Your Daughter’s Body Image – Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

Your Daughter’s Body Image – Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

Both of my daughters dance. They have an incredible ability (that I don’t share!) to communicate their emotions and ideas through the power of movement. They practice hours on end at home and the studio to push their bodies to new levels. They celebrate their growth and accomplishments, and I sit in the audience amazed at what they can do.

But it’s also soul-crushing when they compare their bodies to those of another teammate – or to an Instagram photo of a ballerina or contemporary dancer they admire. Their achievements and beauty seem to immediately fade in their own eyes when they are confronted with something they are not, and think they should be.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Unfortunately, my daughters’ reactions to immediately compare instead of celebrate is common. Think of the incredible numbers of images we see daily of women in advertisements, social media, and television/film. How many of them portray women as objects of beauty based on their physical bodies alone? Isn’t the message to be younger, fitter, sexier? Do we celebrate much beyond what is skin-deep? How do we go up against something so pervasive?

This enormity of this issue reminds me of the saying about eating an elephant. How do you do it? One bite at a time.

We may not be able to radically change society’s perception of women overnight, but we can make a measurable difference in our homes, our neighborhoods, and local communities.

We recently asked one of the directors of Beauty Redefined, Lexie Kite, PhD, a few questions to help us promote a different definition of beauty. She and her sister, Lindsey, started their organization to help girls and women improve their body image and self-worth as they wade through harmful cultural ideals.

Beauty Redefined: How to help girls have healthy body image

1. What are the most powerful voices children hear that determine how they see themselves and ultimately define beauty?

Two influential voices kids hear:

  1. Their family and caretakers, and
  2. The characters they watch on screen.

The voice of family members

If you say something negative about your body or your looks (or any other woman — celebrity or otherwise), that child near you WILL HEAR. It will negatively affect her view of her own body. She will learn that her value is based on how she looks.

But here’s the kicker: Even if you say something positive about a woman’s body, it can still have a negative impact on your child. She will learn that what is noticed and admired is how a woman looks — herself included.

We can consciously be aware of what we say, and move the conversation beyond appearances. The results are powerful and immediate!

What’s a parent to do?

  • Start now to change the conversation. First priority? No more rude comments about your own looks. Second? Evaluate how you talk about others’ appearances and what motivates you to do so.
  • Discuss the power of words — both positive and negative.
  • Don’t pretend like your daughter’s body doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter — teach her that it matters a lot, but not for the reasons she’s been taught.
  • Explain that companies try to convince people that their appearance needs to be “fixed” so they will buy their products. But nothing we could ever buy will truly help us feel worthy of love, happiness, and success.
  • Teach them what to say when they hear snide comments.
  • Make a list of things your family can compliment each other on other than physical appearance.
  • Encourage girls to participate in sports and enjoyable physical activities. Did you hear about the most recent female football player?

The voice of media

It’s wildly important to help your kids choose appropriate shows and critically consider what they are seeing. Many girls and women are featured on TV, in movies, or in magazines purely as props to be ogled.

In children’s animated movies, female characters are barely represented – and when they are, they are wearing just as little clothing as women in R-rated films. Did you know male characters outnumber females 3:1 (in group scenes it’s 5:1) in kids’ movies? Let’s show our girls media that uplifts them and shows them what they can be.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Read girls stories about girls. Did you know there’s a whole website dedicated to books that highlight true strength of girls?
  • Help your daughter decide if she is ready for social media, especially Instagram. Use the questions in this article to lead a discussion.
  • Check out sites like Common Sense Media to help you determine what movies, books, and apps may directly influence how your daughter defines beauty.

Related: Lingerie Ads and Little Eyes: 5 Easy Ways Protect Kids from Porn (in Ads)

2. What are some indicators that our children may need us to help develop a new working definition of beauty?

If she uses the “F” Word – “Fat”: If your child calls herself or someone else “fat” in a disparaging way, that is a sign she has learned some harmful messages that some bodies are more valuable than other bodies.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Respond without putting a value on fat. It’s not good or bad. It just is. The second you respond to her calling someone “fat” by telling her “That’s not nice!” you are teaching her that fat is bad.
  • Be a champion for body diversity.
  • Talk openly about how some bodies have more fat than others for a variety of different reasons, and that isn’t an indication of of health. (The Health at Every Size movement is incredible.)
  • If your child is called “fat,” don’t automatically respond by assuring them they are not fat. Telling a child they really are thin will not protect them from the pain of being called “fat.” If we give size-based comments the power to build us up, we reinforce their power to tear us down.
  • Teach her that her body is an instrument, not an ornament. Treat your own body the same way.

