The One Discussion Parents Need to Have with Their Children…but aren’t.

As stories and accusations of sexual harassment and assault by film directors, movie stars, gymnastic coaches and politicians have surfaced in the past few months, I have been more shocked by the public’s surprised reaction than the actual allegations. As a social worker, I am deeply aware that at least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused at some point in their lives and that predators come in all sizes and shapes. I’ve worked with hundreds, even thousands of sexually abused or harassed adults and children from all walks of life over the past decade. I have no problem believing that sexual abuse, harassment, and assault is rampant.
The importance of discussing porn with children

However, despite the pervasiveness of abuse in American culture, we still don't talk about it. Although many parents will discuss the basics of sexuality and anatomy with their children, they are not talking about darker side of sexuality: pornography, online sexual harassment, what to do when someone inappropriately touches or pressures you, how do you handle people online asking for "nudes?" 

There is still a tendency to assume that sexual harassment and abuse happens to “other people” or minimize the effects it has on victims. We pretend that if we are a certain religion/race/socioeconomic status, that it won’t happen to our children. I’ve worked with many Christian parents who are convinced that if they shelter their children enough, they won’t be sexually harassed or exposed to the world of pornography or internet sexualization.

And yet, the children of even the most diligent parents are being exposed to people online demanding nudes, sending pornographic videos and sexually explicit texts. There was a teen whose online friend (who supposedly lived in another state) stalked her, found her school, followed her home and beat her up because she had “too many male friends online.” There are stories of teens being blackmailed, peers forwarding nudes to the whole school and adults and teachers sexting students. For our youth, sexuality still remains intertwined with power, harassment and assault, and thanks to smartphones and easy access to the internet, your children, friends and peers are being exposed to it constantly.

Many parents assume that online harassment, exposure or assault won’t happen to their children, but it is. A study by the Barna Group found that “62% of teens and young adults have received a sexually explicit image and 41% have sent one (usually from/to their boy/girlfriend or friend).” A different analysis of “nearly 500 accounts from 12- to 18-year-old girls about their negative experiences with sexting found that over two-thirds had been asked for explicit images.”

I’ve worked with 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds sending topless photos to strangers or peers through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook. I’ve had parents weeping in my office, horrified by the amount of pressure and aggression of strangers and peers online towards their children. And even if your child isn't directly doing these things, they have friends that are talking about it.

Sexual predators do not care that your child is a Christian/from a good family/has loving parents. They don’t care that your child is underage.

Even the best-intentioned parents, who have had the birds and bees conversation appropriately with their children, often share when they found out their child was searching for pornography, being harassed online or using apps like Tinder, they didn’t know how to handle it so they didn’t address it.

It must be addressed. Pornography and online harassment. Is. Everywhere.

  • Nearly half of young adults say they come across porn at least once a week—even when they aren’t seeking it out.
  • Nearly three-quarters of young adults (71%) and half of teens (50%) come across what they consider to be porn at least once a month, whether they are seeking it or not.
  • A study of Christian men found that 79% of men (18-30) view pornography monthly, 67% of men (31-49) view pornography monthly, and 49% of men (50-68) view pornography monthly, and younger and younger children are being exposed with detrimental effects.
  • Pornhub (the world’s large pornography site) boasts that there were 81 million visits a day and 28.5 billion visits total in 2017.
Your children will probably be exposed to pornographic images, harassment or inappropriate messages at some point and even if they don’t think it will, it will impact them negatively.

According to a research article from the American College of Pediatricians, a study where young adults were exposed to pornography found that:

1.    Male subjects demonstrated increased callousness toward women.
2.    Subjects considered the crime of rape less serious.
3.    Subjects became more interested in more extreme and deviant forms of pornography.
4.    Subjects were more likely to say they were dissatisfied with their sexual partner.
5.    Subjects were more accepting of sexual infidelity in a relationship.
6.    Subjects showed a greater acceptance of female promiscuity.

