I was at my friend Brian’s house this summer, sitting outside by his pool, when his 10-year-old son appeared on the back porch.
“Daddy,” Joshua shouted, “Remember when you told me where babies come from?”
“Of course,” replied Brian.
“You said they come out of the place where the man puts his penis, right?”
“That’s right,” said Brian, “Why do you ask?”
“Because I just saw a man put his penis in a naked lady’s mouth, and I think it’ll be too small for a baby.”
Suppressing our immediate impulse to laugh, our eyes locked on each other. Brian, sprinting to his son, shouted back to me, “Something tells me he’s not on Club Penguin anymore!”
Let’s face it: In today’s world where kids have access to all sorts of electronic gizmos, their exposure to porn is a real concern. And we’re not talking about a 10-year-old stumbling upon an old copy of Playboy that his father undoubtedly purchased for the articles.
“Children are very tech savvy today, so it’s vital that parents are proactive and sit down with them and talk openly and calmly about online porn in anticipation of them seeing adults-only sites,” says Neal Solomon, a Toronto family social worker. Ideally, sex education has been a regular part of family conversations, so your child already feels comfortable asking potentially embarrassing questions if they happen to stumble across something inappropriate online. To encourage dialogue, Solomon recommends prompting your tween with the following: How do you feel about what you saw? What does it mean to you? Was it confusing or did it scare you?
Jennifer Ouaknine, a mother of two, knows all too well about the perils of online porn and progeny. “When my son Ryan was four, he was using my iPhone to watch Thomas the Tank Engine videos while I was cooking,” recalls Ouaknine. “Suddenly, my nine-year-old son, Liam, who was watching with Ryan, shouted, ‘Mommy, this looks like a penis!’ They had navigated away from Thomas to an X-rated birthday party with adults sliding down an inflatable castle’s penis-shaped slide.”
So how much detail should you provide when your tween asks you about something raunchy he saw? According to Liza Weiser, a clinical psychologist in Thornhill, Ont., kids ages eight to 12 years old benefit from basic information. “Tell them that it’s make-believe and not a realistic view of what happens when two people who love each other have sex. You want your child to be able to recognize the differences between sex in porn and in real life.”
This subject matter may make parents a little flustered, but do your best to remain calm and receptive, says Weiser. You don’t want your child to feel guilty or ashamed for having seen porn. “It’s important to emphasize that it’s natural to be interested in sex, but that pornographic images are not an accurate representation of sex or relationships.”
That curiosity in the birds and the bees may lead some kids to Google, where searching for snicker-inducing words like “boobies” turns up no shortage of scandalous material. In order to protect your child, Weiser urges moms and dads to install parental controls on WiFi-connected devices and establish clear rules and boundaries with your tween around Internet use. That way, when you leave your eight-year-old watching his favourite episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, you’ll know that “Bob” will keep his pants on.
Experts recommend periodically reviewing your child’s browser history for anything that seems out of place. (Hint: Terms like “breastfeeding” or “walking the dog” can get around porn filters.)
A version of this story appeared in our February 2015 issue with the headline “Adults only,” p. 52.
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