She Uses the “D” Word – Diet: Another indicator of poor body image might be when your child wants to go on a diet or you see that she is restricting food.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Let her know that many people and companies in this world try to convince little girls and grown women that they should shrink and take up less space, but it’s a mean lie. This lie is intended to get girls to spend money and time worrying about their bodies.
  • Talk to her about how our bodies need and want food for lots of reasons, including for fuel and enjoyment. By paying attention to how she feels when she eats, she can take better care of her body and trust that her body will lead her toward choices that are good for her.
  • Let her know strict diets can hurt our bodies and almost never lead to sustained weight loss.

3. How does society’s definition of beauty contribute to the anxiety many kids feel today?

When kids grow up surrounded by appearance-obsessed messages such as “Weigh Less, Smile More!!” and “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!!” plastered everywhere, those messages rake in billions but get us nowhere closer to real health and happiness. Instead, these messages become so normal — SO unquestioned — that we believe and act as we’re told.

The point here is not to villainize makeup, hair care, or any industry, but to understand the ways these ever-present messages ask us to view ourselves. That view is an outsider’s gaze – from the outside looking in on ourselves. It’s called self-objectification and it’s a normal part of most females’ lives now, whether we know it or not.

What research and real-life experiences make very clear is that when we see ourselves as more than our bodies, we get closer to finding health, fitness, and happiness.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Make a list with your daughter of all the wonderful inner traits you both have. Celebrate those!
  • Talk about goals and dreams you both have where you can use those traits. If we are so focused on our physical bodies, it stunts our progress in every way that really matters. Research shows us that when we live “to be looked at”, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness.

4. How does pornography specifically shape the way we as a society define beauty? What impact does this have on boys? On girls?

We live in a media-driven world that teaches boys and men from a young age that girls and women are, first and foremost, objects of sexual pleasure. This lesson is taught in lots of ways, ranging from the seemingly harmless lack of female characters in TV shows, books, movies, and video games targeted at boys and men, to the most popular pornography saturating the internet.

“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.

When female characters rarely have speaking roles or do anything to move the plot forward in media, that sends a clear message that they are primarily valued for the way they appear or for their relationship to men (love interests, most often). When female characters do appear in children’s media, they most often resemble the sexualized beauty ideals of the rest of media.

What message could this possibly send to boys other than that girls are valuable for their bodies, but nothing more?

The normalization of pornography and sexual objectification in the media is everywhere. Yet it is largely invisible to people who have slowly become accustomed to seeing idealized female bodies in all states of undress. Women are much more likely than men to be naked or nearly naked in every form of media imaginable. Women are also much more likely to be sexually objectified in violent ways (rape, assault, abuse) in every form of media.

Objectification is dehumanization. As media literacy expert Jean Kilbourne says, “Turning a person into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

We can talk to our kids about what they are seeing and why it is wrong.

Related: It’s Awkward and It’s Okay: You CAN Talk to Your Kids about Pornography

Conclusion: We CAN raise girls who love themselves – the whole package

As we watch what we say about women, and call out all the harmful media messages surrounding our girls, they will learn to respect their bodies as instruments that can do amazing things! We can help them re-frame their self-image and reclaim their power. That benefits everyone, girls and boys, men and women!

Get your free guide to 11 Startling Stats Most Parents Don’t Know About Porn – Click the image below!

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Social Media and FOMO: What the Fear of Missing Out is Doing to Your Family

Social Media and FOMO: What the Fear of Missing Out is Doing to Your Family

There were a few times over this past holiday season where I seriously debated about whether or not to post pictures of our family’s adventures. It’s not that they were extravagant or unique, but my thoughts kept returning to the people who would see my pictures and wonder why their own lives couldn’t be *this* happy or *this* fun.

We all know that happy pictures capture a moment, but somehow the concept of “moment” doesn’t apply when we gaze into the social media world. “Moment” translates into “always” in the blink of a Facebook or Instagram refresh.

When I think of why I originally signed up for Facebook over a decade ago, I can honestly say it was to reconnect with people I thought were lost to me. It was fun to catch up, to see what people were doing, to watch families created, and witness adventures unfolding. But somewhere along the way, this ceased to be the full extent of my motivation.

Get a free 21-Day Gratitude Journal to help your kids be more aware of the good things in their life at the end of this post!

Does social media influence your mood?

A darker side emerged as I realized how my emotional state could easily pull my feelings in one direction or another. I could get on Facebook perfectly happy and close the tab grumpy, irritated, and disgruntled.

