09/19/2016 05:54 EDT | Updated 09/19/2016 05:55 EDT

Your Kids Have Probably Seen Porn. Here's What You Need To Know.

Two surprised boys using a laptop computer.

No parent wants to believe their innocent child could be exposed to pornography, but statistics tell us that this is naive. Recent studies show that by age 12, 70 per cent of boys and 50 per cent of girls have been exposed to pornography, with many children seeing pornography for the first time at even younger ages.

As a parent, and the creator of the Online Safety Group, it's important to be realistic about how widespread porn is and how easy it is for kids to access it and share it with each other. It's also important to be aware of the potentially damaging effects pornography exposure has on young developing brains in order to best protect your children.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about kids and pornography:

Pornography Negatively Affects Brain Function

The overly intense, highly stimulating nature of porn has been shown to have a similar effect on brains as drugs and alcohol, causing the user to crave more and more of the stimulus. This is even more problematic with kids, since their brains are still developing and they often don't have the experience or wisdom to know when something is harmful.

Pornography has even been associated with decreased brain function and gray matter, and while this connection is still being studied the implications are rather scary when you consider that childhood and the teenage years are so crucial to proper brain development.

A lot of pornography depicts sex and relationships in a troubling manner, usually devoid of affection or respect.

Pornography Exposure Presents Kids with Harmful Ideas

Part of being a parent is raising children who will grow up to be loving, respectful adults. Developing children model themselves and their beliefs after what they see, which is a frightening proposition if what they see happens to be pornography.

A lot of pornography depicts sex and relationships in a troubling manner, usually devoid of affection or respect. Porn can also be quite sexist, teaching young boys that it's OK to see girls as mere objects and teaching girls that their worth is completely tied to their sexuality. In addition, pornography can be violent, presenting sex as something angry and aggressive rather than a loving way for a couple to connect. These are not ideas anyone wants their children to absorb or model.

Talking to Your Kids

No matter how diligent you are about protecting your child from pornography, there is still a good chance they will accidentally be exposed to it. All it takes is one kid with a tablet on the playground or an innocent click from a YouTube video to something less innocent. The important thing is to avoid freaking out or punishing your child if this happens. Having an overly harsh reaction will only give your child more reason to hide this sort of behaviour in the future.

Instead, have an open discussion and allow them to ask questions and express their feelings. Explain that pornography is not meant for kids and that it gives the wrong idea about what love, sex and relationships are really like. Give them suggestions for what to do if a friend tries to show them pornographic material, and emphasize that they should come to you if they are worried about anything they have seen.

Practical Means of Prevention

In addition to fostering a home environment of open, respectful communication, there are also practical things you can do to prevent exposure to pornography. Most tablets, computers, cell phones and Internet browsers can be equipped with filters and parental controls to prevent access to adult material. Limiting the amount of time young children are allowed to access electronics each day and monitoring what they watch is also important.

You can't control what other parents do, but it's a good idea to be cautious about which homes your child is allowed to spend time in. You may want to broach the topic of Internet safety with other parents so that you can work together to provide your kids with safe environments.

As kids become increasingly tech savvy and pornography grows even more prevalent, the issue of children being exposed to porn will only grow more serious. By facing this issue head on in an honest, proactive way, you can help protect your child and also influence them to make healthy choices. For more helpful tips on online safety, be sure to keep checking our blog.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

Also on HuffPost:

Online Safety for Teens