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What I did when I found out my 12-year-old son had been watching porn online

Teenagers
According to a 2016 report by the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner over 60 per cent of 14-year-olds had viewed porn and over half of the boys surveyed thought what they were reviewing reflected reality Credit: Getty

When I asked my 12-year-old son *Ben to lend me his phone I knew from the look on his face that something was wrong. I’m a single parent, Ben is my only child and as a result we are very close. We talk about everything and before he got his first phone, in Year 6 when he began walking to school by himself, we had ‘The Talk’.

‘The Talk’, was a variation on the one we had when he got an Xbox, basically how to maintain online safety by not speaking to people he didn’t know in real life and not sharing specific information about himself, his school or his home. These weren’t just random rules, I gave Ben good solid reasons for these limits and he understood them. Only this time I had to add that he shouldn’t view porn or send inappropriate selfies.  

The porn talk was difficult. I’m sure there are many people who would wonder why anyone would feel the need to talk to a 10-year-old (as he then was) about pornography but once a child has a phone it’s not a question of if they will see online sex but when. Instead of burying our collective heads in the sand and saying, “Not my little darling,” parents need to wise up to the things their kids are seeing, and in time, repeating in their own lives.

Of course any such conversation is excruciatingly embarrassing.  I grew up in a society where sex was never discussed, nudity was shameful and masturbation was a sin. I rejected all of that and spent my twenties having a whale of a time, so I’m not a prude or a sheltered middle class mum, but I still found the experience toe-curlingly awful. I’ve never discussed sex in any great detail with my own parents – a situation we are all more than happy with, but my son is growing up in a different world, a world that most of us as parents are woefully unprepared for.

As Ben unwillingly handed over his phone he admitted he’d been viewing porn. He was mortified and, through tears, repeated all the reasons he knew he shouldn’t have been, but he said most of the boys in his class were doing it and he had felt left out. Despite the inevitability of this moment, I was devastated. However, I remained calm and instigated a conversation about what he had seen. It was pretty grim.

While the government plans to introduce an age-verification system to stop under-18s viewing pornography (the plan which was to come into effect in July 2019 has been delayed by six months) we are currently living with the fallout of violent hard-core sexual imagery being freely available to kids. According to a 2016 report by the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner over 60 per cent of 14-year-olds had viewed porn and over half of the boys surveyed thought what they were reviewing reflected reality. Accessing porn doesn’t just affect boys, however, and increasingly young girls are pressured into performing sex acts ‘as seen on the internet’. 

When he told me about the things he’d seen I reminded him they were giving him, and his classmates, unrealistic expectations about sex. Did he really think that any woman would enjoy some of the things he had viewed? I never imagined I’d be talking about graphic sex acts with my prepubescent child, but I had to be blunt because there is nothing subtle about online porn.

I didn’t mention love or relationships. I could so easily have given him the, 'When two adults love each other very much’ talk, but instead I told him sex was meant to be pleasurable for both partners and it was meant to be nice. This was the best I could do as there is no place for love in online sex and as parents we have to recognise this, stop being squeamish and try to mitigate the damage. 

*Names have been changed