Why Kids Look at Pornography (It’s not their fault)


Why Kids Look at Pornography (It’s not their fault)

Parents, this blog post will require around 7 minutes of your time – 7 precious minutes that will give you understanding that you’ve never had about your children. 

Key takeaways: If your child looks at porn, it’s probably not their fault. And if they admit it, give them a high-five. 

“Mom, I just couldn’t stop clicking.”

I remember when a mom contacted me because her 11-year-old son had been looking at porn. She didn’t know what to do. 

Just the week before, Julie [name changed] was having a conversation in the kitchen with her then-18-year-old son about how he was doing. The topic of pornography came up and they were discussing how it had impacted him. He had struggled with it but he now had some digital protections in place to help and it was getting better.

What Julie didn’t know is that her 11-year-old son was listening to the conversation from the hallway. He heard the conversation and the word “pornography,” a word he didn’t understand because they hadn’t talked about it. Jason [name changed] did what any, curious young person might do and he went to the family computer and Googled the word “pornography.” This happened on a Friday night.

Unfortunately, this search coincided with a small window when there were no filters set up on the computer because Mom was switching to a new filtering software. 

Fast forward to Sunday. Jason was using the computer in the home’s small office when his teenage sister walked in on him and caught a glimpse of the screen before he minimized it. His sister immediately went to mom who was crushed by the prospect of her sweet, little boy looking at porn. Dad had left for a business trip and wasn’t going to be home until Tuesday night.

Mom told Jason that they would talk about it on Monday and when that happened after school, Jason said something that Mom didn’t quite understand.

“Mom, I just couldn’t stop clicking. It was like I wasn’t in control anymore.”

When Julie heard this, she began to question a lot of things about her parenting. How could he just keep clicking? He knew it was wrong! This is a Christian home! He knows better.

Go, go, go! Young brains + porn = full steam ahead! 

Adults rely heavily on the prefrontal cortex all day long. It literally sits toward the front of the brain, and it’s the region that’s in charge of:

  • Focusing attention
  • Anticipating and predicting the consequences for one’s actions
  • Impulse control; managing one’s emotions
  • Planning for the future
  • Conditional thinking (“I can’t do A until B happens)

The brain develops in a back-to-front fashion. In other words, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to develop. In some, this development will continue well into their 20’s. 

This doesn’t mean that adolescents don’t have a functioning prefrontal cortex. It just means that they don’t have the executive functioning of an adult. This part of the brain that is so critical for good, rational decision-making not only isn’t fully functioning as an 11-year-old, but it’s also not yet connected to the other parts of the brain that assist in decision-making. The synaptic explosion and pruning that occurs during adolescence hasn’t finished its job of plugging the brain’s main areas into each other. 

Here’s an excerpt from Good Therapy’s website:

For example, most fifteen-year-olds can assess hypothetical risk as well as adults. However, a teen’s prefrontal cortex has not grown many connections with the limbic system yet. In other words, the part of the brain that provides self-control can’t communicate well with the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight response. Thus, the same fifteen-year-old may act rashly under stress, even if they technically “know better.”

In other words, when a young person says, “I’m not sure why I did it,” they might be telling you at least a partial truth. For Jason, his statement, “Mom I just couldn’t stop clicking” definitely makes a lot more sense.

Sexual cues fire up the brain through a complex cocktail of neurochemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Combine these powerful neurological forces with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex and a young developing brain just doesn’t stand a chance.

So, what 3 things can parents do in response to these digital realities? 

How to Prevent Porn Exposure in Kids

Get the right router. 

Your poor router is the social distance champion in your home! Always working and never loved or hugged. But your router is the most important digital device in your home! We’ve tested routers and the only one we recommend is Gryphon

Gryphon Router Call to Action on PYE Blog Post
Tap the image to learn more!

With Gryphon, you can set a profile for each person and then apply those profiles to the digital devices that connect to your home’s network. There’s a parent app so that you can control your Gryphon network from anywhere and with Gryphon’s Homebound, you can use your home’s controls on a smartphone’s data plan by utilizing the VPN

Normalize porn.

Wait, before you fire off a nasty email, let me explain! Talk about pornography early. Talk about pornography often. Make sure your kids have permission to always talk to you about digital “stuff.” And that includes giving your kids permission to talk openly about pornography. That starts with you talking openly about pornography, what it is, what you feel about it, and what they need to do if they see it or someone offers to show it to them.

I share some great stories about early porn talks in this post, How to Talk to a 5-year-old about Pornography. You’ll also find great books in that post that you might use to help you say the right things! 

Delay giving kids smartphones. 

Smartphones are little porn boxes. Supercomputers with access to the world. And, everything else. Have you heard of Gabb phones? Try one of those instead. We just don’t think that kids who aren’t in high school need portable internet. And with the holidays coming soon, now’s a great time to get a Gabb! (We are affiliates – we believe in their mission!). Use promo code PYE for a special discount!

Gabb Phone Plus Call to Action on PYE Blog Post
Tap the image to learn more!

How to Respond When a Child Admits to Seeing Pornography

Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out.

