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The Answer Blog

Archive for February, 2012

My Child Viewed Porn: Now What?

February 17, 2012

pornThere are few more dramatic, clutch-the-pearls parenting moments than discovering that your child was viewing pornography. It doesn’t matter what your child’s gender is or how shy or outgoing your child is. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve put parental restrictions on your Internet access. Porn is easily accessible today in a variety of formats, and it is very likely that this will happen in your family at some point.

Why might your child have checked out porn? The most common reasons are…

Curiosity - Cultural references to porn are all around us. They are made by teens and adults, on the radio, by recording artists, in sitcoms and in movies. So sometimes kids check out porn because they want to know what it is and what the big deal is about.

Hormones - It’s hard for us to admit, but our children are sexual beings. Once they enter puberty, they are RAGING sexual beings. It’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening, biologically and developmentally. So sometimes, kids go online to check out porn because it turns them on. Sorry. Truth.

Confusion - Adolescents are concrete thinkers who need specific examples. If you describe what a condom is, your adolescent will understand something. If you show your adolescent a condom, allow her or him to actually touch it, your concrete adolescent will understand far more. For some young people, hearing “oral sex is when someone puts their mouth on another person’s genitals for pleasure” isn’t enough. How does that actually happen? Why do people do it? Adolescents go online, see someone performing oral sex and say, “Oh, I get it.”

Parents often ask, “What impact does viewing porn have on children?” There are different viewpoints and a range of research relating to this. Generally speaking, porn does not harm young people. It can, however, misinform and confuse them. Porn is made for adults, not adolescents. It is designed to be a fantasy-and adolescents don’t always get that, because, again, they’re concrete thinkers. What they see is what they get.

So, what do you do if your child has been checking out porn?

Decide who’s going to bring it up. If you are partnered or married, strategize together first for consistency. Then one of you should speak with your child so she or he does not feel ganged up on. Believe me, your child is going to feel embarrassed and defensive, so you need to approach this gently.

Be ready to explain how you know she or he was accessing porn. When it comes to technology, parents are all over the place about whether it’s OK to check their children’s e-mails, texts, etc. If you are a parent who does spot checks, I suggest you let your child know that in advance. Otherwise, while you’re trying to talk with your child about why it’s not OK for her or him to look at porn, she or he will be focused on how and why you violated her or his privacy.

Be ready to have several short conversations. Again, your child is likely to be mortified that you discovered she or he was watching porn. That means you have a limited window in which to talk about it. This also means that you may need to come back to it several times to reinforce what you said the first time, since all they will be able to hear is their own voice in their head saying, “Please let this be over….”

Set boundaries. Remember you are the parent, and as the parent, you are responsible for setting and maintaining rules in your home. After you’ve spoken about why adolescents shouldn’t be viewing porn, you need to clearly explain your expectations moving forward and that, like with any other rules, there will be consequences for breaking them. Effective consequences should happen right after the offense and be related to the offense (e.g., no non-homework computer access for a period of time).

Watch for these warning signs that indicate a problem needing professional help:

Subject matter. If you were to discover that the only images your child was viewing were particularly violent or degrading, you’d need to talk about what she or he saw and to explain clearly that that is not the way people should behave in a sexual relationship. How that conversation goes will determine whether you might want to bring your child to see a therapist to explore the source of their curiosity.

Frequency of viewing. A parent asked me, “If my son says he can’t stop watching porn, is that a problem?” Absolutely. If viewing porn feels like a compulsion, professional intervention is necessary to direct your child away from a behavior that is not healthy to one that is.

Changes in language or behavior. Any dramatic changes in your child’s language or behavior should be noted. (For example, if your previously outgoing child becomes quieter, more secretive, or you hear him or her using more sexualized language with friends or with you). These changes may not necessarily indicate that your child has been viewing porn, but they can. When in doubt, check it out.

Above all, stay calm. Talk with other parents about how they’ve handled this situation with their children. Speak with professionals who have expertise working with children. You are not alone in figuring out how to address this!

