Kids Watching Porn: It's Happening Much Earlier Than You Think

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And what they're seeing now is much different than the porn of our youth. | Claudia Gopperl via Getty Images
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We all know that eventually our kids are going to see some porn. What you might NOT be aware of is how young they are going to be. What is a parent to say and do when they discover their child’s recent search on Instagram includes the hashtag #pornphoto?

Research shows that Canadian boys see porn as early as 10 years old. In a U.S. study, 70 per cent of 15- to 17-year-old boys said they had watched porn.

By the time Canadian youth reach the age of 20, they would have all seen x-rated material.

Perhaps you remember finding your father’s Playboy magazines and think this is a banal issue. It's not. Today’s online pornography is not just wet bikini tops that titillated (pardon the pun) pubescent boys of the '70s.

What your children will see online today is grossly different.

In a 2010 analysis of pornography, most scenes contain verbal and physical aggression towards women. A full 88 per cent showed slapping, spanking and gagging.

Only 10 per cent of the 304 scenes showed positive sexual behaviour. Men demeaning women violently (and women acting as though they like it) is likely what they will see.

How does porn affect our children? There is an increased likelihood of repeating acts of aggression and violence in relationships among youth who view porn.

While we can’t singularly pin the cause of our current rape-culture on porn, it certainly has contributed to relational violence and misguided ideas of how to treat our partners.

The youth brain is especially vulnerable.

From the ages of 10 to 15, the brain is undergoing a wave of development that is associated with heightened state of sexual development and maturity. The thrill-seeking parts of the brain dominate over the more rational, impulse-control part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.

We know that the brain has a “use it or lose” system of efficiency, so the more neuron firing the harder the brain wires in that direction. This means watching porn literally shapes the brain's physical architecture so that it requires porn as stimulus to get aroused.

In adulthood, those who have been porn watchers report issues with their own sexual gratification and relationships. Many men are speaking out about how porn ruined their love lives and are warning others not to repeat their mistakes.

So, with all that info, what is a parent to do?

1. Talk when you are calm yourself. It’s important your children know you are here to help keep them safe and educate them, not punish them.

2. Don't shame children who may have feelings of guilt over their behaviour and feelings. Shame about sexual feelings can potentially impact their ability to be intimate later in life.

3. Normalize that porn is designed to be arousing, but it does not reflect what good, healthy relationships look like or how people like to be touched or treated.

4. Explain your concerns about the depiction of women and normalization of aggression and violence towards them, using age appropriate language.

5. Educate them on the notion that things that feel good like gambling, drinking, gaming and, yes, porn all have the potential to become addictive.

6. Remind them that you will continue to monitor their computer activity. Blockers can be added, but that is a false security for parents. It's best to help them develop self-discipline with guidelines and supervision.

7. Invite them to ask questions or get clarity on anything they might have seen. They can always come to you if they see anything online that is upsetting or that they question.

8. Provide them with good information on puberty and sexual development and relationships – in and out of the bedroom.

9. Assure them you love them always.

10. Pat yourself on the back – you hit another parenting milestone yourself.

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