My 5-yr-old Just Watched Hard-Core Porn. Now What?

Child Watching PornSnuggling at bedtime, our 5-yr-old, said, “Mommy, I’m afraid to see you naked now because of what that man was doing to that lady.” Confused, my wife asked, “What do you mean, baby?” His 7-yr-old brother piped in, and the 5-yr-old quickly interjected, “Noooo … she wasn’t kissing his penis, she was sucking it.” 

THE HORROR!

Last month, poolside at the home of good friends, our host gave his sons, same age as ours, permission to have some screen time on his laptop. A few months earlier, one of my 7-yr-old’s classmates had suggested googling “naked” … which is exactly what the four boys did, huddled upstairs, unsupervised on a computer that, most regrettably, had no filters. As we adults sipped Coronas on floaty rafts beneath the mango tree, the entire world of hard-core porn was delivered to the incredulous eyes of our darlings on a silver platter. And I mean all of it

Lost innocence. Too soon. Arrows in my heart.

Lying beside them and scratching the smooth tan skin of our sons’ backs, we did our best to explain that we don’t want them watching or seeking out videos like those, just like we don’t want them watching violent TV or video games. Because it’s for grownups. And we emphasized to our youngest that if he ever found himself in a situation that made him uncomfortable, to immediately leave the room and seek us out. What more could we say?

I’ve read that the average age of exposure to pornography is down to eight. Before the Internet, children were typically eleven to thirteen, viewing soft-core pornography found in magazines.

I was 12 or so, stealing glances at my dad’s Playboys, perusing mostly boobs and relishing wisps of pubic hair. But I knew times were changing when, circa 1999, seeking an innocent photo of a little girl atop a pony for a funny birthday invite, I searched “pony ride,” only to be assaulted by a parallel universe of leather-clad, bridle chomping fetishists. Who knew?

Ahhh ... cute pony
Ahhh … cute pony

“Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable,” says Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex-education organization dedicated to helping children and educators navigate these tricky waters.

The greater potential harm — and shame — can come from a parent’s reaction. “If we flip out, freak out or go crazy about it, we’re giving a very set message,” Schroeder said, one that may prevent children from feeling they can ask their parents questions without being judged or punished. Parents may wonder what is wrong with their child or if what the child has seen will forever traumatize him or her. Neither assumption is correct, she said.

The most common mistake parents make with older kids, some experts say, is to wait to have the conversation until some incident precipitates it. But how much conversation can parents have with 5 and 7-yr-olds? I think we pretty much covered it. We have since added parental controls on our devices, as everyone should.

Have our boys been traumatized? I really can’t say for sure. I do wonder what, if any, effect this will this have on their sexual curiosity. On their comfort with sexuality in general. Will fear play a larger factor than it otherwise would? Or will this fade like so many seemingly massive moments … into nothingness? 

A week after the incident, our youngest mimicked the moaning sounds he heard a woman make in one of the videos. Hearing that from his adorable little mouth was just … ewwww. The following week, he whispered to my wife, “You would never suck a man’s penis, would you, Mommy?” Just shoot me.

Still, I don’t feel serious harm has been done. It’s now been a month, and there’s been no further mention or hint of any psychological residue. It still hurts my heart to think their innocence might have been shortened by even a few minutes. But, like so much of life, it is what it is …

Lucky, acrylic, 19th Century journal pages, paper, cardboard on canvas, 30"x24", 2005, Stuart Sheldon
Lucky, acrylic, 19th Century journal pages, paper, cardboard on canvas, 30″x24″, 2005, Stuart Sheldon

Around our house, nothing has changed. We four still walk around nude, skinny dip and laugh, comfortable as ever in our skins. Hopefully, that total absence of awkwardness will not end any time soon. 

Going forward, Plan A is to be more vigilant in our defense against smut – keep the kids as “clean” as we can for as long as possible. Shame on us for letting them surf the Internet without supervision. The hard truth is that all the dirt on earth is just one auto-correct away. So, we’re girding for Plan B, which every modern parent must – the 21st Century version of the sex talk, complete with pony rides. 

