Why we need to talk to primary-aged boys about pornography
Teaching sexuality education in schools has alerted me to the fact that pornography isn’t just a ‘teen issue’. Many primary school students, particularly boys, have already been exposed to, or are actively seeking out, pornography.
The prospect that your son may accidently see, look up, or be shown pornography by a peer is more likely than ever. A 2011 Australian survey of 9 to 16-year-olds found that 44% had seen sexual images online.
So it’s not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’. And the ‘when’ may happen a lot earlier than you think.
Of course, filters, keeping an eye on what your son is watching, and limiting screen time are all good strategies to help avoid exposure. However, nothing is more important than talking openly, calmly and honestly about pornography with your son from an early age – ideally before he sees it.
How to start the conversation
The essential messages to convey to primary-aged boys are:
- pornography is not made for children and could be damaging to your development
- if you ever see anything online that makes you feel uncomfortable or scared, you should tell a trusted adult immediately.
Getting the language right can be tricky, and it may feel awkward. But the fact that you are willing to try says a lot. If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t panic. You can always revisit the topic later on.
Here are some phrases to help you get the conversation started:
- There are certain things on the internet that are not made for kids; things that are not age-appropriate and things you can’t ‘un-see.’
- You may see pictures of people without their clothes on, pictures that show people’s private parts.
- Sometimes these images show people hurting or saying mean things to each other.
- These images can make you feel confused, upset, sick or worried (sometimes even curious).
- If you ever see something like this, you need to ‘click off’ straight away and come and tell me. You won’t get into trouble and I won’t get cross.
- If anyone else shows you images, that’s not OK. You need to tell a trusted adult straight away.
If your son sees pornography on the internet:
- Stay calm (be un-shockable).
- If you can, give yourself some time to think about your response.
- Chat to your son calmly about how he came across the images – this way, you may be able to help him avoid seeing it again.
- If he is receptive, talk to him about how he feels about what he has seen and reassure him.
- If your son has looked something up himself, don’t get cross, shame him, or make him feel guilty. Let him know that it’s normal to be curious, but remind him that what he has seen on the internet is not appropriate for children.
- Reinforce that he can always come to you with questions, and if he wants more information, you will find age-appropriate materials for him to explore.
- Remind him that he should never to show his friends or siblings the material he has seen.
- Make sure he knows that if someone shows him pornographic content (especially an adult or teenager) he must tell you immediately.
Think carefully about taking away your son’s internet rights – many children tell us that the main reason they wouldn’t tell a parent is because they are worried their parent will get angry and take away their technology or internet privileges.
Talking about porn with your primary-aged son is never going to be easy. However, if you think about these chats as building blocks to help you have conversations about respect and consent in later years, you’ll see that a little discomfort now will be well worth it in the future.
For more information and advice, check out Holly-Ann Martin’s 2016 book Hayden-Reece Learns What to Do if Children See Private Pictures or Private Movies (Safe 4 Kids: Armadale, WA).
Green, L., Brady, D., Olafsson, K., Hartley, J., Lumby, C. (2011) Risks and safety for Australian children on the internet: full findings from the AU Kids Online survey of 9–16 year olds and their parents. (ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation: Brisbane, Qld)
Justine Kiely-Scott is the co-owner of Sex Education Australia, and teaches in over 70 primary and secondary schools across Melbourne. Justine is also the mother of three children, including two boys. This article is about Parenting
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