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How to talk to your kids about porn

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

The sex industry is the main sex educator for our children which means it's time for a talk

From SheKnows Canada
Kids looking at porn isn't anything new, but that doesn't make it any easier to have a conversation about it. Here are some tips to help.

Got the "birds and the bees" talk out of the way? Don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. There's far more to modern sex education than that.

Talking to your child about pornography is a conversation no parent looks forward to, but in this digital age, it's an important one to have. With children becoming au fait with smartphones and tablets from as young as 2 years old, it's a question of when, not if, to have the chat.

Last month Beyond Borders, a child advocacy group in Winnipeg, hosted a symposium entitled "Generation XXX — The Pornification of Our Children."

Of the situation in the United States, speaker Cordelia Anderson says, "The porn industry is the country's main sex educator of our boys and girls."

More: Should obscene content be scrubbed from the internet?

"We really need to talk to kids from an early age, before they become exposed to online porn," added Cathy Wing, the co-executive director of Ottawa-based MediaSmarts, who also spoke at the Winnipeg symposium. Her group published the results of a study back in May, revealing that 23 per cent of students in Grades 7 to 11 say they have searched out pornography online, with 28 per cent of the boys admitting they looked for porn at least once a week.

Undoubtedly, attitudes toward pornography are changing all over the world. "There seems to be less of a stigma about looking for pornography, because everybody's doing it, than there is for looking for good information about sexuality," says Wing.

"Porn can have both negative and positive impacts," says Alice Gauntley, a sex education activist and a student in gender and sexuality studies at McGill University in Montreal. "It can reinforce sexist, racist and transphobic stereotypes and give us unrealistic expectations about sex and our bodies. But it can also be a source of pleasure and a means of exploring our sexualities."

So how do we talk to our kids about porn?

If you have discovered your child is looking at sexually explicit material online, you may be shocked or upset. Before you react, remember that this is really common and actually nothing new. The internet may not have been around forever, but pornography in some form has. Before online porn, it was copies of Playboy. Post-pubescent boys (and girls too, albeit to a lesser extent) are interested in porn, and it's completely natural.

Before you talk to your child, discuss the matter with the other parent. It's really important that you're on the same page, so you may need to put your personal views about porn aside. How you react can have more of an effect on your child than the explicit material itself, warns psychologist Richard Toft. "A parent’s reaction can have a tremendous impact, and you could make it traumatic by ranting, raving and threatening reprisals."

More: 5 Ways to help your teen resist negative peer pressure

See the situation as another opportunity to talk to your child about sex. You may not have had the "birds and the bees" chat yet, so this is your chance. "Parents are going to do best if they do not consider porn isolated from sexuality. They need to address their moral feelings about sex, and porn is part of that," says Dr. Toft.

Don't make your child feel guilty about looking at porn, but make her aware that porn is only an imitation of sex. Depending on your child's age, you may want to discuss the messages pornography sends out about gender equality, safety and sexuality. Talk about different types of porn, and make it clear that there are consequences of spending too much time on these types of sites. Online porn goes far beyond images of naked people. Very graphic sex, violence and certain divergent sexual practices are unsuitable for someone with little or no sexual experience.

Put a filter on the device your child has used to access online porn if you think it's necessary. Several computer programs and smartphone apps block sexually explicit material. Explain to your child why you are doing this, and tell him that as he starts demonstrating more self-control, you will consider removing the filter. Make it clear you are not punishing him but doing this for his own good. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing all have child-safe search engine settings you can configure on your devices.

Encourage your child to come to you if he has any questions about porn or sex. It will always be a little embarrassing for both of you. But your child needs to know that porn doesn't have to be his primary sex educator. As his parent, that's your role.

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