Why is it that we can tell our children things like, “Don’t hit your brother,” or “If you touch the stove, it will burn you,” or “Say no to drugs!” five million times, but when it comes to sex and/or pornography–eeek!–we think we can have one talk, pat ourselves on the back, and go on our merry way? A colleague once asked me this, and I thought … you know, he’s right!
Maybe some of us don’t think we need to talk about it at all. Okay, so porn is out there somewhere, right? But not at our house.
Pause! First of all, don’t put too much faith in that “tried and true” Internet filter. Implanting a conscience in your child is better (and less expensive) than installing a million Internet filters. And beyond that, are you sure you want Timmy on the playground teaching your kids about porn? How about the older kids on the bus? The fact is, if we don’t take matters into our own hands, that’s what happens.
Why is it that pornography is such a daunting subject, anyway? I think it’s because we assume that if we start teaching our kids something about the subject, then we will have to teach them everything. But that’s just not the case. We don’t have to over-complicate things. For instance, simply teaching a little girl about modesty is a great foundation against pornography in the long-run. When we are teaching kids, we’ve got to go back to the basics:
(1) Build trust. If we want our kids to clue us in when they are teenagers, we can’t wait until they are teens and then expect to be their best friend. We need to spend time learning to love them, being interested in them as individuals, and being involved in their lives much earlier than that. If we establish a pattern of comfortable, open communication early in life, it will already be in place if or when our children need us, whether they are seven or seventeen. When the time comes that they encounter porn–and they will–we will be there.
(2) Talk about everything. When I was growing up, my parents had an open-door policy, and I have always been grateful for that. Now that I’m older, my mother has confided in me that sometimes my siblings and I would tell them things, they’d nod nonchalantly, talk with us about it, and then after we left, their jaws would drop and they’d say “WHOA! Can you believe that just happened?!” I’m so glad they did that behind closed doors, because I always felt okay opening up about anything and everything around them. If we treat sex as a shameful and secretive subject, then our children will not feel comfortable talking to us about it. Instead, they will go where they feel comfortable–to their friends. I’m not saying that we have to condone sexual behavior that is not accordance with our values systems. Rather, we have to decide who we want teaching them values: parents or friends. If your child asks you about porn or tells you they’ve seen something inappropriate, will you freak out? If you do, what does that teach them? If we want them to come to us, we need to create a safe place for them.
(3) Teach them to respect others. Let’s be honest. At it’s core, pornography is about disrespect. It turns men and women into two-dimensional objects to be lusted after. Simply teaching children basic principles about loving others and treating people with respect will help them build an understanding of what a normal, healthy relationship feels like. If they grow up with this precedent, then when they come across something different–a graphic and perhaps violent representation–they will recognize it, and hopefully it will repulse them rather than draw them in. You don’t have to tell a five-year-old “Pornography is graphic and violent and teaches us to disrespect each other, so we don’t look at pornography.” Instead, try this: “Do we hurt each other for fun?” No. “Is it funny or nice to watch other people hurting each other?” No. Or if you’re really feeling bold: “What if someone tries to show you a yucky movie or pictures of people hurting each other? Is that something we should look at?” No! We don’t have to go into the gory details to prepare our children for what’s out there. They are so pure and innocent. When they are young, it’s not complicated for them. Hurt. Disrespect. Yucky. These are strong enough words for children. We use them every day to teach them about other things. Why not use them to start building a safeguard against something as serious as porn?
(4) Instill modesty. I’ll bet you’re doing this anyway, but have you ever thought that you’re also teaching a lesson that will prevent your kids from getting into porn? We teach our little girls not to lift their skirts or show their undies. We teach our children to keep their shirts down and not to show their bellies in public. If we’re really thinking ahead, we even teach our kids not to let anyone touch the places that are covered by their underwear. All of these things rolled into one send a clear message: respect the body, especially those special parts. We’ve all heard that “actions speak louder than words,” but in this case, I’d argue that actions and words speak loudest together. So when we’re teaching our children not to flash each other, why not tack on the “why” and stretch that teaching a little farther: “Gavin, please put your shirt down. We don’t show off our bodies to strangers. Your body is special,” or “Lucy, please keep your skirt down. Your skirt covers special parts that others are not supposed to see.” If these lessons are hard-wired into our kids, perhaps they will come to mind when they see “special parts” displayed in a not-so-modest pornographic manner.
Maybe you think I’m nuts, that I’m overreacting–that porn is bad stuff, but it’s not really everywhere. Perhaps you’re thinking–like I once did–that you will just keep a filter on your computer and good friends around your kids, and they’ll never bump into the stuff. Actually, a national study recently showed that the average child is introduced to pornography by age 11. So young. In the world we live in, it’s not a question of IF anymore, it’s a question of WHEN. So if you’re worried you are going to bring something up too early–that you will make your kids curious and drive them to seek something out they wouldn’t naturally come across–don’t. If we want to be their first contact with the subject, we need to be proactive.
So take a deep breath, Mom! We’re all behind you. Practice saying the P-word! When you end up being the first line of defense, you’ll be glad you did.
QUESTION: Do you know of any families that have been affected by pornography? (No need to name names, of course.) What do you think is the best way to teach children about pornography?
CHALLENGE: Make a goal to talk to your children about modesty and/or respecting our bodies some time this week. Setting these kind of thought patterns can go a long way in the fight against pornography.