Parents have worried about the potential impact of pornography on their children for ages, but with the internet making access exceptionally easy, these concerns are more justified than ever before. It leaves many anxious about the potential harm that consistent exposure to pornographic materials can have on a child’s health and well-being. Even if children aren’t looking for pornography, invasive ads, shady websites, or poor search filters can often lead them towards such content, making it imperative that parents not only know the dangers, but also how to address them.

The Normalization of Disappointment, Abuse, and Sexual Harm

For many young people, pornography can end up being their first real exposure to sex, especially now that kids are using the internet earlier than ever before. Some sources claim that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11 years old, which is far from reassuring for most parents. Pornography exists within a broad context in which stereotypes about gender, sexism, sexual objectification, and violence-supportive attitudes are all at play. As such, exposure to pornography can foster misinformation on sex and romance in young people, which in turn can harm their own relationships later in life.

Among young boys, pornography tends to negatively impact how they view women, seeing them more as sexual outlets rather than multi-faceted human beings. Porn can be equally damaging to young girls, damaging their self-esteem and leave them questioning their desirability. All of this is ultimately based around depictions of sex and romance that aren’t realistic. After all, the sex in pornography is designed to look “better” than it does in real life, so when someone has seen a lot of pornography without having sexual education to temper their expectations, it can leave them disappointed with the real thing. Real sex and real sexual partners can seem disappointing by comparison, which results in more unhappy relationships, extramarital affairs, and divorce in adulthood.

There is also the issue of how pornography can encourage sexual violence. Porn often depicts violent sexual acts, including assault and rape, often portraying it in a fetishized manner that can make it seem desirable or even preferable to consensual sex. Even sex that is technically portrayed as consensual can include aggressive behavior that encourages violence towards one’s partner. This kind of content can have a negative impact on even a fully developed mind, but for a younger person who is still learning about sex and sexuality, it can warp their perception of what healthy sexual relationships look like.

Along with twisting one’s perception of what sexual relationships look like, excessive exposure to pornography can also encourage teenagers and children to engage in sexual behavior at a younger age. This is especially true if they come across illegal under-aged porn, as it can normalize the idea of having sex before turning 18. This can have serious consequences, leading to increased risks of teen pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. It can also make teenagers more susceptible to online grooming and sexual predators, as it can normalize many of the scenarios that predators are looking to engage in.

How to Address the Issue

First and foremost, parents need to be proactive about encouraging safe and transparent online practices. They should be aware of how their children spend their time, both in-person and online, taking steps to support their children and their needs. If you think that they have already been watching online porn, avoid overreacting. The most common reason that children don’t go to their parents when they have a problem online is that they are worried they will be punished. Encourage honesty and demonstrate empathy.

If you don’t think that they have experienced pornography yet, it might be a good time to have an open discussion about sex and sexuality. Kids sometimes go looking for porn because they have questions that need to be answered, so giving them the answers they’re looking for can potentially address the issue before it gets started. Besides, if your child has a better sense of what safe and healthy sexual behavior is, porn has less of an impact.

Additionally, if you don’t already have an online safety plan in place, now is the time to make one. Consider writing a Family Media Agreement, which sets ground rules in your household for online behavior. Also, be sure to set up parental controls on your child’s devices, as this can often prevent them from encountering pornographic material altogether. Of course, if that isn’t enough, you can invest in online filtering software like CleanInternet.

However you choose to approach the issue, the important thing is to take the initiative, covering your bases before you have a problem rather than waiting for your worst fears to be confirmed