Pornography: Protecting your teen while they are online

I caught my thirteen-year-old son looking at porn sites on the Internet. He completely denied it. We do not have access to the net in our home. At the time we were visiting his future stepfather. Although I am aware that my son's behavior is probably normal and it is most likely not the first time, how should I handle this?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

This is not an issue of "normalcy" but of guidance. A focus on his behavior as normal may lead you to ignore, rather than influence, your son's development at this critical juncture.

Your son depends on you to care and to act in his best interests. Acknowledge his ability to act independently and secretly, but tell him you do not want him to engage in viewing pornography. Be willing to take action to help prevent illegal and inappropriate viewing. Talk with your son's future stepfather to block these sites from use by children and consider talking with the parents of your son's friends who have internet access. Discuss whether these sites should be blocked and let your son know why you are doing so. But do not stop there.

  • Have a discussion with your son. As our children grow, we are less able to control their actions, or their environment. The teen years usher in a time in which we must switch gears in parenting. Very often, parents simply give up, rather than establish a new relationship with their teenager. Adolescence is a time of exploration as sexual feelings emerge. Teens are still in need of guidance!
  • Let your son know that lying about the issue will not make it go away. Your insistence on discussing this matter should be gentle, but firm. Take his side, by letting him know that he will encounter many things in the adult world (now that he is growing older) that you want to be able to discuss with him. Tell him that you want to establish an avenue of communication that allows input from you, so that he will make decisions in his best interest.
  • Share your concerns with your son. Explain that you are concerned that viewing this kind of material before he has even experienced healthy sexuality may be detrimental to developing a respectful and healthy relationship with his own body. Acknowledge that you cannot stop him from finding avenues of access to such material if he insists on it, but that you will do what you can to direct him away from it because you have his best interests at heart. Adopt a factual, rather than punitive tone in setting these boundaries and open the avenue for discussion about sex.
  • Do not shy away from sharing your view of healthy sex. Let your son know that you feel that sharing his body in an intimate and sexual way should be based on trust and caring in a relationship. Ask your son why he is visiting these sites. Is he drawn to them because they are forbidden? Does he have any other outlets for his curiosity about sex? Make yourself available to him for questions. Let him know there are books available that describe healthy sexuality, if he is interested in pictures and information.
  • The key to staying connected. Communicating with your child in his teen years, is an aid to change your relationship into one of guidance, instead of absolute control. Make time to talk with your son. Tell him that you would like to have lunch with him and discuss some important subjects. Let him know that you respect his privacy, but that you must establish honest communication. Show him that lying will not get you off his back, but honest discussion will. Curiosity is normal. Seek to understand the true nature and motivation for your son's behavior and use this event as an opportunity to create discussions, rather than avoid them.
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