Talking to Tweens about Sex and Pornography

Dear Sharon,

We are finding a lot of pornographic type stuff in our12 year old son’s room, hidden away, in closets, drawers, etc.
Should we ignore this or should we mention it to him? Is it time for us to have the “talk” with him? Do people still do that anymore and if so, what kind of talk do we have in a time of such open awareness? What’s your advice for parents these days pertaining to sexual conversations with their kids?

Dear parents, As most teens and tweens are juggling increased pressure from peers, the media, their school and hormones I think it is important for parents to spend time helping them sort through many issues including ones pertaining to sex and pornography although particulars can vary greatly for each child even in our era of open awareness.

It is true that many children this age have been exposed to plenty of information and misinformation about intimacy. It is also true that 12 year olds frequently become embarrassed and/or defensive when Moms and Dads begin discussions related to bodies or sex. Even talks about obvious physical changes can be difficult to have. Nevertheless, if offered respectfully and thoughtfully the support and guidance of an older and hopefully wiser parent can help decrease the isolation and confusion that often surround such topics.

Rather than jumping into the “talk” I generally suggest that parents begin by making sure that they are spending plenty of enjoyable time with their child and having frequent, relaxed discussions about their young person’s life in and outside of school. Such time can help family relationships stay close, connected and fun and ultimately help the “harder” talks go well.

When it is time to broach the sex/pornography discussion parents I know have begun by listening to their young person talk about general topics related to intimacy. Some of the many subjects that can be useful are a child’s thoughts, experiences and emotions about friendships that have changed, crushes they have felt, romances they have enjoyed or hoped for, rejections they have encountered or physical changes they have experienced or seen in their friends and schoolmates. Adults of course usually ask questions to help a child open up but often make the mistake of talking more than is needed. If Mom and/or Dad can remember that listening to their child can be at least as important as the information they share it can help their child feel “understood” and less alone as they sort things through.

After parents listen for a while some of the points that Moms and Dads I know have communicated explain that sex and intimacy are important and wonderful parts of life but ones that need to be thought about in order to go well. Discussions about the repercussions of impulsive reactions to possible romantic interests have also been helpful. Some parents I know have shared parts of their personal experiences and have found it a good idea to do so. I often suggest that Moms and Dads ask their young one the simple question, “What do you think about what I just said?” after each point they make. This gives their child a chance to process and share their own ideas, opens up an easier dialogue and ultimately helps them understand what is being said.

Adults I know have also sensitively explained that although pornographic “stuff” can be stimulating it is not about loving human contact. If pornography becomes a preoccupation or substitute for real contact it can easily interfere with and have a negative impact on healthy relationships.

Exploring sexuality is a common and healthy reaction to physical and emotional changes that occur during adolescence. When parents I have worked with have engaged in ongoing discussions on the topic without worry or pressure they have consistently improved their tween or teen’s relationships in and outside of their home. As much of the success and happiness we all achieve in life centers on our relationships I think such talks are worth the effort.