My Child Viewed Porn: Now What? was originally published by

New National Sexuality Education Standards Make History

February 8, 2012

National Sexuality Education StandardsWhile the Republican presidential candidates chased each other through the primaries and President Obama embarked on the campaign trail, a recent announcement about sexuality education in America quietly made history.

For the first time ever, educators, local and state board members, and parents have a set of uniform, national sexuality education standards to measure the content of their schools’ programs: The National Sexuality Education Standards. Its goal is “to provide clear, consistent, and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is age-appropriate for students in grades K-12.”

Publication of the standards is an important step forward in standardizing, normalizing and improving sex education throughout the nation. If widely implemented, our youths’ well-being, health and academic achievement will improve. Programs modeled after the standards could lower our high rate of teen pregnancy and even higher rate of teen sexual transmitted diseases. Emphasis, of course, is on the “if.” If professional educators, parents and school board members give these standards a fair hearing.

Development of the standards is the result of a two-year effort spearheaded by five prestigious organizations: The American Association of Health Education, The American School Health Association, The National Education Association Health Information Network, The Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education and The Future of Sex Education (FoSE) Initiative. (FoSE includes three national sexuality education organizations: Advocates for Youth, Answer and SIECUS.)

These experts believe that “sexual development… [is] a normal, natural, healthy part of human development.” They substitute abstinence-only approaches, which still receive government funding, for a more comprehensive, evidence-based approach.

The standards join a growing body of national standards for other school curricula, such as math, reading and health, which only benefit our national education system. Long after serving on the New Jersey State Board of Education decades ago, I believed that excessive local control of school curricula-particularly sex education- can prevent young people from getting challenging content that prepares them to live in the global village. When it comes to sex education, a small group of parents at the local level can often control the curriculum to a point where students get only limited, often dishonest information.

The standards are based on research-driven evidence and developmentally and age-appropriate norms, yet teaching more than abstinence might be seen as controversial. Some parents, educators and politicians believe that school sexuality education programs should focus only on abstinence and that instruction on contraception can encourage young people to have sex.

However, the experts behind the standards think otherwise. They believe that students in the early grades should learn only about abstinence, but those in grades 6-8 should also learn about the “health benefits, risks and effectiveness rates of various methods of contraception, including… condoms.” By the end of high school, students will review, compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of abstinence and other methods, including condoms.

This is balanced instruction, since about half of all teens today have sex before graduating high school. Students need the whole story about contraception, not just half of it.

Another potentially controversial area might be the treatment of sexual orientation, which is wisely placed in the area of Identity. Instruction begins in grades 3-5, and by the end of fifth grade, students should be able to define “sexual orientation as the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same or of a different gender.” Many young people already know this definition, since they live with same-sex parents, or know others who have been raised by them.

The topic continues in grades 6-8, so that students “differentiate between gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.” Then in high school, instruction focuses on students’ ability to “differentiate between biological sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”

I can see how the possible inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity might cause differences of opinion among parents and educators-but it shouldn’t hold up adoption of the standards. They need not be swallowed whole. Rather, parents and school board members-and older students whose opinions might be extremely valuable-can examine them in a series of community meetings.

Implementation can begin with elements that the majority accepts. The more difficult and potentially controversial issues can be placed on the sidelines for further study and adopted at a later date.

Elimination of certain topics, of course, can be more problematic if a state board of education decided to adopt the standards for all its schools. However, boards not wanting implementation to cause conflicts might suggest that parents can opt out of instruction for a few of the standards that might conflict with their religious or moral views.

But we’re discussing building a floor for sex education with the adoption of these minimal standards. We’re not discussing the ceiling, and there is no time limit imposed on districts to begin adopting the standards. Of course, it won’t take long for many school districts with superior sexuality education programs to do a quick review to see how their programs surpass the standards. Perhaps districts with excellent programs can serve as mentors to districts that must start at the very beginning and adopt the minimal standards.

In the 30 years that I’ve worked in the sexuality education field, nothing as dramatic and important as the creation of the standards has ever occurred. They have the potential to improve and enhance school sexuality education programs across the country. Bravo to everyone involved in their development, and good luck to the parents, educators, and state and local school board members who must now summon their courage and implement them.