I could also use it as a tool to improve my emotional state – that is if my community played along with me in my game. By posting a picture, I could let the comments and likes fill up what was empty and lacking in my heart. Look what I did! Look how happy we are! #Blessed!

We essentially expect people to affirm what we already appear to know. But do we really know? If we did, would we need this much external affirmation?

It’s hard not to compare our pictures with those of others. We post a picture, so full, alive, and content, but our feed refreshes and we see someone so full, so alive, and so content, too, but on the beaches of Maui when we were on a lake in Kentucky.

We post a picture of ourselves at home on New Year’s Eve celebrating with those we love in pajamas and plastic champagne flutes. We are so happy to have such good friends! But our feed refreshes and there we find others celebrating with their loved ones, but all dressed up, maybe on Times Square with crystal champagne flutes. We were excited to spend a cozy night at home with hot tea and Netflix, but our feed refreshes and we realize we weren’t invited to the party down the street.

“As a psychologist and mother of four, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.” – Amazon Review by Mary. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

There’s a name for this—FOMO

Social media can make what we were grateful for pale in comparison to what others have or experience. We are left questioning—is there something better out there for me, too? If so, we don’t want to miss it.

As a result, we spend hours perusing, continually checking, inhibiting our very ability to have a better quality of life with the very people who are truly invested in us. The name for this is FOMO, or fear of missing out.

One study defined FOMO as ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.’’

We’re doing this as 30-year-olds – and 40, 50, and 60-year-olds. And our brains are completely developed! We have an entire generation under us that doesn’t have that luxury yet. We should be able to see there is unending cycle at work here that, if left unchecked, will leave us hungry, fearful, and discontent with the things we do have and do experience.

As parents, we need to make sure we can disengage from this cycle so we can teach our kids how to disengage, too.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids

Why FOMO really is a problem in social media

Let’s pause and think about our social media habits. We can probably remember feeling FOMO at some point. Maybe often. Did you know there is actual research on this phenomenon? Consider these facts:

Letting FOMO go unchecked can lead to a variety of issues in ourselves and our children—depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation—to name a few. It can also greatly increase other dangers, such as finding and viewing pornography.

Research shows that FOMO originates from unhappiness. Guess what else often has a root in unhappiness? Using pornography. Part of the draw of pornography is that it transports users into a world of fantasy where they can pretend to be or do most anything. Unhappy with the real world? Find your happiness in the fantasy world of pornography. At least that’s what the world tells us—and our children.

And let’s face it: social media increases the risk of our kids being exposed to pornography. Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat are the top three social media platforms used by tweens and teens. Although it markets itself as family-friendly, Instagram did not respond when Protect Young Eyes filed 50 reports in 5 days on hashtags that featured pornographic content. YouTube is being called out for rampant child exploitation on its platform. When I logged into Snapchat, my recommended story in the “For You” section was entitled “Kim and Kanye’s $14 Million butt grab.”

Related: Instagram and Your Kids: 5 Hidden Dangers

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How to curb FOMO—in you and your kids

FOMO is a problem, but it’s not unsolvable! Choosing to tackle this personally and as a family will bring more peace, contentment and gratitude in our lives. We can start by being more aware of our time spent and our motivations for using social media. Here are some tips and talking points to minimize FOMO:

  1. Be conscientious of what and how much you’re posting. When we host birthday parties, our rule for our kids and their guests is no posting pictures of the party on social media. Being left out is one of the worst feelings for kids (and adults, too) and we don’t want anyone to feel hurt because they weren’t included. Also, teach kids to be aware of posting things that can come across as bragging or prideful. It’s okay to celebrate, but listening to that inner conscience that tells you when it’s not appropriate is key.
  2. Notice attitudes and behaviors that come along with using social media. Do you find your kids self-medicate with social media when they are struggling at school or with relationships? Do they turn to it when they are feeling anxious or sad? It can be hard to draw our tweens and teens away from their devices, but real relationships and connection are such an important part of mental and emotional health. Plan some fun outings. Even if they roll their eyes at some “forced family fun,” know you’re making a positive impact on them.
  3. Create alternatives: Have everyone brainstorm a list of healthy alternatives to using social media when you’re feeling down. That can help your family turn away from the quick fix you may get from social media. If you’re feeling less-than, depressed, or in need of a pick-me-up, having a list of alternatives makes turning down social media a tad easier. What goes on the list? Things like, taking a walk, reading a book, calling a friend, writing a handwritten note, and creating something with your hands, are all feel-good activities.
  4. Find gratitude. Gratitude is the king of happiness. If FOMO is due to unhappiness, gratitude is the antidote. Simply teaching yourself and your kids to pay attention to what you do have and experience drives contentment and appreciation. This reduces comparison with others, which is what social media highlights. Each of us has so much we can find to be thankful for. What better way to keep our attention than to make a family gratitude chart or jar? At your next family dinner, grab a chalkboard and take turns writing down things you’re grateful for. We’ve got a Gratitude Journal you can download at the end of this post! Alternatively, put a jar in the living room with some scraps of paper next to it. Ask your family members to contribute three things to the jar each week. At the end of the week, read them aloud.

