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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

My 12 year old downloaded porn?!

April 19, 2010


Woah! I didn't know people could do that!

If you give a kid a computer, at some time or another, he’ll probably Google “Sex” or “Porn” or god knows what else. If you find out what he’s been looking at what do you do? What prepares a parent for this one? How do you discuss this with your child… or with another adult for that matter?

Recently a very brave and caring dad emailed me when he faced this challenge. Even if you’re beyond certain that your son/daughter would never check out an X rated site, read on anyway… :

Hello Annie,

I just discovered some pretty hardcore porn on my 12 year old son’s MP3/video player that I was trying to fix. I do not know how to handle this. I have not confronted him yet. I want to have a plan. I want to know where/who he got it from. He does spend time on My Space and he sometimes closes the door but mostly he is messaging as far as I can tell. I think he had to get it from someone else but that is not what bothers me. I am a more laid back dad but I feel I am too laid back. I want to dicipline him firmly and also start supervising his online activity. Any advice would be most appreciated.

Flabbergasted Dad

__________

Dear Dad,

It’s natural for a 12 year old boy to be curious about sex. There’s no point in getting angry with him for following his curiosity. That’s not to say pornography is appropriate material for him to be viewing. It isn’t! And that is a clear message he needs to hear from you.

You say you are “too laid back” which indicates that maybe you’ve never had a conversation with him about your rules for his internet use and other media consumption. Maybe you’ve never directly told him that pornography isn’t appropriate for 12 year olds. While you’re at it, you should definitely tell your son WHY you personally believe that is the case. He needs to know what your family values are when it comes to sexually explicit “entertainment.” And your expectations for his behavior on and offline when it comes to girls. Kids who think their parents “don’t care” what they do are often the ones who lack a strong sense of what is right. They are much more likely to be swayed by peer pressure.

So, take some slow deep breaths, then calmly and respectfully talk to your son. Tell him what you know about what he’s been doing. Tell him why this material is against your family values and make it clear that he is not to view it any more. Talk as openly as you can about sex and how exposure to pornography hurts kids by giving them a unhealthy perspective of adult relationships.

Even though your son knew intuitively that you wouldn’t be thrilled with what he was doing, don’t punish him. He didn’t know the rules. Now he will. Let him know that you will periodically and randomly be checking his computer and MP3 player to make sure that he is in compliance with your rules.

Fyi there are ways to turn on “parental controls” on most computers and MP3 players that will prevent the access of objectionable material. There are also ways to get around those safeguards, most easily “I’ll go to my friend’s house and view it there.” but then this becomes a trust issue. Bottom line: You want to trust your son and he wants to be trustworthy in your eyes.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Annie

__________

Hi Annie,

Thanks for the advice. I will talk to him tomorrow evening. I am glad I have taken the time to think more about how this can be a learning experience for both of us. I do need to talk more about our family values.

Thanks,

Dad

__________

Hi Dad,

You’re more than welcome. You might want to create an “objectives” list before your talk, ie., “What messages do I want my son to take away from our discussion in the short-term and for the rest of his life?”

Good luck with the conversation.

In friendship,
Annie

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9 Comments »

  1. Interesting post. Through the internet, kids now have access to literally everything (porn included), but the dilemma is nothing new. Growing up is all about testing boundaries, seeing what you can get away with and exploring the adult world. I like what you said about pornography hurting kids by giving them an unhealthy perspective of adult relationships. I don’t believe I’ve heard that before.

    For as long as there have been dirty photos and magazines, kids have probably snuck around trying to look at them. So while the medium has changed and evolved, kids are still exploring and therefore parents still need to have “the talk” and up their game in finding their kids’ porn. Nowadays there just might not be physical magazines under the mattress.

    Comment by Fayette — April 20, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  2. [...] I love this advice to a dad from author/educator Annie Fox: “My 12-year-old downloaded porn?!” [...]