Imagine for a minute that your son or daughter was looking at pornography or someone showed them pornography and they feel badly about it. They decide that they’re going to tell Mom what happened so that they can just get it out.

What good does being disappointed do in that moment? YOUR KID JUST HAD THE COURAGE TO TELL YOU THAT THEY WERE LOOKING AT PORN! 

You better give high fives, take them out for their favorite dessert, and celebrate like they just got all A’s on their report card!

Seriously! Don’t freak out. Your posture, facial expressions, everything matters. Open. Receptive. If you’re disappointed, don’t show it or they’ll never, ever come back to you the second time they’re in a pornography situation (and there’s a good chance it could happen a second time).

Other aspects of the conversation:

  • Just one parent. You know the relationship dynamics best but for the first talk, just don’t gang up. 
  • Remind your son/daughter that you still love him/her no matter what they do.
  • Calmly present the digital evidence that you found. 
  • Share reasons why pornography is bad for people. Fight the New Drug does an amazing job of explaining why porn is bad for the brain, the heart, and the world.
  • Punish as you see fit. Loving consequences are fine and necessary.

Implement the right parental control solution. 

There are many. Too many to list here. We’ve done all of the testing in our very popular post about all of the software. The point is to stop the inflow of explicit content.

Read more about our detailed parental controls testing (We demystify the myriad of available solutions. It will take another 10 minutes if you have it).

Get help if needed. You might not have all of the answers. 

Don’t let parental pride get in the way of doing the right thing. Here are some signs that your kid might need a counselor:

  • Your child’s behavior is excessive.
  • Your child can’t seem to stop viewing pornography, even after intervention.
  • Your child’s pornography preferences are hardcore, bizarre, and/or illegal.
  • Your child is engaging in sexual activities with strangers met online.
  • Your child says they want to see a counselor.

(Please note: this list is not to be considered a medical diagnosis from Protect Young Eyes – parents are the final authority)

Understand the Brain = Understand your Kid

When parents better understand what’s happening inside the brain of their child, then they will better understand why good, amazing kids sometimes are so easily snagged by awful digital content. 

“Mom, I just couldn’t stop clicking” starts to make a lot of sense. 

And, in a digital world where 27% of unfiltered online video content is explicit and 56% of eighth graders say that it’s easy to “bump into” inappropriate content while doing homework (according to our own survey of 156 students at a school we spoke at), we must be more empathetic. Yes, it’s difficult being a parent in the digital age, but imagine how difficult it is being a child, where explicit content is literally lurking around every digital corner and your brain just can’t handle it. 

May we all have more empathy and more urgency related to childhood porn consumption.

23 thoughts on “Why Kids Look at Pornography (It’s not their fault)”

  1. I’m currently an 11-year-old who has seen alot of porn and rule34. I have not addresed it to my parents or famly members yet (except my brother, who saw it first. He is 9.) Any tips I can use to get the convo going with my family?I feel uncomfrotable at the thought of disscussing it.

    1. Hello, friend. I’m emailing you back right now so that we can discuss. I’m so sorry that you’ve seen what you’ve seen. It’s not your fault. And I want to help you get the conversation started.

      Chris, Founder of PYE

  2. I am 12 years old, I remember that I have always been sort of weird. It all started around 5 or six, not seeing porn just getting a feeling when I saw shows like the Titanic that my parents had been watching. Nothing came of it. Until I was 7 or 8. My friend sort of felt the same way, we would undress her barbies and make them make out. She used the word sex around me, I’m sure she had no idea what that meant.( I thought it meant making out) I didn’t like it regardless and asked her to stop multiple times it made me very uncomfortable. Until I got my first phone when I was 9. I got curious and started searching up things. Like you said in the article, I just can’t stop looking. I tell myself stuff to keep scrolling, like I have a little devil on my shoulder. Anyways the email I gave you was my school email so please try to keep it “kid friendly”. I really need help in this aspect. It’s been going on for way too long.

  3. Govind Singh Mangat

    I am a 12 year old who just couldn’t stop clicking sex on youtube. I don’t know why i do it but i am trying to stop. Its weird its like i can’t stop.

  4. Hello. I am a 12 year old girl and I don’t know what to do. Because of how the world has been changing, for the past 3-4 years, I have been looking at explicit content. I was trying to stop, but I couldn’t. I don’t know whether it was hormones going crazy or my brain wasn’t function right due to my thoughts, but I would always find myself feeling like I passed out and was taken over. I would find myself in the bathroom at night looking at things I shouldn’t have been and everytime I finally stopped, I would feel like a horrible kid. I got skeptical that other kids were doing the same I was because now everyone is making dirty jokes at school and cursing all the time. I want it to stop. I’ve been able to keep my composure for a whole year now and restrain from looking at pornography, but I can never seem to get it out of my mind for good. I learned that I take better liking to girls, so I figured out that that’s what I used to search up the most. I don’t want to tell my parents because I’m scared, even tho they treat me really nicely. Because of everything I’ve seen, I’m afraid of a lot more things. I always think about things like getting kidnapped, especially by a man and being sexually harassed. What do I do?