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And honestly, social media can be extremely helpful for certain things. As with most things in this world, moderation and balance are key to helping us keep things in the right perspective – and for helping our kids do the same.

Get your free 21-Day Gratitude Journal!

This simple chart helps kids think about the good things in their life. They can train their brain to be happier and more content!

11 Safe Video Chat Rules You Probably Haven’t Taught Your Kids

11 Safe Video Chat Rules You Probably Haven’t Taught Your Kids

Imagine that your kids could use video chat to build close relationships with far-away loved ones – like their grandparents and their best friend who moved away. And at the same time they knew how to be safe from all the dangerous people and situations that can happen on video chat!

Keep reading for 11 rules to talk about with your kids. These guidelines are going to help them enjoy the benefits and avoid the risks of video chat!

Our wake-up call

Our family rule has always been, “No boys in your room.” Before my oldest daughter started dating, this wasn’t something we gave much deep thought about – until we realized that Facetime was, in some ways, like allowing a boy in her bedroom. Suddenly, it was time to talk about rules for safe video chat for kids.

It hit us—the visual interaction added to those private phone conversations opens up a whole host of potential pitfalls. We quickly realized the need for some frank conversations with our daughter.

Today, video chatting is commonplace. It’s available on many platforms and is a routine way to communicate. It’s time to educate our kids so they are ready for situations they may not anticipate themselves.

Since you can’t actually touch someone over video chat, it may seem safer than actually hanging out in person. In some ways, this is true. However, it’s important to think through the possibilities and help your child establish healthy boundaries for video calls.

Video chatting: where the online and real worlds collide

A good place to start is with the rules you already have in place. Video chatting is subject to whatever digital media guidelines you have in your family. And the same family standards for “real life” behavior also go for video calling. (If you need ideas for agreements, check out these from Fight the New Drug and Better Screen Time.)

Be clear about expectations that are specific to video chatting. Lay down rules such as what time of day video chatting is allowed, who they can chat with, when a parent needs to be present, etc. And be clear that the rules can be expanded over time as you learn more and have new experiences.

Here are some tips and tools for safe video chat for kids:

1. Define your dress code

The dress code when video chatting is the same as in person. Kids don’t always think through this one. They know their parents would never let them go out in a sports bra and running tights. But if they are used to hanging out at home that way, they may not recognize that what they’re wearing is inappropriate when they answer a Facetime call.

2. Beware too much privacy

If you wouldn’t leave two people alone behind a closed door, then the same goes for video calls. Kids may feel “safer” trying something over chat (i.e. revealing body parts or getting into suggestive conversations) than they would if they were actually face-to-face in person.

3. No chat in overly intimate spaces

There’s something sacred about a bedroom. It’s a personal haven and a reflection of who you are and what you like. To allow someone in your bedroom means you feel safe around them. But if you wouldn’t feel safe with this person in your child’s bedroom, it isn’t a good idea to allow video chat in there either. This may not be a line your child understands, since she or he has grown up with these types of devices around the house.

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

4. Remember that everything can be recorded and shared

Video chats can be recorded and screen-shot – often without the other person knowing. This means that even though it seems like a private conversation, it could end up viewed by far more than just one other person. Remind your children to be aware of this, and never say or do anything on video that they wouldn’t be comfortable with others seeing.

5. Respect others’ wishes

Kids may get so comfortable video chatting that they turn the camera on others without considering how they feel about it. Make sure to ask permission to include others in a video chat (i.e. at a sleepover when other kids may be in their PJs). Some people, young or old, may not want to talk or be shown on video. Kids should respect others’ privacy without question and never push friends to do something they don’t want to on video.

