When it comes to pornography, parents’ efforts to support their children will be greatly enhanced by understanding how pornography is impacting young people and what they can do about it.
Below is an overview of key messages for practitioners to share with parents. Consider that parents will bring a range of perspectives to the issue of pornography – for example, their different cultural or religious norms, values or beliefs may influence how they engage with this issue.
When communicating with parents, consider tailoring the messages below in order for them to be culturally appropriate, sensitive and accessible to the families you work with. Each of these messages is explored in more detail in the relevant tip sheet.
Greater access to pornography is a ‘new normal’ in young people’s lives
As a starting point, parents need to understand that pornography is incredibly easy to access and can be difficult to avoid. Young people may seek out pornography – out of curiosity, for sex education, for sexual stimulation or because their peers are watching it. But they may also see it accidentally. It’s no longer a question of if young people will see it as when. Many young people, particularly young men, use pornography regularly. Parents can learn more about young people’s pornography exposure and use through the tip sheet .
Pornography is conveying the wrong messages
Many parents are not aware that pornography today is not just images on a screen, or merely people ‘having sex’. It is important that parents understand that pornography conveys problematic messages on a whole range of themes – from bodies and sexual safety to pleasure and consent. In particular, it frequently shows aggression towards women. But that aggression can be difficult to recognise, because of the positive response of performers – who are often required to act as though they are really enjoying whatever they are experiencing, even if it is painful or degrading. Parents can learn more about the messages pornography conveys through the tip sheet .
Pornography is impacting negatively on young people
Parents need to understand how pornography is impacting young people at an important time in their lives. Adolescence is a time when ideas and attitudes are being developed. It is also when people are very likely to see pornography. On average, young people are seeing pornography years before they have their first sexual experience. Pornography is influencing young people just as they are starting to develop their understandings about sex and relationships.
Many young people are actually seeking pornography out as a source of information about sexuality, even though most young people don’t think it is a very useful source of information. Young people need support to critically analyse pornography. There is evidence that pornography is shaping young people’s sexual understandings and experiences.
Given pornography’s regular portrayals of male aggression and female subservience, there is real concern that pornography is contributing to the attitudes and beliefs that we know drive violence against women. Parents can learn more about pornography’s influence through the tip sheet .
Parents have an important role to play – and need to act
Assist parents to understand that they have an important role to play. Young people need support to navigate pornography’s influence and develop healthy, respectful relationships and sexuality.
Parents can support their young people to critique pornography’s messages, resist pornography’s influence and aspire to healthy relationships and sexuality. Parents can learn more about what they can do through the tip sheet .
Have conversations relevant to age and stage
Working out when to talk with a young person about pornography can be a dilemma for many parents. It raises questions such as: what if they have never watched – or even heard of – pornography? Am I going to ruin their innocence? Is it going to create an interest in pornography? Or on the other hand, what if they have already seen lots of porn? Is it too late to do anything about it now anyway?
Be prepared to have the talk
Being prepared for a conversation about pornography with their child can help parents feel more confident and comfortable – particularly if a conversation about pornography feels a bit challenging.
Parents should be encouraged to:
- learn about the issues
- reflect on their responses and hopes
- identify the key things they want to communicate beyond messages about pornography
- reflect, debrief and plan ahead.
Think about how to have the conversation
It’s understandable that both parents and young people might prefer to avoid talking to each other about pornography. But emphasise to parents that there are things they can do to make it easier for everyone. With some thought and planning, they can feel more confident and prepared.
Key advice to share with parents includes:
- create a private but unpressured opportunity to talk
- stay calm and don’t make assumptions about your child’s knowledge, experiences or feelings
- always remember that curiosity about sex and sexuality are normal and healthy, and aim to keep the communication lines open, so your child feels comfortable to talk with you again and
- conversations about pornography are not one-off events—this is a conversation best revisited at various ages and stages.
Young people need to think critically about pornography
Parents can play a key role in supporting their children to think critically about pornography. Key messages to encourage parents to emphasise with young people include:
- consent is crucial when having sex
- pornography reinforces negative stereotypes about men and women
- the violence in pornography isn’t “sexy” – it undermines healthy, respectful relationships and is degrading to women.