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My 8-year-old son watched a sex video on my smartphone, what should I do?

My 8-year-old son watched a sex video on my smartphone, what should I do? 750 315 Mediatrics

Q: My 8-year-old son took my phone to play with, left the room and was quiet. When I took my phone back nothing was there, however when I searched the history, I discovered that he had been watching a sex video. I know that he searched for it as he looked up the term “secsy”. I asked him if he had seen anything inappropriate and he said “no”. I asked again after telling him that I wouldn’t yell at him and that I would be able to check to see if he had seen anything inappropriate. He then told me that he saw “a naked man and woman doing something bad.” I told him that it was wrong to watch the video and encouraged him to always tell me what he sees (even though I know he won’t…). What should I do?

~ Too Secsy Too Soon, USA

A: Dear Too,

Your son’s experience is not as uncommon or as worrisome as it feels. He (and every other kid his age and even younger) has heard the word “sexy” many, many times from TV shows, movies, music, and especially commercials. Think about it – we sell everything from cars to hamburgers with sex. Sex is a universal and basic human drive in adults, which if tied to a product, can and does sell that product. Curious about the meaning of the word he has heard many, many times, he looked up “secsy” on your smartphone. Because porn is a huge and highly competitive online business, they link pop-ups to even the most loosely related search terms in hopes of driving traffic and making money – and he was inadvertently exposed to graphic sex.

The real concern for your son’s healthy development is that he believes that what he saw was “bad”, rather than something that he isn’t psychologically, emotionally or physically ready for, such as driving a car or drinking alcohol.  Most important for you as a parent is that your son feels comfortable coming to you with issues like these – whether seeing something confusing or upsetting online, or just wondering about the meaning of a word that pops up everywhere. You want him to know that he can come to you with any question and that you will always be there for him as a safe, loving and trusted resource.

To do this, you must first reassure him that what he did was not “bad” and even that what he saw was not people “doing something bad”. When you have a quiet moment with him, revisit his experience in a way that he feels safe and not judged. Explain to him that what he saw was something that he is not yet old enough to understand, and that there are other things on the internet, TV, and movies that he will need to choose not to see because you can’t always be there to choose for him. Help him understand that sex, unlike violence, is not a bad thing when it is in the right context, and when an adult connects with another adult in a respectful and caring relationship. Unfortunately what he saw online, and what he will see in most entertainment media, are exaggerated and unrealistic portrayals that objectify human relationships and exploit our universal need to connect with each other.

Ultimately, what is most important is that you do everything you can to support and guide him to grow up into a healthy and whole adult. Your son’s curiosity is healthy at his stage of development and what he was drawn to figure out is a healthy adult behavior that he is unready to experience. Learning to talk to your child about sex has always been hard, but it is even harder in a time when gratuitous entertainment that is demeaning to women (and to men) is so easily accessible. To make it easier, check out these additional resources:

Finally, remember that what you do is even more important than what you say, so (if you are in a relationship) be sure to model for him a healthy, mutually respectful romantic relationship for your son, the kind of relationship that you want him to have when he grows up.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely

~The Mediatrician®