6. Don’t fall into a false sense of safety with familiar people

We may relax when “It’s just Uncle Bob” or “It’s just her soccer coach.” But we need to set rules to protect our children when they may be very naive and trusting. Be mindful of any one-on-one chatting taking place between your child and an adult. The scary fact is 90% of victims know their abuser. Many predators know exactly how to make the child feel safe with him/her and they can easily fool us, too. Children should only video chat with other adults when we are there to listen in.

Know how teachers, coaches, and youth group leaders are communicating with your kids. There are fantastic tools that provide necessary boundaries between kids and adults. The Remind app keeps both the adult’s and child’s phone numbers private. GroupMe is a great way to keep communication in a group setting rather than one-on-one.

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7. Watch out for predators luring kids from gaming to one-on-one video chat

There are so many games where kids can connect and play with a virtual team. With only user names to identify them, it’s impossible to know who the real person behind the controller actually is.

While they are often other kids, beware – they can also be predators who know exactly what to say to lure your child. TeenSafe reports that

“Predators will most likely start off a conversation with an innocent question about the child’s name or age, and then move into more inappropriate questions as the relationship grows. After contact has been initiated, the predator may try to convince the child to take the conversation over to another app such as WhatsApp, Skype or Snapchat.”

Become knowledgeable about grooming and the warning signs that your child may have been lured into dangerous chats both inside and outside the game.

8. Sextortion is rising dramatically

Through video chats, predators entice kids into sending compromising pictures of themselves. Then the kids are threatened with exposure if they don’t send more. It’s not just happening with older teens. In fact, 1 in 4 known victims were 12 or under when they were threatened.

9. Don’t accept video chat requests from people you don’t know.

Not ever. Not even once. Enough said.

10. Put parental controls to work for you

Leave personal details out of video chat profiles, since some profiles are public. Know how to set privacy settings in any video chat apps. For example, if you use Skype, you can make your child undiscoverable. On an iPhone, you can turn off and restrict Facetime and allow it only when you’re present.

You can learn more about specific video chat apps from Protect Young Eyes and the Zift App Advisor.

Also, consider using video apps designed for kids such as Facebook Messenger Kids or JusTalk Kids Video Chat App that might be more kid-friendly. No app is fool-proof, so be sure to keep following all these guidelines no matter what app kids are using.

11. Prepare kids for the worst-case scenario.

Just as we train young drivers what to do if they begin hydroplaning, kids need to know what to do if someone sends them an inappropriate picture, asks for personal information or behaves in ways that make them uncomfortable. Practice how to refuse grooming behaviors. Plan together how they can tell you whenever they have had an unsettling experience.

Positive plusses despite potential pitfalls

After all this, you may be tempted to never allow any kind of video chatting ever with your kids. But the fact is, video calls can be a fun and rewarding way to deepen healthy relationships.

Video chats allow kids to see their grandparents and other relatives more frequently than they normally would. My girls have enjoyed doing makeup tutorials with their friends, asking for clothing advice, and engaging in some great heart-to-heart conversations. Sometimes just seeing a friendly face helps us to feel far less alone during trying times and this goes for kids, too.

Encourage good digital citizenship! Just as we teach our children to behave in public, we need to teach them appropriate online behavior, too. This means discussing both positive and negative actions.

Ask your kids these questions:

  • What are some positive things about video chatting?
  • When is it fun to use?
  • Who are some people in our lives that make life better when we video chat with them?
  • What are some ways we can show others respect while video chatting?

These are broad questions that will elicit many types of answers. Most importantly they will get your family talking about communicating via video chat in the best ways.

Conclusion – working toward safe video chat for kids

With any technology, there are upsides and downsides to video chatting. As always, your most powerful weapon is open communication with your kids. Be a safe place, establish clear boundaries, and stay engaged with your kids – you can use video chatting in positive ways in your home.

Get your free guide to help you make that big smartphone decision!

Smartphones and video chat go hand-in-hand these days. Click below for your copy of Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone? 10 Questions to Guide Parents.

Good Feelings Bad Feelings: Helping Kids Unravel Pornography’s Tricky Dual Emotions

Good Feelings Bad Feelings: Helping Kids Unravel Pornography’s Tricky Dual Emotions

I remember the first time I saw pornography. You probably do, too.

I was nineteen, at a bachelorette party, and very confused by my emotions at the time. I felt caught between arousal and disgust as I watched the scenes unfold before me. How could something that initially sent a rush of good feelings leave me feeling so gross inside?

These days, children a decade younger than I was have been exposed to content that may be even more shocking. If I was bewildered at the age of nineteen, how much more are they?

