The pornographers did a kind of stealth attack on our culture, hijacking our sexuality and then selling it back to us, often in forms that look very little like sex but a lot like cruelty. The only solution to this is a movement that is fierce in its critique of sexual exploitation and steadfast in its determination to fight for what is rightfully ours.
When kids see pornography, become regular viewers, or engage in self-production of child exploitation material (CEM / child pornography), it is completely normal that parents will experience a huge range of emotions. If the first reaction is anger, it should towards the pornographers – not our kids.
The best reaction is to COMPOSE Yourself! At Culture Reframed, we understand how daunting it can be to raise children in an environment that normalizes hypersexualized pop culture and violent mainstream pornography. Because of this, we have developed a model to help parents respond well when they discover their young person has viewed pornography. The COMPOSE Yourself! model is adaptable for all ages.
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is for CALM. Stay calm and don’t panic! Collect your thoughts before engaging in conversation with your child. Slow your breathing, take some time out for yourself, and don’t react.
If it’s a sudden discovery, let them know that they haven’t done anything bad, but take a moment before having a discussion. Know that your child has a different understanding to sex, sexuality and sexual concepts to what you do as an adult. If they see you overreacting rather than responding in a calm and purposeful manner, it may lead to thoughts that they are a bad person, and add to their confusion and negative impact of the images they have seen.
is for OWNERSHIP. Ask your child curious questions. Stay engaged and clarify details. Find out if there was anyone else involved and assess any risks there may be for other children.
Helping your child take ownership of the situation involves asking questions, and will assist with ongoing self-monitoring. Was it an isolated event that resulted out of curiosity? Was it accidental or deliberate? What device was your child using? Did it happen at home, school or at a friend’s house? Did someone show them the images when they were chatting online? If so, was that person known to them, or a recently added contact? When did it happen? Was it a ‘one off’ incident, or have they been watching pornography for some time? For everyone’s safety and privacy, remember to keep the number of people involved to an absolute minimum. This stage is crucial in understanding what level of intervention and support may be required. Rather than ‘grilling’ your young person for answers, take a step back, do some ‘detective work’, and consider how else you can ascertain all the information. You don’t have to ask all these questions at once. It may take time for your child to open up to you, so be patient.
is for MOOD. Explore how this has emotionally impacted your child. Let them know that their feelings are a normal reaction, rather than anything to be ashamed about.
If it’s younger kids, ask them if it made them feel “sick in the tummy” or “yucky”. Let them know you understand. Empathise with them and assure them that you may have felt the same way if it was you that situation. This helps them to know that their feelings are a normal reaction rather than anything they must hide. Young and old, kids may experience arousal and sometimes orgasm, depending on how long they were engaged with the content. Help them understand that just because something feels good, doesn’t mean it is good for them. Validate their emotions and help them make sense of their reaction. Remember to manage your own mood and continue to stay calm, as your child will mirror your emotions.
is for PARENT. Be the type of parent your child can come to and safely ask questions, and teach your child critical thinking skills. Being a parent is not just something you are – it’s something you do.
It may take a while for your child to think about questions they have, so this will be an ongoing topic. If sex and pornography is something they are not used to discussing with you, they may be asking others, or internalizing their feelings (holding everything inside). Let them know that you are a calm, safe and accepting place for them to come home to. Be aware of your own values and consider how you will guide your child to become the best version of themselves they can be. Read books and talk to other parents who may have had similar experiences. Help teach them critical thinking skills by critiquing images on television or in public spaces. Discuss how these images make them feel, and how to respond differently by placing value on themselves and others, rather than seeing people as objects.
is for OVERRIDE. The porn industry has created this situation, and together, you can now ‘override’ its power with positive actions and behaviours.
The ‘override’ approach will look different depending on the age and stage of your child. However, a big element will be to help them consider how they can be a part of the solution, rather than be deceived by the stealth tactics of the porn industry. Young people hate feeling they have been brainwashed, and can be incredible agents for change. Tap into that ‘defiance’ as a way of motivating changes in attitudes and behaviors. Discuss the alternative with them – if they, and peers, believe everything the porn industry wants them to believe, what are the personal, relational, social and cultural consequences? Talk about how things could look with a movement of people fighting back to override the harms of a pornified culture. Talk about how you will problem solve together if they lose sight of this goal. Punishment is not the answer, as this will cultivate shame and shut down further discussions.
is for STRATEGY. Work on a “where to from here?” approach rather than being reactive, and seek out professional help if needed.
Encourage healthy open discussions, and help them to explore how empowering it feels when they have courage and confidence to “do the right thing”. If your child knows what is, and what is not acceptable behavior according to a set of pre-determined and understood boundaries, you will have a solid foundation to build expectations of future behaviors. Filters and monitoring apps can assist with reducing access while your young person is learning to develop self-discipline. Embedded behaviours such as pornography addiction, require a different strategy and often, more support and accountability. If the whole situation is bigger than your confidence to overcome, get help! Professional intervention can equip you with a targeted strategy and provide much needed reinforcements. It takes a village to raise a child!
is for EVALUATE. Check in with your child regularly. Help them develop skills so they can make healthy decisions, and be clear that you will parent and partner with them.
Letting them know you are a partner in this journey, offers a framework for you to look out for them and be available so they can talk with you. Monitor online activity and stay tuned in to their behaviors. Depending on your child’s interaction with pornography, life may balance again quickly, particularly if it was a ‘single’ incident. However, if porn use was habitual, setbacks are to be expected. It is important that you check in on your child and explore how they are feeling, especially if there are behavioral changes (e.g. telling lies; keeping secrets; bed wetting; anxiety). Trust your gut-feelings and parental instincts if you suspect your child is not okay. Review your strategy, and seek assistance from professionals if required.