June 5, 2014

Why vs. What: Talking to Kids about Pornography

Brannon Patrick, LCSW at Addo Recovery

When parents talk to children about pornography they often make the mistake of focusing on the what instead of the why. Parents might say to their children, “Pornography is bad,” or “Be careful about what you see on your phone,” while failing to teach and discuss why pornography should be avoided.

Parents might try to get their children to open up about pornography exposure by asking, “What have you seen online?”

A much better question, however, would be, “Why is it important to talk with us if you see bad things online?” Asking why is critical in raising pornography resilient youth.

Just telling children what to do without explanation can hinder parenting efforts. If a child does something that goes against what they’ve been taught without fully understanding why they’ve been taught it, they will feel shame and confusion. The what questions and statements alone tend to lead to dishonesty and shame.

If children are taught that pornography is “bad” and told,  “Don’t look at it,” when they see pornography they are intrigued and energized by it. They might think, “Mom and Dad say pornography is bad, but I actually really like it. Does that mean that I’m a bad kid?” The child is then more likely to keep their pornography use secret and develop a sense of low-self worth. Secrecy and shame create and perpetuate addiction.

Teaching why takes work. Telling what is easy, but ineffective. If you were a young person who had just viewed pornography and Mom or Dad said, “Pornography is bad, you shouldn’t do that,” and “What have you seen online?” how would you respond?

Instead, Mom and Dad could say, “Hey let’s talk about pornography, why it’s so tempting, and how it can really effect us negatively,” or “Why is it so hard to avoid pornography and why is it so important?”

Every parent is working themselves out of a job. Fostering internal motivation in your child to avoid and deal with pornography the correct and thoughtful way is the goal.  Internal motivation starts in a young person is by gaining an understanding of why pornography is dangerous and destructive.

The why facilitates discussion and openness.

The what is not a discussion, but a command that creates shame and secrecy.

Finish your thoughts about pornography with a question mark (?), not an exclamation point (!). The most important tool for a young person avoiding problems with pornography is a safe adult whom they can talk openly with about their struggles. This type of person is available for discussion, learning, and growing. This person is less rigid and more loving.

Effective pornography prevention parenting is an ongoing discussion, not a lecture.  The why opens up discussion. Within that discussion, the what needs to be addressed.  Why and what need to be explored and understood together.

A Better Way To Say It

 Don’t just say:                                         

“Don’t look at porn!”

“Porn will ruin your life!”

“You saw what online!!!??!?!?!?”



“Why is it porn harmful?”

“Why is porn destructive?  What could it do to you?”

“I’m concerned about you, how can I help?”

“Why did you view pornography? Help me understand.”


Brannon Patrick specializes treating pornography and sexual addiction. He is passionate about educating and supporting partners and family members. Brannon enjoys teaching and outreach prevention in fighting against those things that destroy families, relationships, and lives. He currently works with Addo Recovery as a therapist and directs group therapy program development.

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, National Center on Sexual Exploitation is the leading national organization opposing pornography by highlighting the links to sex trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, addiction and more. The organization changed its name from Morality In Media to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation early in 2015 to better describe the organization’s scope and mission, which is to expose the seamless connection between all forms of sexual exploitation.

Further Reading