It is a simple reality: if your kids are online, they will eventually be exposed to something inappropriate. This might sound cynical, but it’s the truth: even if you encourage good cyber safety practices and invest in the best online filtering solutions, there is always an opportunity for something to slip by. Children don’t even need to be looking for something age-inappropriate to find it—online porn and other such content is often made to “find” its audience, whether they wanted to see it or not.

As such, it is important for parents to be prepared to talk with their kids when the inevitable happens.

What Happens Next?

So you’ve found out that your child has seen pornography or some other highly inappropriate content. Where do you go from there?

The first and most important thing to remember is DON’T FREAK OUT. You need to approach the situation with self-control and a thoughtful plan. While the nature and extent of what they’ve seen will determine how you move forward, you need to assure your child that you’re not there to shame or judge them. If you go into the situation with your emotions high, you risk making the situation worse, teaching them that they cannot confide in you if something is wrong.

Regardless, you should be patient with them. The conversation will be awkward, and it might take time to get the full story, but it is important to know the details of the situation, as they will determine where the conversation will go. The three main pieces of information that you want to get from that are:

  1. What type of content did they see?
  2. How did they find the content?
  3. Is this the first time they’ve seen content like this?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can figure out how to proceed. If this was a first-time for your child and they came across the content by accident, then you can probably just have a simple discussion about inappropriate content, make some adjustments to your online security tools, and move on. If they were introduced to the content by a friend, then you might need to contact their parent to discuss how to move forward.

However, if you find out that they sought out inappropriate images or videos on their own, you should discuss what motivated that behavior and how they found them. Again, it is important to not be judgmental while talking with them, otherwise you run the risk of them losing their trust in you. If you find out that they have been looking at porn regularly or habitually, then you will likely need to have a more in-depth discussion. Most notably, if you think your child has a problem, it might be a good idea to get professional help.

Creating a SMART Plan

The website Defend Young Minds has lots of educational content for children, parents, and educators regarding what to do if when a child comes across inappropriate content online. The backbone of their many teachings is what they call the SMART Plan Guide for Parents. While they offer books and other products that go into more detail on how to implement this strategy, the core ideas are simple enough to understand on their own:

  • Stay calm: Deal with your own emotions before confronting your child.
  • Make a plan: Don’t confront your child until you have a plan.
  • Assist your kids: Porn is confusing for kids, so help them sort out their feelings.
  • Regularly check in with your kids: Keep the conversation going!
  • Train your family: Make sure everyone is involved in your family’s defense plan.

Using these fundamentals as a starting point, you can go into a situation knowing you are ready to help your child deal with their emotions going forward. It can be an awkward and uncomfortable situation for everyone involved, but if handled correctly, you can steer your child away from inappropriate content, teach them good practices for the future, and help them trust that they can