When do you need to start talking to your kids about pornography? According to internet safety experts, it needs to begin before your kids go online for the first time. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe fifteen years ago, but thanks to tablets and mobile devices, most kids are using apps and streaming shows before their third birthday. Sure, you might begin explaining the basics of human reproduction to a three year old, but most parents aren’t ready to break down sexual violence, addiction, exploitation, and safe sex at this point.
Luckily, you CAN prepare your little children against pornography in an effective and age-appropriate manner. Here are four things you can do– and none of them involve a nitty-gritty sex talk.
1. Teach them to respect others’ personal boundaries
Pornography is intensely confusing because it blurs the line between consensual and non-consensual sex. Research indicates that pornography users are more likely to support violence against women and to sexually harass others. You might not be ready to talk to your child about sexual harassment, but you can teach him or her from toddlerhood to respect others’ bodies and boundaries. Have firm rules in your house that no means no, and if someone is not enjoying a certain activity, that form of play stops immediately. If your child develops these values, he or she will be able to recognize the unhealthy dynamics of pornography, no matter his or her age.
2. Respect THEIR personal boundaries
Here’s the flip side of respect– children need to have their bodies and boundaries respected as well, even if the activity seems harmless or someone’s feelings will be hurt. Pornography is tricky– it tries to create gray areas where boundary violations and abuse seem acceptable because of who did it or because the person whose wishes were ignored seemed ok afterwards. As a parent (or grandparent, or teacher, or caretaker), your job is to demonstrate their bodies and boundaries should be respected unless there’s a hygiene, medical, or safety need involved. Sorry, brushing teeth has got to happen, kiddo. But unwanted tickling and kisses? Should be a no-go.
3.Watch TV with them
Media is unrealistic, and that’s often what makes it fun. Sometimes the fantastic aspects are obvious– dragons, Jedi, zombies, balloons that can lift a house. Other times, though, it’s less obvious– put-downs that don’t hurt feelings, inept adults, implausible romances. Kids need to consume media alongside parents or trusted adults to open a dialogue about what is real and what isn’t. This can prevent media of any kind, including pornography, from warping their developing expectations.
This one’s simple: pornography shows everything except kindness. The higher value you place on kindness in your home, the less likely your children will be to perceive a lack of kindness as attractive. Gordon B. Hinckley, a prominent religious leader, once said that love “is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.” This is what pornography doesn’t show– and it is what children of any age desperately need to see.
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