The Elephant in the Room

Posted On Nov 28, 2021 |

It’s time to talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ — our kids and exposure to porn.

The internet has made parenting an arduous journey. Conversations we never dreamt of having with our kids have become essential, with porn being one of the more challenging ones to have.

And yet we can no longer avoid the ‘elephant in the room’ simply because it is now a matter of when not if your child is exposed.

Is the problem really that bad?

A 2019 report published by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) found that “children and teenagers are watching and stumbling across pornography from an early age - in some cases as young as seven or eight” and in a 2017 research report by The Australian Institute of Family Studies it was shown that “nearly half of children between the ages of 9-16 experience regular exposure to sexual images.” Of further concern is that they reported that “Three quarters (75%) of parents felt that their child would not have seen pornography online. But of their children, more than half (53%) said they had in fact seen it.”

But how bad is porn?

Many parents today think of pornography in terms of the old Playboy magazines. This is not what children are being exposed to online. Online pornography has become a multi-billion-dollar industry with statistics revealing that 35% of all internet downloads being related to pornography.

For many children, their innate curiosity about sex frequently leads them to the online world to find answers to their questions. What they find is not what we can define as sex, but rather is violent pornography. In their recent paper, Fritz et al. (2020) found ‘women were the target of the aggression in 97% of the scenes, and their response to aggression was neutral or positive and rarely negative. Men were the perpetrators of aggression against women in 76% of scenes.’ With findings like this, consent, along with sex education, becomes imperative in discussions with our children.

Porn compounds online risks

Predators use various tactics to groom children online. They will target them via video games or social media and lure them to a direct messaging platform where the conversation will become increasingly sexualised and where the predator may send the child explicit videos intending to desensitise them and encourage them to share explicit photos or videos of themselves. As found by Badenhorst (2008) one perpetrator made use of various resources — medical books, videos and photographs of naked boys — all intending to desensitise the boys being groomed and have them take part in child exploitation material. Furthermore, Marshall (1988) found that over half of those who had engaged in child sexual abuse activity admitted to purposefully using pornography with their victims in anticipation of committing an offence.

In addition, desensitisation to porn may lead to children producing and sharing self-generated child sex abuse material (SG-CSAM). A recent article published in June 2020 stated that according to SafetoNet, UK, girls as young as six were sexting during the pandemic and the Internet Watch Foundation, reported that in 2020 nearly half of the imagery they took action on comprised self-generated contact with 80% of these being girls between the ages of 11 and 13. Thorn reported similar findings in their report of 2020, stating that 20% of girls aged between 13 and 17 admitted to creating and sharing SG-CSAM. An alarming statistic stated that 40% of children surveyed felt ‘it’s normal for people my age to share nudes with each other’.

What can you do?

Parents frequently feel helpless to educate their children on the harms of porn. However, there are many resources to assist with this. I suggest starting young and starting slowly. My top five recommendations are:

  1. Introduce body safety education — this involves teaching your children the correct names for body parts, what safe and unsafe secrets are and helping them to identify their early warning signs—the feelings they get when they are nervous.
  2. Encourage them to name a safety team — this should include five trusted adults and should not only include members of the family. Children should feel confident that these adults will believe them should they need to make a disclosure.
  3. Provide children with sex education. A book I have used with my son is ‘Where did I come from’ by Peter Mayle. I would also recommend visiting for further resources.
  4. Introduce the subject of porn in an age-appropriate way by the age of 7. You can do this by talking about private and public pictures, and what the difference is. Reiterate that no one may take private pictures of them or show them private pictures. I highly recommend the resources offered by to assist with these discussions.
  5. Finally, remember these conversations are not one off, but rather, continuous. Keep them short and stop the moment you feel you have lost your child’s attention.

I offer one-on-one parent consultations for those who feel they need some additional support, so please reach out regardless of where you live in the world. I am here to help.