How to Talk to Your Teenagers About Porn, by @cwknews

Originally published: 23.09.17

Most teenage boys – and many girls – will experiment with pornography. It’s one of those ‘as long as I don’t have to know about it’ things for a lot of parents – but what if you’re suddenly confronted by it? What if you find out that your teenager has been watching pornography, and that some of it is pretty extreme?

Of course, there’s no ‘right way’ to tackle this, but I would say that whatever you decide to do, trust is key. All teenagers, always, just want us to trust them. The more we demand explanations, or endlessly check up on them, the stronger the message of mistrust.

The media will always scare us with stories of teen porn addiction, but developing this trust requires a process of ‘un-scaring’ yourself about the issues that really worry you, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex or porn. Your teenager is busy working out their own relationship to all these issues, and doesn’t need the burden of your anxiety on top of their own. Over-concern can create a kind of emotional feedback loop of mutual anxiety reinforcement – and to them, anger, sullenness and resistance may seem like the best way of handling it. 

Remember that your teenager has had years of imbibing your values – you’ve had their whole childhood to lay the groundwork. I remember bringing up the subject of porn being passed around on smartphones at school with my then fifteen-year-old son (having just read something about it in the paper) – we had a brief discussion before my son interrupted me with, ‘Mum! Don’t worry! We laugh in the face of that sort of thing.’

Teenage boys and girls are increasingly making strong, equal friendships where sex is not part of the equation: young people see each other as fellow human beings much more than in previous generations. Don’t let the issue of internet porn blind you to the positive relationships your child has. Also remember that teens – and lots of adults – tend to like scary, nasty, gory horror films: extreme, abusive pornographic images may be repellent to us, but we shouldn’t jump to read anything more into it than the risk-taking teenage brain seeking out shocking stuff.

I have three sons, and somewhere along the line I made the decision not to allow a small bunch of old, billionaire pornographers drive a wedge of anxiety and suspicion between me and my boys, at a time when I could just be enjoying them. It took some practise to change my view of the subject, but it really helped.

Influence is always more effective than trying to force your views on someone, and it comes more from who you are than what you say. Comment on issues around pornography when the subject comes up in daily life – as it will if you ever watch telly, read a newspaper or just leave the house – and do so with incredulity, humour, intelligence, and outrage, or anything but helpless defeat and anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a discussion, kids are learning just from watching how you handle things. But don’t always give your view: leave some space for them to develop their own feelings and opinions.

I remember only once giving my three boys some direct advice: ‘Don’t look at porn on the internet. I know it’s tempting but it’ll ruin your relationships with real girls.’ If you can manage your own fear and replace it with trust, it becomes much easier to bring up the subject, say what you want to say, and then let it go:

‘Be careful with that stuff, it’s very powerful. You know it’s a form of conditioning?’ or ‘You know that’s not real sex right? It’s like some weird violent version dreamt up by a small bunch of old men. I’d stay right away from it if I were you.’

Speak matter-of-factly, even carelessly, as if it’s bloody obvious – a goes-without-saying topic. Confidence in our teenagers is communicated to them when we lighten up on issues about which, in their eyes, the view of an older generation is largely irrelevant. Over-earnest moral guidance may look like it works in American dramas, but in real life it generally doesn’t. No-one likes to feel patronised, especially teenagers. Speak with an absolute assumption that they will get it and then stop. Treat your teenagers as if they are normal, intelligent reasonable human beings. Because they are, aren’t they?

 

Originally published on Mumsnet

 

Stephanie Davies Arai:  I’m a feminist, mother of four and I blog about how we communicate with our children. Very interested in cultural influences and neuroscience. @cwknews

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