Pornography exploits natural feelings

Here’s the plain truth: Sexual activity is supposed to feel good. Those good feelings are actually a sign that our bodies are working just the way they were meant to. If procreation required activity that we didn’t enjoy, our species would come to end rather quickly. (Side note: I know that not all people derive pleasure from sexual activity. Much of that happens because of hurtful things, such as abuse. Here I am talking about the intended design of our bodies.)

Unfortunately, viewing pornography activates the same hormones that sexual connection with another human does. This arousal sends the “This feels good! Let’s keep doing it!” signal to the brain.

But instead of deepening a relationship with another person or creating a new life, all that remains is a confused child who doesn’t understand the opposing feelings within his or her body. What are these the dual emotions? Many kids say that although they may feel excited, interested and attracted at the outset, they also feel “yucky” or “sick to their stomach.”

Acknowledge dual feelings

It’s common for internet safety educators to advise kids to get help from a trusted adult if they see anything online that is confusing, that they know is wrong, or when something feels “off”.

When we don’t explain that pornography can create both bad feelings and good feelings at the same time, kids may feel like there is something wrong with them. They may decide they are bad kids because they had good feelings watching bad things. And they may hide in shame instead of reaching out for help.

Related: Porn is Tricky! SMART Parents Assist Kids to Understand Feelings

The highs of pornography

Even when kids have not started puberty, they can still be affected by viewing pornography. Kids as young as eight years old have contacted Fight the New Drug for help stopping their porn viewing. Even kids too young to experience sexual feelings may continue watching simply out of curiosity. It’s their job to grow up and become an adult, so they try to figure out what grown-ups do.

Girls can start puberty as early as eight years old, while most boys don’t start until age ten. That’s still pretty young. Pornography goes to extreme lengths to activate those “feel good” hormones so kids get hooked early and keep coming back for more. That’s why 10% of the visitors to porn video sites are less than 10 years old.

This is the high of porn.

Get your bonus Care Tags Template at the end of this post for a fun bonding activity to do with your kids!

The lows of pornography

While our kids have sexual feelings, they also have a developing conscience. They are beginning to understand ethical choices of right and wrong, such as what is fair and how to treat others.

Just as porn turns on their sexual interest, it also activates their conscience. This is why kids say they feel upset after viewing pornography. This physical feeling is tied to emotional responses such as:

  • Shock and even trauma from being exposed to explicit sexual activity at a young age. (Even lots of adults find it disturbing.)
  • Shame from watching nudity and sexual behavior, which kids know should be private. Then they often feel they are a bad kid themselves.
  • Sadness from seeing the mistreatment of another human being.
  • Fear that something bad could happen to them or someone they love.
  • Guilt if they broke the rules in their family or school.
  • Anxiety because they are worried they will get in trouble.

This is the low of porn.

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 help kids who have seen pornography

The emotional collision instigated by porn

To illustrate just one of these emotional responses, consider that we tell our children the importance of modesty. We teach them to keep their clothes on in public and shut the door to the bathroom. We train them to protect their bodies, that no one should touch their private areas. We share appropriate affection with our spouses around the kids and keep sexual intimacy private behind a closed and locked door.

But with pornography, it’s all laid bare for anyone to see. Kids know that what they are watching, they shouldn’t be. Another collision of emotions.

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

From confused to confident

As adults, we know it can be challenging to reconcile conflicting emotions. We want the brownie, but we also want to lose weight. We want a brand new car, but we also want to get out of debt. We want to manage time productively, but we get sucked in by Facebook. Wanting opposing things is hard to manage at any age!

Remembering this, we can help our children navigate the trickiness of porn. Here are some tips to help you E.N.G.A.G.E. and guide them as they untangle their confusing feelings.

  1. Empathize: Your child already feels horrible. Shame elicits the desire to hide – and this is the last thing you want when it comes to pornography. Instead, empathize with them. Talk about mistakes you made that made your stomach hurt. Affirm that they are not defined by what they have seen. Reassure them that you love them and will be there for them.
  2. Normalize: It’s so important for kids to know their sexual feelings are normal and good. Let them know it’s how their bodies are designed, and that you are glad they have these good and powerful feelings. Share the reasons why we have these feelings. Reinforce your family’s values about appropriate ways to express sexual feelings as they grow and when dating and marrying.
  3. Guard: Talk about working together for better online safety. What were the circumstances that surrounded the encounter with pornography? What ideas do they have to help them stay safe? What can you do as a parent to guard their safety?
  4. Agree: Come to an agreement that pornography is harmful for them. Why is seeing pornography making them feel so down and distressed? Those bad feelings are a sign that they are a good person who recognizes when something is wrong. Even young kids understand the value of people. You can explain that watching porn affects how they think about others. Teach your kids about the detrimental effects of porn, adapted for their age. Here’s an overview of some of the harmful effects of porn.
  5. Give: Give your child tools for what to do when they encounter it again. Make sure to check out the Can Do Plan. Brainstorm ideas on how to handle it if they ever feel tempted to seek out porn. Can they ask you to do something? Go outside and play? Call a friend?
  6. Encourage: Encourage your child to keep coming back to you. They can ask questions. They can tell you they’ve seen something bad. They can turn to you when their friends are pressuring them. Open communication is critical to connection with your child. The more meaningful relationships they have, the less likely they will seek after porn and other addictive substances.