 

14 thoughts on “My 5-yr-old Just Watched Hard-Core Porn. Now What?

  1. Oy vey, Stuart! I’m so sorry to read this post, but you are so not alone and so brave to bring light to this problem. This happened in our family 15 years ago. My younger son after dark snuck down into my husband’s office ; was probably 6 years old at the time and got on the computer while we were asleep. But he took a long time to confess this to us so I can only imagine what he saw and what he learned after hours. A child’s curiosity can be unyielding so supervision is crucial at this point and love and honesty is also crucial. secure passwords will help, but sharing what you did about your disapproval because it’s for adults only was a good first step. My younger son is turning 22 in less than one week and he is absolutely fine. He’s all grown up and is a delightful human being with a genuine love for people and the blip on the radar many years ago has not seem to affect him today. But I know how you feel about the loss of innocence too soon. Unfortunately in this day in age with technology the way it is we can barely protect our children. I’ve never checked myself but I understand that if you google White House, if you find whitehouse.com as opposed to whitehouse.gov, you’re in big trouble. If I’m right about that, your children would not have even needed to google the word naked. If they had been looking up the president or the White House or government the same thing could have happened. I’m so happy that they did not wait years to report this to you because you can do some very important damage control now. Best of luck! We all love you and your family and appreciate your genuine honesty. Breathe!

  2. As much as I love technology, this is one of the reasons why my grandson cannot go exploring on my laptop or even on my phone. Unfortunately, we cannot always be there to guard/protect them from such exposure. The beautiful part of this sad but wonderful read, your son had the conversation with your wife. Hopefully he will continue to be comfortable throughout his growing years with you both!

    Best regards!

  3. Wowzer – so not ok – I feel for you and those parental controls go on tonight!!!!!
    your boys have wonderful loving parents they will be fine – just don’t let them move to la!!!! love you guys.
    xxxx

  4. hey, stuart. okay, you’re going to laugh. when i first saw the title of your post, i thought it said “My 5-yr-old just watched hard core PAWN” – you know, the low-brow show on tru.tv about the cheesy pawn shop on the 8-Mile in detroit? i thought that was bad enough (yes, i’ve been known to watch it more than i care to admit). here’s the link in case you’d like to tune in… http://www.trutv.com/shows/hardcore-pawn/
    now that i’ve read your post, i can relate because something icky happened at our house, altho my kids were much older. it was called the “meat spin,” a video showing a close-up of a male/female hybrid. well, that’s probably enough detail… needless to say, it was impossible to take your eyes off the spinning meat because it was not only gross, but just so confusing.

    my daughter knew a 9th grader who’d sent her boyfriend one of the most graphic selfies you can imagine. in this age of cellphones, the charming young man forwarded it to everyone he knew, until it went high-school viral & beyond. the girl’s mom found out, & did the best PR job she could to salvage her daughter’s reputation — but, as we all know, once it’s out there, it’s out there, whether your mother’s pulled it down or not. this was a learning experience for everyone. a public service, i guess.

    i’m rambling, i suppose… i’m really sorry that happened to your boys. i wish you all the best. martha

  5. Been there done that….

    All of our progeny have had issues with tech. Whether hitting send on an inappropriate comment or my youngest two, at around the same age as yours, typing in the same info into the same search bar….

    the world that allows us to access way more than the encylopedia britanncia on the walls of my room as a kid also delivers this shit straight to our couch…

    Yes, innocence lost. They will survive and endure because they live in a different place than we did, and will have to evolve to meet the challenge.

    Speaking to them, engaging them, taking them to tadpole ponds and on blimp rides and not letting them get too far down the rabbit hole staring at their screens is all you can hope to do…

    And please Jodi, for Stu’s sake, regardless of your proper answer to Bodhi, keep taking one for the team…

  6. I’m so sorry you are having to deal with that, and thank you for writing about it. It’s something I worry about all the time because I cannot be there with them all the time at play dates, etc.. Some parents don’t have the parental controls or don’t care or don’t think it can happen. Thanks again.

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