  5. I have an eleven year old niece who watches porn on her tablet at nights.
    I need help as how to deal with this problem.
    I just started cursing her out and freaking out.
    I really don’t know how to deal with it.
    I need help, am now feeling overwhelmed.

    1. I’m so sorry this is happening. So traumatic for both of you. Please connect with a local church or a family therapist for next steps. This isn’t her fault. I know you know this, but yelling won’t help and will actually chase her back into porn and cause her never to tell you anything. Please find help.

  6. I’m 12 years old and I looked at porn
    I feel like an idiot and I’m to afraid to tell my parents/family, although I told my sister who is working at a place for troubled teens
    I saw animated pictures and normal videos that will most likely scar me forever

  7. I’m 12 years old and looked at porn, I didn’t see it by accident I went looking for it.
    It was my worst mistake, and I’m too scared to tell my family.
    This isn’t my first time looking at it tho
    It also happened when I was nine i think.
    The animated images I saw don’t really bother me
    It’s mainly the ones I saw on YouTube with real people having sex and cumming
    It was so gross and disturbing and will scar me forever
    Certain words trigger my horrid memories like “ oral, come, etc”
    I’m hoping when my sisters comes home for Christmas I will be able to talk to her, for she’s the only one i feel I can trust with this matter because she went through the same things as me

    1. Hello – I’m so sorry this happened. I know it can be so hard to tell someone else. Please talk to your sister so she can help. This is Chris – the founder of PYE. If you would like any more help or ideas, you can send a message to [email protected], and I will be the one to respond. You are not alone!

  8. My cousin showed me cartoon porn when I was really little and I haven’t been able to stop watching it ever since. I’ve seen every kind of porn that exists. I’m starting high school next year and I want to stop watching but I can’t. I feel dead inside. The only time I feel even a little alive is when I’m using porn. I hate myself. I’m disgusting and can’t even look my mom in the face anymore.
    I feel like no one could ever love me.

    1. Hello – I’m so sorry this has happened to you. You are the victim here. You CAN stop but just wonder if we need to try different things. Porn is a destroyer. It’s also a liar. Your best days are still in front of you! What devices are you using to look at it? The first practical step is to remove the access. Just like someone struggling with drugs or alcohol needs to clean house and remove the substances. You won’t be able to do this alone. 1-on-1, porn almost always wins. Trust me – I know as a man who tried for years. Are you willing to try new, really tough things to get this out of your life? If so, I can give you some of that help. But you have to be all-in.


      1. I want to quit. I use my phone and my iPad mostly. I’ll try whatever you think will help.
        I’ve tried many times, but the hardest part is every time I try to seriously quit my cousin comes to visit. He always says we need to watch cartoons together and he comes into my room at night. I don’t want to watch with him but he says he knows I like it and want to keep doing it with him.
        It’s like he has this power over me.

        1. Good. I’m glad to hear that you want to quit. You can’t just “kinda” want to quit. Porn will always win that battle. You have to make a clear decision that you’re going to kill it before it kills your soul. Related to your cousin, I think you know what needs to happen here. He’s not your boss. Related to your devices, is there someone who can lock in the “limit adult websites” filter and own the 4-digit lock code?

          1. Are you certain they’ll overreact? What if you approach them with something like, “Mom and dad, I need help with something. But I need you to promise not to overreact. Can you do that?”

  9. I have the BARK app installed on our Android phones, but my 17 y.o. keeps disabling the VPN, which then gives him access to anything he wants. He wants the porn, but also wants to stop. He has asked me to find a teen-proof, fail-safe method to block pornography on his phone, but I haven’t found anything that doesn’t use a VPN. He wants to stop viewing porn videos, but keeps turning off the VPN. I’m not sure where to go from here!😢

    1. Hi, Brooke – my heart aches for your son. I’ve walked that lonely, defeated path. But he’s not broken! He’s just up against god-like technology that has weaponized his God-given desires. It starts with removing the serpent from his life – the Android phone. Gone. Replace it with something like a Gabb Phone 3 or the Bark Phone (what I would recommend in his situation). His immediate reaction will be to fight against that step. His independence and “self” will probably say, “I can’t get rid of my device!” But he won’t be able to stop unless he does. He can’t keep digging in the same hole and expect a different result. New habits require new paths. Also, is he seeing a counselor? I’d love to have someone that is helping him think about how his brain works. Maybe even weaving in some CBT if there’s any anxiety or depression mixed in. I’m sure you already know this, but he’s at such a critical age. I’d throw EVERYTHING you can at this right now. Attack it vehemently (the habit). If that means heading to a week-long wilderness detox, then have him do it. Whatever it takes! Please let him know that I’m cheering for him and praying for his complete recovery.

      Peace, Chris

  10. I told my mom. She started crying and now she won’t talk to me. My dad threatened to throw me out of the house. I when to my uncle’s house to sleep. Not sure if I can even go home. My cousin made me watch cartoons with him last night and started touching me while we watched.

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