Hi Dr Justin,
I have a 12 year old boy and we recently saw some pornographic sites left on his device. We tried to discuss this with him and he got very angry and ran off. We have tried several times since and we have yet to discuss.
We dropped it and a few months later we had taken his touch for some other misbehaviour. He borrowed my iPhone and we noticed that he had logged into “Instagram” under an inapropriate name and needed a password and he left that blank and forgot to erase the page where he was logging in.
My concerns are of fear, panic, among other things! Both times we found this… he had been at a friends home that day or day before. The boy is a year older than our son. My husband didn’t have a good vibe about the boy. We tried to discuss this again and he yelled and ran off. We wrote him a long letter and he wrote back… “no, no no, no, no,!!!!! I hate you. We will NEVER talk.. etc….
I ask myself…. Is this normal??? Might he be in puberty (some signs.. for sure).
Is this early exposure?
No one talks about this!!!!!
Dr Justin responds:
One of Australia’s best resources to help parents in this area is www.itstimewetalked.com.au. The site has informative statistics and useful tips for talking with your children about this difficult topic.
It is concerning that our children’s primary source of sexual information is now the Internet, and the supply is endless. Your son fits in with the typical exposure to pornography timeline. Most boys are consuming it regularly, with first exposure on average around age 11. At least 92% of boys and 61% of girls aged 13-16 years have viewed pornography.
Some seek it out. Others inadvertently stumble upon it… at least, they stumble on it the first time. For many, it becomes an addictive habit that intrudes on relationships, schoolwork, sleep, psychological health, and more. It seems that more and more boys around your son’s age are caught up in this issue.
Before describing what you can do, let’s briefly look at the damage done by such content.
Sexually Explicit Content Harms
The content of pornographic imagery is concerning. While some kids are just interested in basic anatomy, it seems that a tolerance for pornography develops just like a tolerance for alcohol and other drugs. Soon the ‘basics’ aren’t enough. Common next steps from pictures of naked women are images and videos of intercourse, fellatio, and other sex acts. From there, violent explicit content is a common next step, as is images and video involving larger numbers of participants in those acts. In some instances, curious children may also seek out gay or child-oriented content.
Research supports this idea that tolerance is developed and more extreme images and video are sought by consumers – including children. Aussie data indicates that in popular pornography, 88% of sex scenes included physical aggression (choking, slapping), and 48% depicted verbal aggression (intimidation, humiliation) with women the victims in 94% of cases. Ironically, the women ‘acted’ as though they enjoyed the abuse.
While empirical studies cannot prove a causal link at this point, some point to pornography as the cause of increased sexual crime, including among young people. The Daily Telegraph reported that indecent assaults in schools have increased by 60% in the last 10 years. Assaults on children in schools are up 20 per cent as well.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch recently suggested that access to online pornography has caused sexual assaults by young men to almost double in five years. Family violence and sexual abuse are at epidemic proportions – particularly in remote and indigenous communities – and pornography has been named as contributing to the damage.
What can you do?
While watching explicit content is not a guaranteed causal factor that leads to these negative outcomes, your son increases his risk of acting poorly towards girls as he views pornography. He may become increasingly desensitised to females as people. He may also be drawn into an addiction with serious consequences for his physical, social, psychological, and spiritual health.
The first thing that needs to occur is that he needs to know it is time you talked. While both parents should be involved (and there is a lack of research to support who should do the talking), I believe that dad should be instigating the discussion. We need to teach our boys that real men avoid this content because real men respect women.
Dad might say, “I’d like to chat with you about something difficult and awkward. Is that okay?” Getting permission is helpful. If you encounter persistent resistance from your son about a conversation, then a long drive might be in order – or perhaps a father-son camp. In this situation, dad can simply say, “It’s time we talked”, and then move ahead with the conversation.
Your conversation should include:
- A clear statement about what you have observed.
- A clear statement about your behavioural expectations and why. A rationale is important.
- A willingness to see things from your son’s perspective. (Ultimately there won’t be negotiation, but he should feel safe and understood.)
- A commitment to problem-solve together.
- A preference for avoiding controlling strategies as much as possible.
I’d recommend filters for all devices. Bear in mind that this is only helpful while he is on devices you own. Others can still give him access to concerning content.
Regular conversations about topics around intimacy will possibly be helpful too. Your son seems resistant. But this is important and he needs to be a participant in his education. Begin talking regularly about the big issues. Talk about what you see online, what you hear from other parents, and the concerns you feel after watching the news. Ask him what he thinks. Communicate, educate, and be there.
It is so very important that he knows ‘why’ this matters. This should be central to your discussions, and as much as possible he should be the one identifying answers.
More than anything, he needs to know and feel that he is loved and safe. Look for more ways to connect with him, engage with him, and talk with him about the normal stuff. Keep the relationship positive, spend time and build trust. Then have the hard conversations in ways that respect his autonomy but provide clear expectations. No, he should not be looking at pornography. Yes, you can say that. But how you say it and what you do with the rest of your relationship is pivotal in the types of outcomes you achieve.