, “Do you watch Game of Thrones?” And this other kid said, “Naw, I watch enough porn already.” — A 15-year-old boy

There are many shows that have highly sexualized content on them. Even on standard television, where there are much stricter rules about what can be shown, programs often promote porn use as normal and even desirable.

The wildly popular Big Bang Theory portrays young people who use porn as a matter of course, and if anything, find it humorous. Children are aware of such programs even if they don’t watch them at home. The message they receive is, “Watching porn is what young people do.”

That aside, shows like Big Bang Theory also promote viewing women as sex objects, which is one of the most harmful things that exposure to pornography does to children. If we do not speak into our culture’s messaging about sexualizing people, our children will believe what media teaches. I am not saying we prevent our children from watching TV, I am saying we have to talk about what TV is saying to us.

Things get much more dicey once we get into the world of smart televisions, streaming apps, and cable TV. There are fewer rules about what can be shown in those arenas and full nudity and sex scenes are common. These media channels do provide outright pornographic images, but they also provide content that may not specifically be porn but still show pretty much the same thing.

Apps for memes are made to look innocent, but once opened, a password often opens up sexual content. — A 19-year-old girl

We must be aware that smart TVs have the same apps found on a smart phone, or apps of different names that do the same thing. Anything a kid could do on a smart phone they can do on a smart TV if that is not carefully protected.

Related: 10 Ways Your Kids Can See Porn Without You Realizing It

2. Media Sources Promoting Porn Use

There is nothing new about media promoting porn use as normal or funny. The old movie, The World According to Garth, opens showing three grade-school-aged boys looking at pornography and apparently masturbating while talking about how much they like looking at naked women. A woman catches the boys in the act, but instead of trying to protect them, she only scolds them for hiding their pornographic magazine under her baby’s mattress. The scene is passed off as humorous. Movies have long portrayed pornography use by children as normal and funny, and our children know it.

Nothing has changed. In a recent interview with the three child actors from the newly released movie, Good Boys, the boys joked that they are not legally old enough to view the movie they acted in unaccompanied. The movie apparently shows the boys using pornography, practicing kissing a sex doll, and playing with various sex toys, all while passing it off as humorous. Even though these scenes supposedly portray the boys as innocent and not really understanding what they are doing, young viewers will understand it is encouraging their interest in pornographic scenarios.

3. Interactive Illicit Media

A number of video games show nudity and sex happening. Even if it’s not super graphic, some of them have the player act out sexual scenes with his or her character. — A 21-year-old student

Any app that allows people to talk privately to each other opens the door to forms of sexting. — A 17-year-old girl

I was using an app for streaming music and I found out that I could follow other people and communicate with them. I met a girl this way and we started having text conversations about sex acts. We didn’t really think much about it until her dad found out and got really mad because they had no idea if I was really a kid or not. I never thought about how dangerous that could be so I told my dad and he helped me stop. — A 16-year-old boy

More than ever before in human history, children are playing out sexual themes with other real people through technology. They may or may not know the other person they are interacting with. Children typically view such behavior as “not real” and do not imagine anyone could get hurt through such communication. Such behavior feeds the mindset that other people exist primarily for our sexual gratification. Taking part in the sexual scenarios, rather than just watching it, affects children’s mental health quite profoundly.

Apps come out so frequently that it is not possible to list them all here. Instead we need to have the kind of relationship with our child that allows the child to feel safe letting us know all of the technology, apps, and media they have access to.

Remember that our children can access technology in places other than our homes. This is a conversation all of us need to have with our children, even children who are homeschooled.

Let’s keep in mind that a child does not need a smart phone to be involved in sexting. Sending texts to each other about highly sexualized fantasies can be done on any flip phone and sending nude images is also possible through simple text tools. It is good for parents to wait to give a child a smart phone until they are older, but giving a child any phone requires that we start talking about what they do with that phone.