As a parent, I totally get that talking to your kids about their sexual feelings is awkward. It can feel safer to ignore the natural and healthy sexual development of our kids, and just focus on how bad pornography is. Getting past our discomfort and talking openly about both the good and bad feelings that come with pornography gives your kids power to manage their emotions. Building a support system and healthy communication that will last for years to come makes it all worth it.

Bonus: Free Care Tags Template

Writing Care Tags is a fun and healing way to help kids learn to express their emotions. Learn more about this activity here and click below for your free template!

It’s Awkward, and It’s OK: You CAN Talk to Your Kids About Pornography

It’s Awkward, and It’s OK: You CAN Talk to Your Kids About Pornography

How old was your child when you first talked with them about pornography? Our kids were eight and ten.

Father and son talking

Before this time, they understood the basics of sex and some of the dangers that lurk on the Internet. We explained in general terms the “why” behind our family restrictions for media and entertainment — the movies they could watch, the music they could listen to and what they could do on computers. And by general, I mean really general: “We do this to keep you protected from some of the bad stuff that’s on the Internet. And trust us, there’s a lot of bad stuff.”

As all children do, our girls kept growing and asking grown-up questions. And we had a little extra incentive to talk to them.  My husband and I had just turned in a manuscript for our book about our journey through his pornography addiction. There, on the cover, splayed out for all to see, was the word “pornography.”

Though our daughters wouldn’t read our book any time soon, we knew they would see it. A clear conversation before the book made its way into our house was in order. It’s one thing to teach your kids what pornography is and how to stay safe from it. It’s another to somehow convey that the struggle is both real and personal for their own father.

You probably won’t face our unique situation of having a dining room table loaded with boxes of books with the word “pornography” on the cover, but you will need to talk to your kids about it. And, for some of you, there may come a time when you will reveal your own struggle with it as well.

For even more help talking to kids, get our free guide to 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand at the end of this post.

The danger of waiting too long

As I mentioned before, our youngest was only eight at the time. Eight years old seems young to talk about sex, much less something as difficult to explain as pornography. I totally get that. I had many fears going into this conversation:

  • What if my girls become curious about sex and porn after we talk?
  • What if I’m corrupting their innocence and view of the world?
  • What if they see their father differently?

I’m not saying 8 years old is a magic number. It was the best for our family and circumstances. You know your child. You know a lot about their maturity level, their interests, the devices they have access to, and their online activity. But it’s also important to know that in all probability, you do not know everything. Because no parent knows everything about their child.

The other thing that is true for almost all parents: we need to talk to our kids at younger ages than we probably feel comfortable doing. A recent interview with Fight the New Drug reports they have children as young as eight years old who have emailed them asking for help.

Since sexualized media is everywhere, we want to get the first word in about respecting and celebrating bodies, relationships, and healthy sexuality. Sooner is safer!

The good news is that there are age-appropriate ways to equip our children so they are ready to make positive choices online.

The more time they are on the internet, the more likely they will explore and run into some unseemly things (kids are naturally curious!) Consider these two facts from The Common Sense Census: 95% of families with kids aged 0-8 now have smartphones. Since 2013, the amount of time kids spend on mobile devices has tripled – now spending an average of 48 minutes per day.

Related: The #1 Reason Parents Fail to Warn Kids About Pornography

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Tips for talking to kids about pornography

The goal here is to make a hard subject easier. Recognizing this can’t be a “one-and-done” conversation is actually a relief, because you know you will have multiple chances to get your point across and to clear up any confusion.The more you talk about it, the more comfortable everyone becomes. These tips are good for your first, or 40th, conversation!

1. Acknowledge the awkwardness

Yes, talking about sex with your kids is legitimately uncomfortable. And kids usually feel that listening to their parents talk about sex is totally weird. Pretending like everyone is comfortable (or should be) just makes the whole situation worse.

