Every month I work with parents whose son or daughter has been exposed to pornography. These parents feel angry, upset and overwhelmed about how to help their children move forward and how to “ensure” that their children haven’t been irreparably damaged as a result of the exposure.
In all of these situations, I advise the parent to breathe and take a step back. I tell them to make sure they are doing everything in their power to protect their children going forward from further exposure (for instance, by installing filters and parental controls on all Internet-enabled devices, monitoring entertainment content, talking with other parents and setting up rules for their children to follow in and outside the house, etc.). I also recommend that they sit down with their children and ask them to explain exactly what they saw, how they accessed it/how they were exposed and how it made them feel. It’s critical for parents to do their best to assess the situation in a calm, non-judgmental way. Next, I recommend that parents explain to their children why they should stay away from pornography in the future. Remember to reinforce the fact that you are always available to talk to them about this, and that you want them to come to you if they every encounter pornography again.
After following these steps, as long as you regularly check up on your son or daughter and find that they are not continuing to search for/attempting to access pornography, and if you continue the conversation about healthy sexuality, then much of the damage that pornography exposure causes can be mitigated. For some parents, it may be helpful for them to go have a single meeting (without their son or daughter) with a counselor to provide some guidance and help them to understand normal childhood sexual development.
If, however, you find that your son or daughter continues to try to access pornography, exposes another child to pornography, repeatedly seeks out adult content, or begins to “act out” what they have seen in pornography, then it would be highly recommended that you seek out the support of a professional counselor to meet with you and your child. If a child has had repeated exposure to pornographic content, or if another child “acted out” something sexually on your child, then it’s possible that your son or daughter could continue the cycle of child sexual abuse. Having a trained mind help you unpack what your son or daughter is going through can help protect and heal your son or daughter in the future. Additionally, your child may feel more free about opening up to a counselor rather than you (their mom or dad). A counselor can often come up with helpful strategies, identify the genesis of an addiction, and set up goals that can support you and your child as you try to recover from what’s been going on. Counseling is not something that anyone with a sex addiction, pornography addiction, body image struggle, fixation or fetish, or any other problematic behavior should be ashamed about. Rather, counseling can be a courageous step towards sobriety—regardless of age.