This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.
Kids are naturally curious — especially when it comes to the things adults don’t want them to see. And while sneaking a peak at some form of pornography can be a right of passage for many, it can also be a shocking introduction into a grown-up world that young minds aren’t ready for.
These days, kids don’t have to travel to a remote cave to view some saucy hieroglyphics or gather in a cold basement while a dog-eared copy of Playboy is passed along. It’s essentially at their fingertips 24/7 thanks to all the technology in their lives.
And as we allow younger children more access to the Internet, we increase their access to porn.
Jennifer Schill may be a mom of two, but she also remembers what it was like to be young — and all the confusing feelings that go with it.
Schill says young people are naturally drawn to the mysteries of sex. “So I think it’s just letting your kids know this is normal, to be curious, to want to look at it. It’s not dirty and shameful,” she said.
Porn can be confusing for kids
But it can be difficult for younger kids to process what they are seeing, and how it is making them feel. They may not even be in a space where sexuality is on their radar. Most children’s first exposure to pornography isn’t necessarily with intent — it’s quite often shown to them by a friend or an older sibling, or an ill-advised google search. But kids can’t unsee it — and so it’s up to parents to not only acknowledge that their children will view porn, but that they may internalize those images in a way that misguides them once they are mature enough to be sexually active.
Saleema Noon is a sexual health educator who says children, especially boys, as young as Grade 4 are seeing things way too mature for them to fully comprehend.
“For young people,watching porn may give them the impression that that’s what a typical, healthy,sexual relationship looks like, which we as adults know it isn’t because pornography is entertainment, ” she says. “By the time they get to their first real sexual experience, it’s possible they can be loaded down with all sorts of expectations.”
But Noon also wants parents to destigmatize pornography and sexuality. While it is not appropriate for children, there is no inherent shame in watching and enjoying porn once you are old enough to make that decision for yourself.
It’s illegal for children under the age of 18 to view pornography or to show porn to others under the age of 18.
Harmful stereotypes can impact how children view sex
But what they see can also have a lasting impact on developing minds. Massive sites such as PornHub are easily accessible and also provide content that caters to many varying tastes and kinks. But a lot of those categories perpetuate harmful stereotypes, misogyny or include images that may be confusing or even scary to a younger child.
Christa Cliff has three sons, ages 11,15 and 18. She’s aware that despite her best intentions to educate them, all her kids have likely seen porn that contains elements she would rather they avoid.
“The sexy secretary or the stepdaughter … there’s creepy stuff that they can get exposed to. And dominating things. There are so many levels of porn and I have no idea what piques their interested. Nor have I asked. Nor am I ready for that answer.”
The key is to make sure that our children understand the difference between what is real and what is “entertainment.”
Make sure kids don’t view pornography as a user’s manual simply because the adults in their lives weren’t open enough to have honest discussions. It’s that openness that can help kids form their blueprints for consensual and comfortable sexual relationships in the future.
There is nothing shameful about sex, sexuality or pornography — but it is uncomfortable to discuss with your kids. You need to move past that discomfort and maintain an open dialogue. Even a couple of minutes now and again can have a lasting impact. And don’t worry, once you’ve discussed pornography there will be plenty of other uncomfortable things to discuss in the future!