How to Talk to Kids about Porn: Research Reveals 5 Obstacles to Overcome

by Sep 14, 2017Prepare Kids to Reject Pornography, Speak Up

Do you feel stuck when it comes to beginning sensitive conversations with your children? Specifically, are you blocked with fear about how to talk to kids about porn? If so —you’re in the majority!

how to talk to kids about porn

In fact, a researcher studied parents of middle school children and discovered 5 obstacles parents face in approaching this difficult subject. But don’t get discouraged, we’ll also show you how to overcome each one!

Jessica Zurcher’s recent article in the Journal of Children and Media extols the value of open conversation when parents are struggling to know how to talk kids about pornography.

The amazing benefits of open communication

You know in your gut that open communication leads to healthier family relationships, but did you know that your intuition is backed by research?

Even more exciting is the list of positive outcomes for children who experience open communication with their parents:

  • Greater personal development
  • Overall well-being
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Improved coping strategies

But wait! It get’s even better!

When children frequently disclose their thoughts, feelings and viewpoints to their parents something incredible happens. Children and parents bond. They come away feeling a greater sense of mutual respect. Plus, this study shows that open communication leads to more compliance when it comes to kids following their parent’s advice.

That’s right! When children feel safe enough to express themselves on topics that are relevant to them they are more likely to consider their parent’s opinions as correct! (Read that again, I promise it’s so worth it!)

But there’s a problem. Trusting, open communication isn’t happening around the subject of pornography in most families!

We don’t seem to know how to talk to kids about porn

A case study of 33 different families reveals that that even parents who know they should talk to their middle-schoolers about pornography are not having those conversations. So why is this?

It turns out that there are five obstacles parents need to overcome in order to have successful talks on porn. Simply put, most parent feel stuck! Let’s look closely at these obstacles and see if we can’t find a solution to each one.

"Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn't know what to say?! I've felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution - Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!" - Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids.

5 obstacles parents need to overcome for successful talks on porn

Obstacle #1: Failing to understand the scope of the problem

According to Zurcher’s study, parents recognize that pornography is more accessible and more widely accepted in our society than ever before. Yet, there’s a disconnect. Consider these facts:

Parents also need to be aware that today’s porn goes far beyond centerfold-type imagery. Themes may include group sex, same sex, incest, bestiality and more. In fact, 88% of the most watched porn scenes contain either physical or verbal abuse of women.

Dr John D. Foubert explains the impact of violent pornography on young people in this video:

When children are repeatedly exposed to violent and degrading explicit material they can struggle to develop healthy views of sexuality and self-image.

Solution: As parents take steps to better understand the scope of porn’s impact on kids they will feel a greater urgency to start early and have ongoing conversations with children about the harms of pornography.

Obstacle #2: Knowing how to define pornography

Try this experiment. Put 20 people in a room. Then ask them to explain what pornography is. My guess is that you will get 20 different answers.

If adults struggle to define pornography, imagine how tricky it is for kids! Sex-saturated media comes at them daily from every direction. Kids need parents who will give them an age-appropriate way to recognize pornography. Dr. Jill Manning gives this definition (What’s the Big Deal about Pornography: A Guide for the Internet Generation, p. 2):

“Pornography is material specifically designed to arouse sexual feelings in people by depicting nudity, sexual behaviour, or any type of sexual information.”

But this definition may be a little too much for a young child.

In Good Pictures Bad Pictures a conversation between a mother and son starts like this, “Pornography means pictures, videos, or even cartoons of people with little or no clothes on.” To learn more ideas on how to continue this conversation read, How to Define Pornography for a Seven-Year Old.

Solution: When parents have a clear definition of pornography they know where to start the conversation with their children. When children have a clear definition of pornography they are better prepared to reject it when exposed.

Obstacle #3: Getting over parental fears

We get it! Starting that conversation can feel like the biggest obstacle of all. Even if you grew up in a home with open communication, we bet your parents didn’t talk with you about the harms of pornography! We are the first generation that must tackle this subject straight on with our kids. That can seem like a daunting task.

Zurcher’s research reveals that moms, even more than dads, have the most difficulty bringing up this subject with their kids. Descriptors like, “dread, uncomfortable, trepidation, horrible and guilt”, were used by parents when thinking about how to talk to kids about porn.

For many, the word itself is difficult to say. Try it now—pornography. That’s not so bad, is it?

Keep in mind that the greatest resource to combat the negative effects of pornography is open communication between parents and child. Each time you revisit the subject it will get easier. It will get better. If you’re still squeamish, we suggest you practice this conversation with a friend first.

When you do talk one-on-one with your children, it’s OK to be upfront about your insecurities. They will see how brave you are and want to listen all the more. It may surprise you how relieved they are that you are willing to bring it up.

Solution: When parents are willing to bring up tough subjects like pornography at home, kids know they have a safe place to talk about important things. When parents are honest about their insecurities children feel more confident to open up about their own.

Obstacle #4: Realize that EVERY child (not just everyone else’s) is vulnerable

During the case study interviews, one dad noted that while many parents recognize that porn use among kids is on the rise, they don’t necessarily see these societal trends as a threat to their own family. They justify, “My kid’s a good kid … it’s not in my home.”

The problem with this kind of rationalizing is it creates an environment where countless good kids are being exposed to pornography and have no strategy or coping mechanism to deal with it.

If a child has not been coached to recognize and reject pornography, the common response is to continue looking and keep it a secret. This is true even when the content causes the child distress or anxiety. Remember, without a clear definition in mind a child may not know how to identify what they see as pornography.

Being attracted to sexualized images is a normal biological response at any age. Even subtle images can start a rush of chemicals to the brain with just enough dopamine and oxytocin to convince young viewers that what they are looking at is deceptively rewarding.

Solution: When parents recognize that ALL children are vulnerable to pornography they will want to create a safer online environment for kids. This includes installing parental controls, filters or accountability software like Covenant Eyes (affiliate link) on all devices. It also includes creating a plan for minimizing the effects of exposure when it happens.

Obstacle #5: Failing to prepare emotionally for a child’s exposure porn

When parents have been silent on the issue of pornography, they are more likely to “freak out” when they learn about a child’s exposure. According to Zurcher, parents’ initial reactions are always emotionally charged and often involve blame and punishment directed towards the child.

No matter how well intentioned, when we react in anger shame grows and kids withdraw. Open dialogue and communication is cut off at a time when the child needs it the most.

The truth is, the most valuable resource children have for combating the negative effects of pornography is parents who are willing to have open, non-shaming talks with them.

If you’ve reacted negatively in the past, don’t lose hope. It’s never too late to course correct. Your love and continued support is more important than anything.

Solution: When parents understand that children will be exposed to pornography they can prepare emotionally before it happens. A calm reaction to exposure will encourage open communication and increase a child’s confidence that they CAN build their own internal filter.

Every child deserves to be armed with the skills to reject pornography! Talking early and often with children about the harms of pornography gives children the edge they need to succeed and thrive in today’s digital reality. Consider each of these 5 obstacles we’ve discussed together today. Determine one area where you could make improvements. And start today to increase your child’s resilience to porn with warm, loving communication.

Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow: 10 Easy Conversation Starters

Do you want to start talking with your kids, but just don’t know how to get this conversation going?  Don’t worry! With some help from our allies, we’ve compiled a FREE cheat sheet for you. Click on the box below:

NOTE: There are affiliate links in the blog post. When you use them to make purchases, we thank you for supporting Protect Young Minds!

Marilyn Evans
Marilyn Evans is a popular speaker, writer, and coach. She is best known for her honest and real-life approach to helping families confront uncomfortable topics like pornography.


Marilyn holds a degree in Family, Home and Social Science from Brigham Young University. She is the Founder and CEO of Parents Aware. As well, she co-hosts and produces the Media Savvy Moms podcast.


Marilyn is the mother of five sons and has lived to tell the story. She and her husband currently live in southern Ontario with two of their sons and their dog Mandi.

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