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I Didn't Punish My Kid For Looking at Porn

It was a nice warm day in South Florida a few years ago. I was napping on the couch while my sons played nearby. I woke up, stretched and called out to my then-10-year-old son to pass me my laptop so that I could check my email. He was using it to play random games, or so I thought.

When I made my request, he turned toward me and paused for a second. I raised my eyebrow inquisitively as he rose to hand me the laptop. When I looked at the screen my face went blank, as images of naked women in various sexual positions blinded me. His younger brother stood nearby like a statute watching the events unfold.

I turned a curious eye toward him, and his eyes shifted from gazing at me to staring at the floor. His shoulders slumped and he mumbled weakly, "I'm sorry, Mama. You can punish me."

I remained stoic in my response to him. "Punish you for what?"

"Because I did a bad thing."

"What did you do?" I asked.

He stammered, "I ... I ... was looking at naked ladies."

"And why should you be punished for that?"

"Because it's wrong."

"Why is it wrong?" I coaxed him, an air of ambivalence ringing in my tone of voice.

"Because it's bad."

I was quiet for a few seconds more, and he began to cry.

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I allowed the release of his emotions before I responded, "Baby, it's not wrong to look at this," and watched as his head sprang up. He stared at me with an open mouth.

"Most young kids do it because they are curious; they just don't talk about it," I continued. "I used to look at things like this, too, when I was younger, except there was no Internet so I had to sneak and watch late-night movies on TV."

He took a deep breath, and in one fluid motion, he flung himself in my arms, hugging me tightly. I rubbed his head and assured him that although what he did was a natural part of growing up, he did make a mistake.

I explained, "If you do something that you have to hide or you feel is wrong and you do it anyway, you are making a mistake. If you are going to do something, be willing to let the whole world find out. If not, and someone does find out your secret, they could use it against you."

He hugged me tighter and gladly welcomed his punishment for doing something he perceived to be wrong: No Internet for a month.

It was important for me to take away the shame associated with his curiosity, so that he would never become a closet addict.

An investigation by the London School of Economics found that 90% of kids between the ages of 8 and 16 have stumbled upon porn online. According to the study, many of the youngsters accessed the adult entertainment without meaning to find it, and most while doing their homework. This often piques their curiosity and develops into a habit of visiting these illicit sites because the subject is primarily taboo and many parents do not take the time to have an open and honest discussion about sexuality. Because our society shames individuals into thinking that sexual curiosity is a bad thing, this often simple interest evolves into an obsession that translates into an addiction.

When this went down, I was a graduate student studying marriage/family/couples counseling, and I learned a trick to help addicts ease their way out of addiction.

The truth is many addicts, or people with bad habits, are sucked into the bad habit because of the shame associated with it and the constant reminder to try to stop doing it. They have to repeat to themselves, "Don't do it. Don't do it." Yet, while continually reminding themselves to stop the behavior, they are also programming themselves to repeat it. When the mind thinks, "Stop smoking," the subconscious paints an image of the person engaged in the act and the memory of the satisfaction received from it is treasured and sought after.

If you give permission to engage in the bad habit but limit its usage by creating a scheduled time to engage, this releases the shame of engaging in the activity and decreases the overall time spent focused on thinking about stopping it, which in turn decreases the desire to participate in it.

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Once you take away the taboo, the activity becomes less exciting. In my son's case, I didn't encourage him to watch porn, and I do not allow him to watch it at all. But it was important for me to take away the shame associated with his curiosity, so that he would never become a closet addict obsessing over a secret, shameful interest—especially when it is natural for children to be curious.

Because of that exchange, we have a more open relationship concerning his curiosities. He discusses his feelings with me and is not afraid to express his doubts and fears. I am the first woman in his life to accept and support him as a whole individual, instead of judging and causing him to feel shame for actions that may not line up with my own belief systems. I hope that he will continue to seek out friends, and one day romantic interests, who support him and accept him completely in the same loving way that I do.

In the meantime, I'm enabling parental controls and keeping an eye on my laptop.

Explore More: puberty, dating, tech, Am I Ruining My Kid?
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