Related: 6 Easy Ways Your Child Can Bypass Your Internet Filter

4. Beyond Technology

We sometimes forget that the internet was not the first source of pornography, and it is still not the only source. While old school pornographic magazines are far less prevalent today than in my childhood, print media is no safer than when I was young. Comic books, Magna, and graphic novels continue to grow in popularity and can be found in any library or bookstore. Many of these carry sexual themes and some even depict nudity and graphic sex. Kids can still access these and hide them under their mattress just like when I was a kid. The difference is, a kid today can pick one up at an innocent looking bookstore or library without needing to be eighteen.

I am not trying to be alarmist. Most of these forms of print media are safe and can contain very appropriate and positive content. However, hidden in the bookshelves between the positive magazines and books, we will often find extremely graphic examples. Just like accidently coming across pornography online, a child can come across a pornographic Magna book or magazine by accident as well. Once again, we need to know what our kids are doing and we need to talk frequently with them about what they are coming across.

What Can a Parent Do?

I do not want parents to come away from reading this post feeling overly frightened and worried. Even if our kids are exposed to this kind of content we can still help them process the experience and create safeguards around future exposure. Hope is not lost. Here are some conversation starters, listed in the order a parent might use them:

1. Start talking more openly about suggestive or even illicit content you come across as a parent.

Don’t start by asking what your child may have been exposed to before you prove to them that in your house it is safe to be honest about what we are seeing. We can start out saying something to the effect of, “I came across something yesterday that I wasn’t expecting…” Sharing our own stories encourages our kids to share theirs.

2. Help your children know it is human to sometimes be attracted to something that is not good for us.

We can start with examples of non-sexual things, which are easier to talk about. In my case excessive amounts of key lime pie is an example. We can talk as a family about how not everything we want or are attracted to is good for us and sometimes we have to say “no” to ourselves.

3. Be honest ourselves as parents how it makes us feel when we come across suggestive content.

Our kids are wondering if we know what it feels like to be attracted to sexual content. If we won’t admit that we find some sexual content appealing, they will never admit the same to us. My children knew I sometimes found pornography attractive and had to take measures not to access it before they reached middle school. That did not make them think I was creepy, it helped them feel normal when they entered puberty and felt the same way.

4. Ask your children what they hear other kids are doing related to watching content with nudity in it or talking about sex with each other.

You could say, “I hear that kids today are _____. Is that really true?” It’s a lot easier for our child to answer this question than to admit what they are doing themselves.

5. Ask your child what they think of what other kids are doing.

They may never have considered what they think about it and this is good practice for them. Then you will also have a better idea of what your child is thinking and know better how to help them if help is needed.

6. Finally, after doing all of the above several times over at least two weeks, you can ask your child, “So, what have you seen?”

It is better to take our time rather than rush this. Even if we feel a sudden panic realizing our child might have been exposed to more than we realize, it is better to proceed slowly and gain their trust. Otherwise, our children will feel interrogated and will be less likely to be honest.

Where This Leaves Us

Being aware of the dangers to our children does not mean we react out of fear. Locking our children away until they are eighteen is not a solution. That only puts off teaching them what they need to know to be safe to a time they don’t have to listen to us anymore. Our children need to learn how to be safe in the world they were born into. We need to learn how to protect them from a world that is different than what we grew up in. We are all going to have to do this together.

It is perfectly fine to admit to our children if we don’t really know what all they need protection from. They may already know more than we do of what to be careful of. The truth is, our children are more likely to be willing to try to be safe if we invite them to help us determine how that can be done. Children are no different than adults in wanting to be needed.

You are going to make mistakes. Your children are going to make mistakes. All of that is okay as long as you are working together toward the same goal. That will be easier to achieve a home where it is safe to admit mistakes.

The big takeaway is it is time to start talking now. You have a list of conversations but the first one is to share things you have come across recently that are suggestive or illicitly sexual. You don’t need to give details to share with your family what you saw. Prove to your children that your house is a safe place to be honest.

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