    Pingback by Young people’s views about sexual content online | NetFamilyNews.org — February 22, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  3. I would agree about not punishing the child in this situation. While I’m sure he knew at some level it wasn’t appropriate, without a conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate he really doesn’t know where that boundary is.

    As uncomfortable as this may be, it’s also a good time to ask if he has any questions, anything at all, and let him know he can ask with no repercussions.

    The calmer and more natural this question is the better. The more we react as parents, the greater the chance they’ll pursue it harder. Also consider having this conversation while on a walk or, sometimes even better, in the car. Kids will open up more and feel less threatened in these environments.

    Comment by Talon (@1Dad1Kid) — March 14, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  4. Well said, Talon! A response is preferable to a reaction. In addition to offering a safe environment to have the conversation, your thoughtful, measured approach is providing a great role model of what it means to be a good parent, even during “uncomfortable” discussions.

    Comment by Annie — March 14, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

  5. Do you think the boy will think “…periodically and randomly…checking his computer and MP3 player to make sure that he is in compliance with your rules” is a sign that the father doesn’t really consider him trustworthy?

    Comment by Daryl Spitzer — March 18, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  6. Clearly it is a sign that Dad doesn’t have 100% confidence in the boy’s compliance with the rules. And maybe Dad’s mistrust is misplaced. I don’t know the kid or his track record for keeping agreements. I will say, in a perfect world, I’d love to see the calm, respectful conversation be the end of the issue. But I know that the developing brain of a 12 year old may make it challenging for the kid to resist the urge to “peek” again or to cave in if he and friends are poking around on the computer together. Therefore, Dad’s announcement about “periodical and random….” checks, might actually help the child self-regulate.

    Comment by Annie — March 18, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  7. I actually went through the same thing with my daughter. Twice. I was pretty shocked at the stuff that I found–and I probably did NOT handle it as I should have the first time. The second time, I didn’t get mad but DID have the kind of talk you suggest. Then it was about trust. And about the way women are portrayed in porn. She was more upset the second time when I wasn’t angry. I

    These days (she’s now 15) I talk more about how I trust her because I expect her to be a leader, to be the friend others come to, to choose friends who make her a better person, to be a better person for her friends…

    And I hold my breath and….hope (with vigilance and verification. heh).

    Just adding this comment here because it is not just the boys. Easy access is…well, easy access.

    Comment by B — March 26, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  8. Great post! I have to admit, as a professional technology educator, I have always discussed with my daughter about being safe on the internet esp. about protecting herself from digital sexual preditors. I had not thought about the fact that she may use the internet to do her own research on the topic! Yes, eventually it will happen. I think one of the best things we as parents can do is begin having that “birds and bees” discussion with kids while they are young and in that early curiousity stage. Most importantly, the subject of sex should be an ongoing dialogue with your child, and should include more than just the mechanics of creating a baby… issues surrounding emotions, promiscouity, changes in your hormones, etc should be a part of the on going conversation. Thanks for your advice.

    Comment by TDanyel — August 30, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  9. Great post and discussion!

    I’ve not seen any mention giving kids some online resources to suppoort healthy sexuality and give them answers to their questions about anatomy, sexuality and how things work.

    I am a sexuality educator. Kids are going to explore this topic. Whether online, with their friends, with older siblings, books, magazines and any other way you can think of. Why not give them access to good infomration that will satisfy their curiousity and education them in healthier ways than porn will.

    Changing Bodies, Changing Lives is a great coffee table book to leave hanging around for your kids to find on purpose. Expect it to disappear, so if you have more than one teen/tween you many need multiple copies.

    http://www.sexetc.org is a great website for teens by teens … and for parents as well!

    http://www.teenwire.com is another great site with a good parent section.

    If you’re squeamish about the topic, conflicted about your beliefs on the topic or concerned that kids don’t need to know, I highly recommend the film Let’s Talk About Sex as well as the website http://www.letstalkaboutsexthefilm.org

    All the best,
    Trisha

    Comment by Trisha — September 7, 2011 @ 8:37 am

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