Is your child at risk for engaging in pornography?
4/17/2023 by Shawna Wollbrink, R.N.
Children are getting cellphones at younger ages. These aren't usually flip phones as their older relatives might have. They tend to get a smartphone or tablet that gives them access to the internet at their fingertips, and quite possibly access to some material you may have overlooked as a parent.
The likely age that a child is first exposed to pornography is in the tween years, but many are even earlier. There are many concerns with viewing pornography. Pornography is widely available for free online, and it's often violent, degrading and extreme. This may influence the viewer to pressure their partners into porn-style sex or have unrealistic expectations in a relationship when the partner does not react as the actors did in the viewed pornography. Another concern is the development of problematic sexual behaviors, where they may abuse a sibling, relative or another available person as a form of sexual experimentation.
The best way to prevent problems is with education and communication with your child.
Online safety tips for you and your children
- Monitor your child's activity on computers and mobile devices. Become familiar with options for monitoring anything with online access. Check your child's search history periodically — you are not spying. It's your responsibility as your child's caregiver to protect them. Remember that these tools are not perfect and could be outsmarted.
- Consider having a home base for electronics at night so they are not in your child's room.
- Teach your child to use social media with caution and choose their screen name carefully. Don't share your full name, school name or any part of your address, including the city or state. Teach your kids to be thoughtful about sharing their location, whether through a direct message/chat or in the device settings for the device or application being used. Parents should also make sure their kids' privacy settings are set to "Friends" only.
- Use extreme caution when communicating with people you don't know in real life, such as through school, sports or clubs. Don't post or send pictures to people you don't know. Don't meet them in person.
- Photos and videos last forever. Sending or receiving explicit images of a minor is considered child pornography and may result in legal consequences. Sending pictures or videos also could result in exploitation attempts where a person threatens to distribute the images to family and friends unless a certain sum of money is received.
Discussions to have with your children
- Start talking about sexuality early and often. Use proper names for body parts. Let your child know that there are areas of the body that are private. Teach your child that they can ask questions anytime. If we don't talk to our children about sexuality, someone else will.
- Remind your child that they should speak to two trusted adults when they see something that concerns them or have experienced any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Emphasize healthy relationships and consent. Consent is making an active choice to agree. If someone tries to convince another person to do something sexual, even if they have done it with that person before, he or she has the right to say "no." Agreeing because you feel pressured to do something sexual is coercion — not consent.
When to reach out for help
- Change in mood, like depression or anxiety.
- Grades dropping.
- Isolating themselves or wanting to spend more time alone.
- Loss of interest in previous activities.
- Not taking care of themselves.
- Suicidal ideation or self-harm.
Reach out to your child's primary care team, mental health professional, school or a program, such as Mayo Center for Safe and Healthy Children and Adolescents, if you have concerns.
Shawna Wollbrink, R.N., is a registered nurse who works in the Mayo Clinic Center for Safe and Healthy Children and Adolescents. She has been with Mayo Clinic for more than 25 years. Prior to her role with the child abuse team, she worked as a registered nurse in pediatrics in the hospital and primary care settings.