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Date TimeSeptember 27, 2019
VoiceIf you’re a parent or carer with young children, chances are you’ve thought about – and dreaded – how you’re going to broach the ‘P’ word. I’m talking about porn. There’s no way around it. To avoid the subject completely would be foolish, even negligent. Our kids are more tech-savvy than any generation before them, and more than most grown-ups, too. Ever seen a two-year-old use an iPad? Exactly.
I Had To Talk To My 7-Year-Old Daughter About Porn. This Is What I Learned
As a parent with a son and a daughter, I always assumed I’d have to have a difficult conversation about porn one day. I just didn’t expect it so soon.
Aged just three and seven, my kids don’t have phones, they’re not allowed on YouTube, and my daughter only ever uses the internet to do her homework, with an adult right by her side. Parental controls are switched on at all times, and if they’re using iPads on long car journeys it’s to play games, or to watch downloaded episodes of Hey Duggee or My Little Pony. 
Yet still the insidious influence of porn has crept in. Here’s how.A friend of my daughter’s came over during the summer holidays for a playdate. They did all the usual 7-year-old activities: dressing up, playing on the trampoline, playing made-up games of ‘schools’ and arguing over who got to be the teacher.  But after she’d gone, my little girl looked shifty.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” she said. Turns out her young friend had told her she’d looked at an iPad at her own home – and had seen “pictures of naked ladies with their legs open”.
My heart sank. I became hyper-vigilant, in that startled, deer-in-headlights way, where you’re trying to act normally but your heart is racing and you’re wondering what on earth to say next. “Oh?” I responded, as casually as I could muster. “What else did she see?” My daughter’s eyes grew wide as she lowered her voice to a whisper. “She saw men kissing the ladies – down there.”
And there we were. Unexpectedly, reluctantly, talking about porn. Hundreds of responses ran through my head at once, along with the words ‘safeguarding’, ‘child protection’ and ‘red flags’. But rather than shut down the conversation, I knew how important it was – no matter how awkward or embarrassing – to keep the lines of communication open.
Research already tells us that two fifth of parents shy away from using the word ‘vagina’ with their daughters, preferring euphemisms such as ‘bits’, ‘front bottom’, ‘flower’ or ‘fairy’. I’ve been militant in using the anatomically-correct names with my kids for body parts, even when it’s landed me in hot water. I decided there and then that porn mustn’t be any different. Related... Vagina! Why Was I Hauled Into Nursery When My Daughter Used That Word? The statistics are sobering: 28% of children as young as 11 and 12 admit to having watched porn online, with a report by non-profit organisation Internet Matters revealing they access it through friends, pop-up ads or simply by accidentally stumbling across it. Recent research by the NSPCC and Children’s Commissioner for England revealed that by the age of 15/16, 65% of children have watched porn, with 53% of boys saying they thought it was “realistic”. Some 36% of children who have taken nude or semi-naked photographs also reported being asked to send them to someone online.
Sexual health education experts warn that this kind of exposure, before kids are emotionally or physically equipped to understand it, and in some cases before they’ve even received any comprehensive relationships and sex education (RSE) – can damage their future attitudes towards sexuality and pleasure.
Jillian Roberts, child psychologist and founder of mental health support organisation Family Sparks told HuffPost UK: “My phone rings with calls from parents whose kids have seen bondage and violent group sex. Young girls are frightened that this is what will soon be expected from them.”
“Some kids wonder if this is how they were conceived. They question whether this is why adults are so embarrassed to talk about sex. This is not a healthy introduction to sexuality.”When it came to my daughter, I needed to establish some context first, to know how worried I should be. Thankfully, it only took a little probing to find out that her friend had stumbled across those images accidentally. She’d tried searching for something to do with women’s bottoms – for a simple, schoolgirl giggle. She had no idea what that search would return. How could she? 
I chose my next words carefully. “What your friend saw isn’t meant for children,” I explained. “It can make you feel upset, or angry, or confused.”
Then I thought about what I’ve read about porn addiction, the long-term effects of porn on the brain, the impact of porn on women’s bodies and self-esteem, about the rise of the ‘NoFap’ community and the negative effects porn can have on intimate relationships. “It can make grown-ups feel like that, too,” I added.  Related... Has Porn Become The Ultimate Passion Killer? “You’ll learn more about what those people were doing when you get a bit older. It’s nothing to be frightened of. But it’s not good for you to see things like that, right now. And if anyone tells you they’ve seen it, you should tell me, or daddy, or a teacher.”
I left it there. And then I moved on to the next tricky task – telling the other girl’s mum what I’d discovered, so that they could have the conversation, too. Pushing my own embarrassment aside, I made the call. Thankfully, she had the same reaction as I did – shock, worry, love – and said she’d speak to her daughter immediately.Let your child know that, in terms of communication, nothing is off limits – they can talk to you about anything that concerns them.After all that, I called consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron, to see if there was anything else I – or parents in my position – should do. 
She told me the key thing is to let your child know that, in terms of communication, nothing is off limits – that they can talk to you about anything that concerns them. It’s also important to model a “calm and cool response” that shows your child they don’t need to be worried or scared. 
″Parental controls on devices are vital,” Citron tells me. “We need to protect our under 14s as much as we can. If we don’t, early exposure to sex can give children a confused view of relationships. They may think everything is about sex, and not about friendship or intimacy.”
Citron said that parents should be on the look-out for changes in behaviour that may follow an upsetting or confusing experience online. “The immediate impact could include typical trauma responses such as nightmares, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about the images they’ve seen,” she said. 
“There could be sleep disturbances or a change in performance at school. Parents should be on the watch for changes in mood or mental health, or withdrawal from friends. It’s important to ask the child how they feel about what they’ve seen – and if they say they feel ashamed, to reassure them that it’s not their fault. Most importantly, let them know that what they’ve seen is not a forbidden topic.”
What this experience has really taught me is that as parents, we simply can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand about difficult subjects – even porn.
Our children’s happiness could depend on it. Related... If Young People See Love Island As Sex Ed, Should We Be Worried? 9 Ways To Teach Young Boys To Be Feminists The 'Porn Block' Won't Change How Young People View Sex. Only Education Will.  
 
 

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