Online pornography

Your child may discover online porn unintentionally, or they may go looking for it. Either way, you can play a role.  

For young children, accidentally encountering pornographic material can be confusing or distressing. At worst it can be harmful. 

Older kids and teenagers may be more curious and actively seek out pornography online. For them, the risk is that exposure to graphic, violent or misleading messages about sexual practices and gender stereotypes could give them the wrong idea about sex and intimate relationships. 

How do kids find pornography online?

  • Your child may actively search for explicit content online, out of curiosity or perhaps because their friends are talking about it. 
  • A friend or sibling (or an adult) may share inappropriate content  
  • Your child may accidentally type the wrong word or phrase into an internet search or mistakenly click on a link to something that looks interesting but turns out to be pornographic.  
  • They might click on links in phishing or spam emails, dodgy links and pop-ups (even on harmless websites). 
  • Or they may also encounter pornography on free games websites for children. Some popular children’s cartoons have been hijacked with a pornographic version — which can be very distressing for a child to see. 

How can I protect my child?

Start by making your home environment as safe as possible.

Set some ‘house rules’

Discuss the issue with all siblings in age-appropriate ways and ensure everyone agrees to play by the same rules. For example, ‘in our house we don’t share inappropriate images’.

Talk about where it is and is not OK to use computers or devices. Ideally, your child should only use them in public areas of the home. Bedrooms, a closed study, or other private spaces should be device no-go zones for younger children.

Stay engaged :

Talking regularly and openly with your child about what they are doing online will help build trust, and may reduce your desire to monitor your child’s browser history or check up on them without them knowing.

Use the available technology

Take advantage of the parental controls available on computers, modems and other devices, and ensure the ‘safe search’ mode is enabled on browsers. Find out more about taming the technology.

Consider setting a wi-fi curfew. Determine a reasonable time to shut off the wi-fi, and then do so consistently each night.

Explain to your child the reasons for putting controls in place. Especially for older children and teens, being too controlling may lead them to hide their behavior and not be open with you.

Make sure your child is unlikely to come across it on your own devices
  • If you access any form of content you would not want your child to see, be as discreet as possible to avoid accidental exposure.
  • Password-protect your devices to restrict access.
  • Delete browser histories so children cannot accidentally stumble on what a parent viewed recently.
  • Turn off auto-complete in browsers so that previous search terms adults may have used do not appear.
Build resilience

Age-appropriate conversations about sexualised content can help young people process what they come across online and reinforce the importance of consent and respectful relationships.

Consider raising the subject of pornography yourself

Particularly for young children, you might feel that talking about pornography will simply make them curious and more likely to explore on their own. It is OK to delay the conversation if your child is generally open with you about what they are viewing online, and you are reasonably sure they have not been exposed to pornographic content.

But by the time they are around 9 years old, parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson recommends that you should consider talking about pornography to help protect them from the potential impacts of coming across it accidentally. Every child is different, so it is important to decide when you think it is right to raise the subject with your child.

Take a long-term view

Discussions about sex, intimacy, and pornography best take place when your child feels they can trust you. This is a long-term challenge that means investing time in your relationship with your child, rather than a quick fix for the moment when you discover they have seen pornography. If that happens, see what can I do.

Reinforce that if they do see something they do not understand, they can come and ask you about it — no topic is off limits.

What can I do if my child has found pornography online?

Stay calm

Try to approach the situation calmly. If you are upset or angry, your child may feel like they cannot come to you about other concerns in the future.

Thank them for being brave enough to let you know and reassure them that you will sort it out together.

Listen, assess, pause

If your child has accidentally viewed explicit content, ask them to fill you in on the details so you can help manage the situation.

For example, find out how they found it, where it happened, who (if anyone) showed it to them and how they felt when they saw it.

It may be tempting to give a big lecture right there on the spot but sometimes this is not the best option. Take some time to plan your approach to the topic. You will have a better outcome if everyone stays calm.

Reassure your child they are not in trouble

Try to understand rather than criticise or punish.

When children fear punishment, they may close down emotionally. They may be reluctant to talk, and may struggle to listen or understand. This could lead your child to hide their behaviour or not want to approach you in the future.

Try not to remove your child’s device or online access completely, as they will see it as punishment.

If they say they have not been watching (or been shown) pornography but you know they have, it is best to tell them what you know rather than getting mad at them for lying. The conversation is likely to be ineffective if you are upset and they are defensive.

Be sensitive to how they feel

It is important to talk with your child about how the content made them feel. This makes the conversation less confronting and allows them to talk more openly about their experience.

Does your child feel good, bad, safe, scared, uncomfortable, curious, repulsed or something else? Any or all of these feelings are normal reactions.

Seek professional help if you are concerned your child is very upset or struggling to process what they have seen.

Encourage your child to talk to you about any questions they have about what they come across online. Let them know they can talk to you at anytime.

This material has been adapted with permission from the Australian Government eSafety Commissioner. Permission to adapt content does not constitute endorsement of material by the eSafety Commissioner.