Some parents will be resistant to efforts to encourage them to talk about pornography.
Remember, parents will bring a range of perspectives to this issue – for example, their different cultural or religious norms, values or beliefs may come to bear on how they engage with this issue.
Below are some suggestions for how practitioners can respond to some of parents’ “roadblocks”. The aim is to support you to understand and respond to some of the challenges you may face when you seek to incorporate a focus on pornography into your work with young people and their parents.
When communicating with parents, consider adapting the below responses in order for them to be culturally appropriate and accessible to the families you work with.
Your child may not seek out pornography, but if they have a device – or a friend with a device – there’s a good chance they’ll see it at some point. Young people are just as likely to see pornography accidentally as intentionally. And most don’t talk with their parents – or any other adult – about having seen pornography.
So, while your child may not have seen pornography, there is a good chance they will at some point – and they may have already. Either way, it is better for them to have your support to equip them for a world in which exposure is likely, and to know that they can talk with you about it. See the for information on young people and pornography, and how to have the conversation.
It can feel awkward – for both you and your child – but a bit of planning can help you feel better prepared. You might also want to consider who you can approach to support you – a family member, friend, or professional, for example a local youth worker, might be able to help you think through how to approach the conversation.
Don’t allow your discomfort to prevent you from supporting your child on this issue. They are much better off talking with you – even awkwardly – than being left to navigate pornography alone. See for more information.
If you wait for some kind of ‘incident’ as a prompt to talk with your child about pornography, you may never actually do it! That would mean your child would miss out on the opportunity to have your support and guidance on this issue.
There is no guarantee there will ever be an ‘incident’. And if there is, it may occur after your child has been using pornography for months or even years. Don’t allow your discomfort to stop you from having a conversation about pornography. By being proactive, you can help ensure your child has the tools to navigate a world in which they are likely to be exposed to pornography.
You may have seen pornography growing up and may feel that it didn’t impact you negatively. But pornography has changed. Not only is there more of it, more accessible than ever before, it is conveying a whole range of harmful messages. In particular, there is evidence that pornography reinforces the kinds of attitudes and beliefs that are known to drive violence against women.
While it may not seem like a new phenomenon for young people to see pornography, young people have greater access to free, explicit imagery at the click of a button. Times have changed, and the way we parents need to, as well. See for more information.
For some people, talking or thinking about pornography – or anything related to sexuality – can be uncomfortable or challenging. You may not have had open communication on these issues modelled by caregivers in your own childhood, or you may have had painful experiences related to pornography or sexuality, more broadly.
If you are concerned that talking about pornography with your child will trigger strong emotional responses in you, or raise painful experiences from your past, seek support for yourself to help work through any difficulties the issues raise for you. For example, you could talk with a friend, family member, or counsellor, or contact the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service .
You might also want to work with someone you trust – such as a partner, friend or family member – who can help you think through how you will approach conversations with your child, and what you’d like to say. You may even want them to be part of the conversation.
By getting support and being prepared, you can model for your child how to talk about sensitive issues safely.
There is currently no effective method for preventing young people from seeing pornography – even if they don’t want to, it is quite likely that they will be exposed to pornography accidentally. Avoiding the conversation is not going to make pornography go away; it just means we risk leaving young people to navigate it without us.
We can take steps to prevent young people seeing pornography, but we also need to talk with them about pornography, to support them to think critically about its messages and influence and help them understand the characteristics of respectful relationships and sex.
Any conversation about pornography with young people requires careful consideration of the potential risks and benefits of having this conversation. It’s important to consider the risks of having a conversation, without letting it put you off having it – keep in mind that there are also risks associated with not acting (and benefits associated with acting).
By talking with young people about pornography and equipping them with skills to critically analyse it, we can potentially reduce pornography’s negative effects for those who have already seen it, as well as for those who haven’t.
You cannot completely eliminate the risk that you will create an interest in pornography by talking about it with your child – but you can aim to minimise it. For example, you can take care not to normalise pornography use, including through an expectation that young people will all have knowledge of pornography. You can be clear about pornography’s problematic messages and potential harms. And you can promote respectful relationships and the characteristics that define them, and contrast these with the messages conveyed through pornography.
Schools have an important role to play in young people’s sexuality education – but so do parents. Parents can have an impact on their children’s ideas about relationships but, too often, young people are not getting what they want and need from their parents. In fact, 60% of young men and 41% of young women had turned to pornography for information about sex in the last 12 months, according to an Our Watch survey.¹
You have a unique opportunity to tailor your approach to a pornography conversation to the needs and characteristics of your child. You can talk one-on-one with your child, at a time and place that feels appropriate, using a style that is suited to your child. A conversation about pornography is not really just about pornography – it is a chance to talk about and promote values like respect and care and encourage your child to make good decisions about what and who they allow to shape their sexuality.
Talking about pornography can feel uncomfortable for parents, but also for young people. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk about it – they may just feel super awkward. And even if they don’t want to talk about it, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Sometimes we need to have conversations that we don’t want to have.
By modelling to your child that it is okay to talk about awkward and difficult topics, you are helping build their capacity to do so themselves – something that is an important life skill. See for tips about having this important discussion.
If your child has seen pornography, you can’t undo that. But you can help minimise the harms of their past exposure – and of any future exposure.
Seeing some pornography is one thing, but seeing lots of it, or not having the understandings or skills to critique it, can multiply the potential harms. Don’t assume there is nothing you can do. See and for information about how you can support your child to think critically about pornography and its influence, and reduce the harms associated with their exposure.