My kid accidentally saw pornography online when viewing a website I thought was safe. How should I react and what should I say? What should I tell him to do if this happens again?
Dr. Melissa Batt, child and adolescent psychiatrist, CU Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American child between the ages of eight and 18 has an average of seven and a half hours of screen time per day. Even with filters and content blockers in place at home, if your child has a smartphone, he can have unfettered access to the entire internet. Seeing inappropriate content online is inevitable. As a parent, what can you do about it?
Remain calm, using a noncritical tone. Being visibly upset or shaming your child will contribute to your child being less honest or open, and having negative associations with future talks on difficult topics. After taking a moment to diffuse and organize your own thoughts, reassure your child that she did nothing wrong.
Encourage your child to elaborate on what he saw. Sometimes his understanding or interpretation of pornographic content might be different than what you expect. Use the information he tells you in proceeding with the conversation.
Let your child know how you feel about these types of websites (e.g. that you are disappointed they came across this content despite your attempts to prevent it, that you feel the content is inappropriate for their age). Describe the difference between fiction and reality, and that pornography is a type of fictional relationship.
Tell your child that if this happens again, she can come to you with questions or for help. You could elaborate on the meaning of consent and, if your child is a teen, talk about the danger of violent pornography.
Ideally, talk to your child about sex before he sees sexually explicit content online, starting early, as young as five years old. Use developmentally appropriate terms and limit details at first. Impart your family values regarding sex as an ongoing conversation.
Limit the amount of screen time that your child has each day, depending on her age and other factors, such as whether it is a school night or not. Parents need to be the guardians of their child’s online safety. A helpful website to use is healthychildren.org, which has a template for developing a family media use plan.