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. ~ Dr. Gail Dines
When kids see pornography or become regular viewers, or maybe even 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 be directed toward the pornographers – not the kids.
The best reaction is to COMPOSE Yourself! At Culture Reframed, we understand how daunting it can be to raise children in a hypersexualized media culture that normalizes mainstream hardcore pornography. We have developed a model called COMPOSE Yourself!, which helps parents respond effectively when they discover their young person has viewed pornography. The COMPOSE Yourself! model is adaptable to all ages.
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 your children know that they haven’t done anything bad, but take a moment before having a discussion. Keep in mind that your child has a different understanding of sex, sexuality, and sexual concepts than 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 confusion to the negative impact of the images they have seen.
is for OWNERSHIP. Take control, stay engaged, and clarify details. Find out if anyone else was involved, and assess the risks.
Helping your child take ownership of the situation involves asking questions and will assist with ongoing self-monitoring. Was it an isolated event that was the result of curiosity? Was it accidental or deliberate? What device was your child using? Did it happen at home, at school, or at a friend’s house? Did someone show the child the images during an online chat? 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 might 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 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. Empathize with them and assure them that you may have felt the same way if it were you in 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 parent your child can feel both supported by and safe with. This will provide a comfortable space for your child to ask questions.
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 are 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 provide 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. Teach your child 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 you can override its power with positive actions and empathic listening.
The “override” approach will look different, depending on the age and stage of your child. However, an important element will be helping them to 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 that they have been brainwashed, and they 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 their peers were to believe everything the porn industry wants them to believe, what would the personal, relational, social, and cultural consequences be? Talk about how things could look if people mobilized to fight back and 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. Keep a cool head and work on a long-term plan rather than panicking or acting in the moment. Seek professional help if needed.
Encourage healthy, open discussions, and help your child to explore how empowering it feels when they have the 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 upon which to build expectations of future behavior. Filters and monitoring apps can assist in reducing access to pornography while your young person is learning to develop self-discipline. Embedded behaviors such as pornography addiction require a different strategy and, often, more support and accountability. If the whole situation outweighs your ability to overcome it, 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 to develop the skills they will need to 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 that will allow 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 quickly resume its balance, particularly if their exposure was a single, isolated incident. However, if porn use is habitual, setbacks are to be expected. It is important that you check in on your children and monitor how they are feeling, especially if there are behavioral changes (e.g., telling lies, being secretive, bed wetting, or 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 necessary.