Whether it is accidental, or on purpose, the harsh reality of the world we currently live in is that at some point your child WILL be exposed to pornography. The online world can be filled with inappropriate content, and it is just about impossible to prevent it completely. The reaction you have when you first find out about exposure can shape your relationship with your child, and their relationship with inappropriate content. It is so important to prepare for this interaction so you can be calm and know exactly how you will handle it. Eventually, it will come up.
First and foremost, you need to make sure to calmly handle the situation. If your child lets you know that they have been exposed to pornography, and you completely freak out, they may not feel comfortable enough to come to you about it again in the future. Instead, if they come to you to tell you, remain calm and have a discussion with your child.
On the other hand, if they do not come to you, and you find out about exposure another way, it may be even harder to remain calm, but just as important. You can express disappointment in your child, especially if you have already had discussions with them about it, and they know it is against the rules. Make sure they know what the punishment will be beforehand, so it will not come as a surprise when you need to enforce it.
If you need to give yourself a few minutes before discussing it with your child to remain calm, definitely take it. Let them know that you are not mad, you just need a little bit of time to think.
Have a discussion with them
Once you are ready to discuss it with your child, talk to them about how it is completely natural to be curious and want to see those things. Let them know that they are completely normal and that getting exposed to pornography is something every child will experience because of how easy it is to access now. If you haven’t already, talk to them about addiction, and how easy it can be to become addicted to pornography because of how your brain reacts to it like a drug.
Let them know that they can tell the “fun” part of their brain what to do to help keep them healthy. I like to use the example of eating candy. We all know that candy tastes good and is fun to eat, but it is not healthy for our bodies to eat it. When we allow the fun part of our brain to take over, we can end up in a lot of trouble. Learning how to control ourselves is an important skill to acquire, and let them know you are just helping them develop that skill.
Find out how it happened
Most importantly, you need to find out how the exposure happened. If they came across it on their phone, on a computer, while doing a search for something else, find out what the situation was that allowed it to happen. If their friend showed it to them, they may not be as forthcoming with who it was, since they don’t necessarily want to get them in trouble.
You can establish some trust with your child if you let them know that you will not pass the information along to their parents. If you do make this promise though, make sure to keep it, or your child won’t trust you with that kind of information again. With the knowledge of who it was though, you can do your best to limit their exposure to that friend, or only allow them to hang out at your house in the future.
Try to prevent it from happening again
If you know how it happened, it is much easier to lock it down to prevent it from happening again. You can install more filters, or limit the use of specific devices to certain areas of the house. You can also report content if the exposure was accidental (for example, report it to Google if Safe Search was turned on). I’m a strong advocate of the more filters the better. Anything that can get through one filter, may not make it through 2 or 3. Just make sure you lock the doors that allowed the bad stuff in, and maybe it will be a while before it happens again.
Make a plan
If you don’t already have one, create a plan of attack for if your child is exposed to pornography again. Create this plan with your child and practice what they will do immediately following the exposure. With enough practice, it could become second nature for them to calmly shut down the device and then come and tell a trusted adult. Whatever you plan is, make sure it includes letting you know at some point so you can fix it for the future.