Do these negative effects surprise you? It shouldn’t. A group of teenage girls who told me about the 80-20 rule: that you should expect that your boyfriend or husband will be faithful 80% of the time, cheat the other 20% and you have to accept this. Adult women consistently confess that the sexual acts they do with their partners is because men need those things to be fulfilled sexually, regardless of the women’s discomfort.

We see these beliefs on social media as well. People minimize the impact of assault and harassment, they justify infidelity and there is still such a strong undercurrent of misogyny in America, it takes my breath away. We say that groping young women at work “isn’t that big of a deal.” People blame victims. Parents assume their teenage daughters are lying when they report that mom’s boyfriend is sexually abusing them. Parents say that incest was “consensual” so it’s okay.

Researchers have made the argument that pornography teaches the viewer certain facts that can then bleed into their real life: that women must be up for anything anywhere, it is about your sexual fulfillment, not your partner’s, and that the human body is a series of parts, not a whole being with a personality and brain included.

Knowing all of this - the  high level of pornography use, the negative impact on feelings of sexual fulfillment once they do become sexually active, the constant pressure to be sexualized at a young age, and it's impact on our sons and daughters’ attitudes towards one another - are we surprised there is still a culture of minimization towards lewd comments, groping at work, and a sense of sexual entitlement by those in power?

It is important to remember that the birds and bees conversation is separate from the pornography conversation. Teaching your children the correct name for body parts and explaining how God has made the act of sexual intimacy as a beautiful part of marriage is important, but it is not enough to prepare your children for a glimpse of pornography at a friend’s house or on someone’s phone at school. Because ultimately, even if you have filters or your child doesn’t have a smartphone, the odds that your child will be exposed through another child’s phone (or an older sibling’s) is high.

This means that you must start the conversation now. Research varies on the average first age that a child will view a pornographic image (once study found age 13, others have found as young as 10-13). As a counselor, I’ve worked with 8-year-olds who have seen or searched for it. A large survey of American young people revealed that 51% of males and 32% of females claimed to have viewed pornography for the first time before they were 13 years old.

Don’t wait to have those conversations with your children until they are older. Many of the youth I’ve worked with are overwhelmed, confused, uncertain about internet safety and how to handle those situations, and as parents, we are not preparing them. I have had dozens of conversations with parents that stare at me blankly when I asked if they have ever discussed pornography and its’ dangerous effects on their children, or worse, they deny the need for the conversation because “my child would never do that.”

We cannot lie to ourselves any longer. In 2018, the conversation about pornography and sexual objectification with our children is no longer optional.

If we don’t have those tough discussions when they are younger, are we surprised that when someone in power gropes them, makes lewd comments or sexually assaults them, it doesn’t get reported? That they feel confused? Or that they feel like this is “just part of life”? That their bodies are there for other people’s pleasure? Our children are receiving these messages at such a young age, with few positive and protective messages to counteract them.

We need to teach our children that they have control over their own bodies. That their value has nothing to do with how sexually appealing they are. That when a sexual partner or coworker or boss or coach or teacher or peer asks them to do something they are uncomfortable with, it is okay to say no. And if someone grabs them or hurts them, they need to speak up.

If you are unsure of where to start, there are several great resources on the internet. Once good site is for children 8-11. has great research and resources about the impact of pornography on the brain.

Although it is uncomfortable for parents to have the pornography talk, it is necessary. We must make sure our children are not caught off-guard when an ad pops up, a friend shows them something on Snapchat, or a boyfriend asks for “nudes” from them. 

Sheltering your children is not enough anymore. We must be willing to go beyond the birds and the bees, regardless of our comfort level.  


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  2. This article has opened my eyes to the fact that I need to have this conversation with my 10 year old very soon! Thank you for this!

  3. As a former youth pastor, I remember grappling with the dichotomy between the truth of all these statics and stories you've shared--and how few parents realized that even their sheltered children aren't as protected as they think. Thanks for putting this out there--it is very needed.

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