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When you discover your child is addicted to porn

Create a safe environment where children can talk to you about anything (Photo: iStock)

Sarah K* (name hidden to protect the identity of her children) remembers the day she discovered that her ten-year-old son, now 16, was watching pornography.

She was checking her son’s computer because it’s “her job as a parent,” and felt devastated by the disturbing images.

“When he came home from school, we talked about it. I was really upset. I warned him that the videos he was watching were not appropriate. So I explained to him the best way I possibly could, but even after the talk, I was still bothered by the thought that my baby had watched adults having sex”.

“I later talked to my older son, who was then 17, and he laughed nervously, confessing that he also watched pornography by that age, except he knew how to clear history. He assured me that he quit the habit. Deep inside, I feel ashamed and sometimes fault myself because I feel there was something I could have done to ensure it never happened at all,” said Sarah.

Sarah is not the only distressed parent.

Fred and Joanna recently learned their 13-year-old daughter, a great student with good friends, and the only child out of their three children they never worried about, watches pornography.

“She is the oldest, most responsible, and we never suspected she would attempt such a thing,” Joanna explains.

“When I went into her room that morning to ensure everything was in order, I noticed that her tablet was under her duvet. I figured she must have sneaked it in her room the previous evening at bedtime and was annoyed, so I was curious to see what she was watching.”

When Joanna turned the tablet on, there were numerous nude images and popups for porn sites.

“I was horrified!” she says. She called in Fred to come witness what she was seeing. “In that instance, we both felt our daughter’s innocence was robbed.”

A report titled National Plan of Action to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA) revealed that 55 per cent of the 21.9 million children in Kenya have widespread access to pornography and are exposed to sexual exploitation.

The uptick in smartphone penetration in the country (96% in 2020), and the widespread access to the internet has meant more young people can now browse the web from the comfort of their homes.

More than ever before, we have a generation of children who grew up with ready access to smart devices and the internet. It has meant the generation is more tech savvy than their parents. What was once a difficult commodity to access is now a few clicks away.

“I was a teenager once,” says Silas Mungai, a father of two boys. “It was much harder to find the kind of content you see online these days. It’s right there, you don’t even need to seek it out.”

As a parent, Mungai is acutely aware of the dangers the internet pose to his young, impressionable kids. But he often despairs at the scope of the task of keeping the world at bay.

“I know I can never do enough. They grew up on technology. I can set up parental controls and monitor their devices. Not only are they smart enough to find workarounds, but I also have no control over what they see when they’re outside my house. The best I can hope for is that they trust me enough to come to me when they need answers or someone tries to take advantage of them.”

Ensure you tell your child that the images and graphics they saw are not normal (Photo: iStock)

The internet can be a wonderful place.

Child psychologist Catherine Cheptoo of Hisia Psychology Centre, Riverside, advocates for openly communicating to one’s children the many wonderful possibilities the internet presents, such as research, the ability to connect with friends, and games which can also be educational.

It is important, however, to make it clear that there is a greater potential for danger, too.

“Hazards are largely based on three areas, which are cyber-bullying, online predators who often pretend to be kids, and inappropriate images. Encourage your child to come to you first with any questions they may have, and the importance of reporting anything that makes them feel uncomfortable,” she says.

Child exposure to porn, she adds, is very common. The average age when children are exposed to porn, according to Cheptoo, is 11 years old.

To that effect, child psychologist Catherine Cheptoo of Hisia Psychology Centre, Riverside, said parents need to be aware of how common child exposure to porn is. The average age when children are first exposed to pornography is 11 years.

In the event that your child has been watching porn, it is best to keep calm and address the issue with compassion, Cheptoo advises.

“Understandably, few issues trigger a parent more than discovering their child has been exposed to sexually explicit content. For this reason, before confronting your child about it, it is best to take a few deep breaths, talk it through with someone else, and compose yourself before establishing contact with them,” says Cheptoo.

She urges parents to create a comfortable environment that assures their kids they will not get into trouble if they are forthcoming and honest.

The third step, she says, is to process the images and emotions of a child when they discover they’re already exposed to pornography. Face the difficult task of asking your child in private to describe what she had viewed.

“In case it’s fruitful, and the child divulges details of what exactly happened, the parents should express empathy, instead of anger, and concern, instead of alarm,” she says.

Cheptoo says it’s a good idea to have your child see a specialist for therapy to ensure they have the needed support to process what she saw. However, therapy is not necessary, depending on the child’s age and the content they watched.

Cheptoo says parents should assure their children that what they watched is not love. It is important to draw a distinction between love and sex.

“Your child should know that the images and graphics they saw are not normal. That it is not love, not safe, and it is not what people do when they love each other and start a family. Explain to them that it is not real. This comforts a traumatised child who might be confused and scared about what they saw online,” she says.

Cheptoo urges parents to normalise their children’s curiosity. She says that parents need to assure their children that it is normal to wonder about sexual body parts, both their own and those of other people,” she says.

“It is also normal to want to understand more information on things we don’t know about. Parents should educate their kids on different places, people, and avenues to get this information.”

Jude Njoroge, an IT specialist, encourages parents to embrace technology so that they can be able to better keep up with their children.

“There are software and monitoring apps that a parent can install to monitor and alert them of anything that seems suspicious and dangerous,” he says. “Additionally, you can ask your internet service provider to enable parental controls. Parents can also set up passwords and inactivate Wifi at bedtime.”

Cheptoo adds that parents should set up such rules and monitoring systems early enough when the kids are still impressionable, so the kids don’t argue later on, down the road when they are older, that you no longer trust them.

“Don’t wait until it’s too late to start monitoring and imposing rules and routines on your children while they’re already well into their teens, as it will trigger some form of friction and rebellion.”

Most social media platforms have an age restriction of 13 years, but this is not enough.

“Nowadays, we have seen kids as young as 6 years accessing social media. As much as age restriction is important, we need to actively teach the kids about the dark side of social medi,” Janet Machuka, Social Media Marketer and founder of ATC Digital Academy says.