I Found Porn on my Teen’s Phone and Handled it All Wrong

I made a deal with my 13-year-old son. He could have Instagram but ONLY if it was also attached to my phone so I could see what he was sending and receiving. Yes, his account was private, but having his profile on my phone also allowed me to keep tabs on randos trying to add him or inappropriate accounts sending him messages.

At times, having his account on my phone was overwhelming. Do you know how many messages teens send per day?! But, still, having access to the messages-by-the-minute gave me peace of mind that he was being safe online and acting appropriately with his friends online.

One day, in one of his group chats with three other boys in his class, in the middle of their conversation about basketball and the Playstation game du jour, there it was. A screenshot from PornHub! One of his buddies had sent it in between “Do we have pool tomorrow?” and “Want to play basketball after school?”

I’m pretty sure when I saw the picture, I gasped out loud. I was shocked and disgusted. Who was this punk sending naked pictures of women in, may I add, unattainable positions? My knee-jerk reaction was to shut the whole thing down. That’s it. I was going to delete his social media account, take away his iPad, buy him a fleecy onesie and force him to watch the Disney Channel with me 24/7.

And then I noticed something else a bit disturbing. A seemingly non-reaction from my son.

Had he seen this stuff before? Why wasn’t he as shocked as I was that his friend had sent this image over. He didn’t even acknowledge the image, which I saw as maybe good and bad. Good that he didn’t want to bring focus to it in their conversation and bad because…. why wasn’t he surprised?!

So, I handed the message over to my husband because I just thought ‘he’s a guy and he could give me a penis-centric POV.’ Was this just a case of boys being boys? My husband tried to reassure me that it was just a normal part of boyhood and told tales of him sneaking Playboys under his mattress or something similar in his teenage years.

So, for the next couple of days, I decided to bury my head in the sand and pretend like nothing happened as I tried vigorously to erase the image from my mind. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it, so I chose to not deal with it at all, which never ends well, does it? Because, like any issue, if it’s not dealt with or talked about, it bubbles up and festers until it eventually explodes. This brings me to the day where I experienced one of my biggest parenting fails to-date.

I came home one day from Pilates and the house was weirdly quiet, but my husband and son were busy tidying up so, really, who was I to question it? The laundry machines were buzzing, the living room was de-cluttered, and the kitchen was sparkling clean. But, because all the good towels were in the laundry, I was stuck with the last remaining one in the bathroom. We all have “that towel.” You know. It’s the one you should have thrown out three years ago because it’s all ripped and frayed and only fully wrapped around you 25 pounds ago.

So just as I was coming out of the bathroom, wrapped in my barely-there towel, my son was coming out of his room and was visually assaulted by me and my mom bits. And, in my defence, it’s winter and I have no plans of being in a bathing suit for months. Basically, what I’m saying is my delicate flower was in full bloom.

“God! Mom! Why?” he was holding his hands in front of his face, trying to shield his eyes from my homegrown garden. “Why is it… SO ANGRY?”

“Oh, you don’t want to see THIS?” I said gesturing my hands around my unkept triangle. “Well guess what I don’t want to see! Muffs on your phone!”

“Mom! I didn’t send it!” he was turning around and fleeing back into the safety of his room now.

“I don’t care! You didn’t delete it either.”

My husband, listening to my yells of ‘muff-this and muff-that’ from downstairs, made his way upstairs. “What is happening here?”

“Oh nothing!” I screamed. “Just showing off my muff because apparently that’s what we do in this house. We all just look at muffs! Muffs all day, erryday.”

My husband, very calmly said “Son, muffs don’t look like that picture, ok?” And then we all went our separate ways.

Turns out, the house was so quiet because, before I had gotten home, my husband had sat my son down and had a grown-up conversation about porn. He relayed to him that while it’s natural to be curious, porn is not real. It can be degrading to women. It can give you unnatural expectations of sex and some people can even get addicted to watching it. They had an open, non-judgmental conversation wherein my son admitted he had seen images like this before. He agreed to talk to his dad should any of his friends send him another message like that.

So, I guess his dad handled porn-gate better than me.

Talking to your teens about porn is a conversation we should all be having sooner than later because, according to research, the average age a child is first exposed to pornography is 11. If you want to do a better job than I did (and who wouldn’t), here are some expert tips on how to navigate that conversation.

Don’t judge. Keep the conversation positive. You don’t want to shame them about watching porn. Instead, you want to open up the conversation about porn in a very casual way. It’s best to have this conversation before you know they’ve seen it, so you can get ahead of the issue. Be honest about the awkwardness of the conversation because your kids will appreciate your candour. You can say “I’m not used to talking with you about this stuff, but I think we should have a chat about pornography.” If this conversation is spurred because you found porn on their phone or you know they have been watching it, you can start the conversation with, “I’m not mad, but I am pretty sure you have looked at pornography and I just want to talk about it.” Even if you’re mad, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Don’t be like me.

Let them ask questions. It’s completely normal to be curious about sex, so let them know that. Then give them the space and opportunity to ask questions. Reassure them that their questions are valid and try and refrain from asking them too many questions about who has sent them what and what they have looked at. After all, this is a teachable moment, and you are the teacher.

Emphasize consent.  Porn doesn’t just have to be all about sex. It gives you an opportunity to open up more conversations about body image and consent.  Let them know that it’s important to get consent (from both partners) before engaging in any sexual activity and that it’s even important to communicate throughout. For both partners to have a meaningful and positive experience, you must be on the same page in regard to expectations. This is why porn is not a healthy platform as it doesn’t teach you how to properly interact sexually and emotionally with others.

Talk about emotions. There’s no talk of emotions in porn, which is another reason why it is not a realistic depiction of sex. Discuss the importance of validating and discussing each partners’ emotional needs before even starting a sexual relationship. Also, discuss how sex can alter the way you feel about a person and how it can aid in an even stronger connection.

Trust me, acting like the grown-up you actually are will go a long way in not only navigating this very adult conversation but fostering a healthy relationship between you and your teen.

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