Instead, acknowledge that awkward feelings come with the conversation. Just say it like it is: “Hey, I know this is uncomfortable for all of us! But it’s important, so let’s just do our best.” Kids will learn that whatever they are feeling is okay and that emotions aren’t going to keep you from talking about challenging things together.

2. Axe the anxiety

It’s normal to be intimidated and fearful regarding pornography conversations with your kids. Pornography can be hugely triggering to people who have been sexually abused or were exposed to sexually explicit material at a young age. Or who are living with the impact of pornography in any way. It might even help to talk with a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor before you talk with your child. Your anxiety is completely valid and not something to dismiss.

As much as we try to mask our own pain and panic, our kids usually pick up on this and may absorb our feelings, taking them on themselves. Talking about the trauma you have experienced helps healing, alleviates shame, and gives you a safe place to consider the best way to approach your child.

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

3. Ask questions

We’ve seen enough sitcoms – and lived through our own childhoods – so we know that parental lectures are never as effective as we think they are. A recent study actually found that lectures are more than just boring. They are now they are scientifically proven to be ineffective.

What’s a good alternative? Asking questions. And encouraging them to ask questions. I know you’re not in a classroom with your child, but this also works across the kitchen table or in the car. (Side note: Talking about difficult or potentially embarrassing subjects in the car alleviates the pressure of eye contact, which can make everyone just a tad more comfortable and willing to engage.) Asking questions also sets the tone that we all get to participate and share thoughts.

What’s great about asking questions is that it helps you tailor the conversation. You can let their responses guide how much detail you need to share with them.

If you’re caught off-guard, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “That’s a great question! Let me think about that and I promise to get back to you.” Just make sure you do actually get back to them.

Here are some possible questions to consider asking, depending on your child’s age:

  • Have you ever hopped on your phone/computer looking for something, but something else like pornography popped up?
  • What are some good things you could do to be safe if you saw pornography?
  • What have your heard other kids say about pornography?
  • What is the most confusing thing about pornography to you?
  • What are some reasons why you think it would be best to stay away from pornography?
  • Why do you think some kids would be curious about pornography?
  • What are some different ways or places we might run into pornography?
  • What’s the best way for us to help when you see pornography?
  • Since the last time we talked, have you seen anything like what we’ve been talking about?

What if your child stays silent and doesn’t want to talk? Be patient, they will get more comfortable over time if you keep trying. You could bring up things they might be thinking, such as, “I know many kids are curious about . . .” or “When I was a child I wondered if . . .”

Though it may be the very last thing you want to do, it can be helpful to share your experiences when you were a kid in an age-appropriate way. Young people need to know they’re not the only ones who have encountered it. Isolation only breeds more secrets, while connection builds authentic relationships. We model authenticity by sharing from our own lives.

Another easy way to talk to kids is to read a book together that tells what pornography is, why it is dangerous, and what they can do if they see it! These two read-aloud picture books can really open up a safe conversation that will continue as they grow. Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids (2nd Edition) is for ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds is just right for ages 3-7.

“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.

4. Abandon shame

One of the key ingredients in authentic relationships is trust. Oftentimes when I am afraid for my kids’ safety, my fear steps in and rules the relationship. If I think they are hiding something from me or they have done something wrong, I begin to make assumptions that quickly turn into accusations. My accusations, then, start to come out in shaming words. And I lose their trust.

Keep in mind that it’s not just the words that induce shame, but the tone. If I say, “Did you look at porn?” in a kind voice, with a concerned look on my face, that communicates something very different than if I ask the same question while yelling, hands on my hips, with a look of scorn or exasperation.

For so long, I thought of my girls as extensions of myself. Their behavior, I thought, was a reflection of my parenting. In essence, if they were well-behaved that meant I was good. If they were poorly behaved, it meant I was bad. But my children are not a mirror of me. It is difficult to show compassion towards them when I am so concerned about how they make me look. That just sets me up to be angry instead of compassionate.

Related: Parenting Mistake! 3 Words That Could Shame Your Daughter

Talking to our kids so they are prepared to reject pornography is worth overcoming the awkwardness and anxiety that go along with it. By having these conversations, you are building a solid relationship with them based on trust and respect. This will lay a foundation for them so they know they can come to you with anything, anytime, anywhere. And they will be better prepared to face the challenges of our hypersexualized culture because you taught them well!

Get our free guide to help you explain what pornography is in a safe and comfortable way!

Click below and we will be happy to send you 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand.