This week, one of my best friends asked me how she could talk to her daughter about pornography. The catch is, her daughter is a grown woman with children of her own. And it’s her grandkids she’s worried about. 

My friend (we’ll call her Frances for fun) adores these kids. Like most grandparents, she is happy to spoil them with an overabundance of love and let mom and dad take care of the day-to-day grind. 

A grandparent’s observation

However, on their last visit, Frances noticed some patterns of behavior that got her thinking more about the grandkids’ online safety. In particular, one of the kids would sneak away to use his tablet in secluded locations. Often past his allotted screen time. There’s no evidence he came across anything inappropriate. Still, Frances is concerned because he’s hiding his screen activities.

Related: 5 Sneaky Locations Porn Finds Kids

She knows firsthand that secrecy is a breeding ground for dangerous habits. A couple of her own children struggled with pornography as teens and young adults. Naturally, she wants to protect her grandkids from getting caught in the same trap. And even though she has an excellent relationship with her daughter, she’s afraid that starting this conversation will drive a wedge between them. 

Frances is not alone. Many grandparents want to know what they can do to protect their precious grandkids from today’s online dangers. Yet they find themselves in the tricky situation of not knowing how to step up without overstepping their bounds.

Related: 7 Ways Predators and Porn will Target Kids in 2019 – Be Prepared Not Scared! 

3 Rs of how grandparents can help grandchildren

I’m not a grandparent … yet. However, aside from keeping the cookie jar full, I imagine there’s some tact and sensitivity required for the job.

Parents tend to want plenty of space to raise their kids the way they see fit. Unwanted help, no matter how well-intentioned, can leave a bitter taste. With that in mind I went looking for general advice on how to talk about challenging issues and preserve healthy, happy family dynamics across three generations at the same time.

I came up with 3 basic guidelines to help any grandparent tackle the topic of pornography with their grown-up children.

  • Refrain from giving unsolicited advice
  • Remember you’ll always be your child’s parent
  • Realize there are times to be bold

The goal is to respect boundaries while offering valuable support.  

Rule #1: Refrain from giving unsolicited advice

Family psychologist John Rosemond admits, 

“It’s difficult to keep our mouths shut when we see young parents making mistakes we learned not to make (after making them)”

Isn’t that so true? Learning to parent well has been a challenge for every generation. Parents need the freedom to explore what’s best for their family. So much about how to raise well-adjusted kids is gained through the process of trial-and-error. Trying too hard to manage your grown children could backfire. They still need opportunity for discovery and growth. 

That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of ways to coach and assist the next generation. Time and experience have gifted grandparents with perspective and wisdom. The trick is to find a constructive way to pass it along. 

Try an open dialogue instead

It’s best to approach challenging topics like online safety and pornography as an open dialogue rather than a lecture. To avoid getting stuck try this:

Reflect on a conversation you recently had with your adult child that was mutually enjoyable. The subject is irrelevant. It could be movies, fashion, politics, whatever. Now imagine that same conversational experience, but replacing the topic with what you’re now concerned about. 

Do you notice how good conversations follow a natural give and take? And all participants have something to contribute? That’s the sweet spot where your wisdom and experience will make its most welcome appearance! To stay on track, be wary of any tone or language that could sound accusatory. Your son or daughter (or daughter-in-law) will be defensive if they feel their parenting methods are being put under a microscope. 

Rule #2: Remember you’ll always be your child’s parent

Now that we’ve established that your child doesn’t want you to tell them how to raise their kids, let’s talk about what they do want. 

Your perspective! … Wait! What?

Hear me out. I’m 49 years old, and hardly a week goes by that I don’t call my parents asking their opinion on something. Sometimes it’s as benign as a book recommendation. Other times, I’ll get them to weigh in on a major life decision my husband and I have to make. And if I have to do a repair around the house, then for sure I’m calling my dad. (He’s helped me wire a room from across the country!)

It’s reassuring that I can call anytime I have a question or need advice. Plus, it’s FREE!!! 

Do your adult kids know you’re available to talk about tough topics? 

My parents and I usually talk about things that are in our comfort zone. I’m much less inclined to start a conversation if I think they’re not interested in the subject. Or if I fear I’ll get an opinion I don’t need. Or if it feels too embarrassing to bring up. Do you see where I’m going here? 

Talking about pornography feels off limits when it’s never been brought up before. That means if you want your adult children to know it’s on the table for discussion — you need to put it there!

Start simple. Mention one of your favorite articles from our blog. Or maybe there’s a related news story that’s been bothering you. Call your daughter or son up and let them know how you feel about this challenging social issue of pornography. 

Take the Field of Dreams approach. Start building and see who shows up for the conversation. 

Rule #3: Realize there are times to be bold to help grandchildren

If you sense danger for your grandkids, it’s time to take action and speak up immediately!

Would you ever stay silent if you knew your grandchild was being threatened by a real-life predator? Of course not! Your first action would be to sound the alarm and get their parents on high alert. 

You can set the stage by saying, “You’re such great parents! I know you would want to know if your child could be hurt in any way. Here are a few things I’ve noticed (lay out the facts) and it’s making me wonder if (tell them your concerns). What can we do to help them right away? I am happy to do anything for (grandchild).”

This needs to be personal. Speak from the heart. Be honest and upfront about your concerns. If you believe your grandchild may be in danger of exposure to pornography, then say so! 

The best outcome would be everyone pulling their resources together for the child’s safety. 

Understanding the nature of the threat

We need to see pornography for what it is—the biggest sexual abuser of children worldwide. I don’t say this to cause panic or hysteria. Rather to appreciate the true nature of what we are talking about. When families stay mute on the subject of pornography, this intangible predator gains more power over children. 

By contrast, breaking the silence does so much good! When parents (and grandparents) are willing to have proactive conversations about the harms of pornography, kids learn to to build an internal filter. Kids CAN learn to reject pornography. 

Examples for tactfully tackling the porn talk

You can just be up front and tell your daughter or son how it’s not easy for you to talk about this but you know it’s important. Humble sincerity has been known to open a lot of doors. Note that the slightest hint of finger-pointing could slam it shut again. 

It’s wise to keep the first conversation short. Let the information sink in. Listen more than talk. Tell your child that you want their advice and perspective. Ask if you can return to this conversation in the future.

Below are some different approaches that my friend Frances could take with her daughter to get the conversation started on the right foot. 

Ask for help instead of offering advice

“Hey! I’ve been wondering if I should bring something to your attention. When Dad and I went away with the grandkids there were a couple of times I found Johnny hiding to use his tablet. Maybe he was just testing us, but I’ve been anxious about it. I’ve heard how easy it is for good kids to stumble across dangerous content online. I was wondering if you have any advice for us to help him stay safe when we are caring for him? Have you had any issues like this at home? Are you OK if I bring my concerns to you?”

Open the door for future conversations

Think of this in terms of swapping recipes or favorite book titles.

“What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read online lately? (Allow for conversation here.) Actually, I happened upon an article about protecting children from pornography. Isn’t it sad that society is such that we even need to be having these conversations? (Again, see where the dialogue goes.) I imagine it’s a tough world online … You know, in my youth no one ever talked openly about dangers like pornography. That’s what I love about this generation. You’ll talk about everything. It’s refreshing. I think it’s healthy. (This should start something up!)

Allow the conversation to go where it will. Don’t force it. Remember you can come back to it time and time again. Once you know you’re on good terms with this topic, consider gifting your adult child a copy of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids or Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds.  They’ll love the experience of reading it together with your grandkids!

“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.

It’s never too late for grandparents to start

It’s honestly never too late to talk to your kids about pornography no matter how grown-up they are! We say this all the time, and we mean it! Just because your children have children of their own, doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate your wisdom and guidance. You have a significant role in the lives of your children and grandchildren. By all means—bring up the topic of pornography!

Get our free guide: Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow: Top Ten Easy Conversation Starters today!

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Marilyn Evans
Marilyn Evans lives east of Toronto with her husband and five sons. Concerned with the ease of access to online pornography, she began searching for ways to address this subject with her own children. Frustrated with the lack of resources and information available to parents at the time she began speaking out about the harms of porn anyone who would listen. After a concerted but somewhat futile effort to gain the attention of her school board Marilyn felt her voice would be better served in the blogosphere. Over the past two years she has written regular articles for Parents Aware, as well as guest posting for Strength to Fight, and recently published an opinion article in Education Canada. She is thrilled to add her voice to the community at Protect Young Minds.