Pornography’s influence poses many challenges for young people, for the adults who live or work with them and for society in general. How can you support your child to navigate this new reality and to develop relationships and sexuality that are healthy, safe and respectful?
Limit their exposure
Young people’s access to pornography is mostly via technology, so limiting exposure will require limiting and managing their access to technology. For example, by keeping devices out of bedrooms and other private spaces and putting time limits on use.
Encourage critical thinking
But even with the best strategies to limit exposure, it is likely that children and young people will see pornography – if not in their own homes, then at school or at someone else’s house.
We need to teach young people to ‘read’ imagery and to develop the sorts of frameworks that allow them to understand and critique what they’re seeing. They need to understand that media is often created to promote something as desirable and necessary and, at the same time, communicates a whole range of other messages – about, for example, power, gender, age, class and culture. You can help your child develop these critical media literacy skills by discussing the underlying messages about power and relationships communicated in advertising, films and television. There is no need to show young people porn.
Equip them with skills
We need to encourage young people to act differently – and help them to learn the skills required to respond to pornography’s influence.
We need to help young people develop quite practical skills about what they could say and do to protect their wellbeing in situations such as when they experience peer pressure to consume porn or an intimate partner initiates unwanted porn-like sex.
You can support your child to develop these skills by talking through the types of situations they might face and exploring the options for how they could respond. Let them know you understand that these aren’t easy situations – that it can feel hard to know what to do or say. Together, think creatively about their options, and discuss the pros and cons. For example, if peers pressure them to watch porn, would they ignore it, use humour, say why they don’t want to watch it or make an excuse to leave? What could each option look like in practice and what would be the risks or benefits of each approach?
Remind them that it’s never okay for anyone to pressure them to do anything sexual – including watch porn – and affirm that you will support them however you can. You may want to consider developing a code they can use to indicate when they want support in a difficult social situation – for example, if they text you their name, you know to call them and ask them to come home, so they have an easy excuse to leave.
We need to be able to help young people to see that sex and relationships can be better than what porn portrays. We can model good practice by engaging in just and respectful gender relations in our homes, extended families, schools, communities and work places, and in public spaces, politics and the media. We can seek to encourage ways of thinking and talking about sexuality that include communication, consent, mutual pleasure and respect.
Become an advocate
Talk with friends, family and other parents about the influence of porn and become an advocate for education about pornography at your child’s school, read more.