Every night before bed, I braid my daughter’s wet hair. A few weeks ago, when I entered her room, I saw her playing on her iPad. It was a bit strange that she was hiding the screen from me, so I grabbed the device to take a look. My brain could not comprehend what I saw. Pornography. Olivia was 8 years old at the time and had just finished the second grade.
I scrolled through Facebook Messenger Kids app and found a group message with 5 of Olivia’s closest friends. The chat was full of pornographic YouTube videos. I looked at the dates stamped on the messages. The girls had been sending videos for the past four months. The color left my face. Four months?
I was only able to squeak out a few words. “How did you find these videos?”
Olivia started sobbing and hugged me. She knew that she had done something wrong, but she wasn’t exactly sure what she had done. I could barely hold back my own tears as I held my daughter in my arms.
Once Olivia had regained her voice, she explained that another student in their class had asked Olivia if she had ever seen ‘naked kissing’ videos. Olivia had gone home and typed ‘naked kissing’ into Google and hundreds of pornographic sites popped up.
After Olivia had made the search, targeted ads containing pornography kept showing up as she used her iPad. The ads would take her to more and more explicit videos. At the bottom of each video were buttons enticing her to ‘like and share’. She clicked on the ‘share’ button and the spiral began.
Olivia and her friends are now all in therapy. I share this story to help inform families who might think that this couldn’t happen to them.
At START, we hear stories like this FAR more often than you might imagine. Every story is gut-wrenching. It can be tempting to cross your fingers and hope that this won’t happen to your child. Instead, we need to press in, even if it feels awkward. The reality is that age 10 is the average age kids are exposed to hardcore pornography. Early exposure among children affects psychological and social development and desensitizes the viewer to the sexual abuse, racism, sexism, and violence that is pervasive in pornography.
Here are a few places you can start:
We strongly recommend content filters, like Gryphon or Canopy, to help reduce access content.
As much as possible, limit device use to public places – no bedrooms or bathrooms. Your kids are less likely to watch pornography in the kitchen and if they do, you are more likely to notice it.
Have conversations with your kids about pornography. This will be AWKWARD. We strongly recommend the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures as a more manageable way to start your conversation. We’ve found it to be a gentle, effective resource to help you begin discussions about world of pornography, introducing it in a safe, compelling way. Check out the Junior version for kids as young as ages 3-6.
Learn about the prevalence and potency of pornography today. You can also check out our downloadable parent guide which shares lots of insights and tips.
Know mistakes will happen. Communicate with your kids that you are a safe harbor. Let them know they can tell you anything, that you will listen and be fair, and not overreact. As hard as it will be to hear, celebrate the fact they are telling you.