“I know you’ve been watching porn!”

 

 

It’s not the kind of conversation I was expecting to be having with my 12-year-old daughter, but here we were. Silence hung in the air for what felt like an eternity, only to be broken by a reaction I wasn’t quite anticipating…

 

 

“Argh mum, that was ages ago!”

 

 

I was shocked. Flabbergasted. Outraged. More speechless than, madam herself, who was now sulking because I had confiscated her ‘precious’ iPhone.

 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had replayed the scene a thousand times over. Eyes darting back and forth. Cheeks of scarlet. Sinking deep down in her chair – head in hands – longing for the ground to swallow her whole. But no. What shocked me more than the ‘discovery itself’ was her blasé, “yeah, and…?” response. I mean, call me old-fashioned, but since when did it become the ‘norm’ for kids to watch porn?

 

 

Allow me to fill in the gaps…

 

 

I was always a little cautious about letting my daughter have an iPhone so young, however, her relentless “but all my friends have them!” eventually led me to cave in and purchase her one for her 12th birthday. What’s the harm? I thought. Surely, it’s safer she has a way of communicating with me now that she’s in high school? Just in case of an emergency.

 

 

A reasonable rationale?

 

 

As time passed by, she wanted the next model of iPhone to ‘keep up with her friends’ and, again, I buckled under the pressure and agreed. The old phone was placed in a box in the cupboard, and life went on. As one of the conditions to having this new iPhone, I reasoned that it must be left downstairs when she went up to bed at night. The same rules applied to her iPad. I assumed that – with my tight leash on internet security – she was safe and unable to access anything she wasn’t supposed to.

 

 

But, what little did I know…

 

 

One day, while tidying her bedroom, I stumbled across her old iPhone hidden under her pillow. I’m sure I put this in the cupboard. How on earth has it ended up here? I wondered, an unease bubbling from within. When I tried to access her phone, I found she had changed the password and I immediately sensed that something wasn’t right. I was angry she had been so dishonest, so I asked her to give me the passcodes to all of her devices so I could investigate.

 

As I navigated my way around her iPhone, I was reassured that everything looked relatively innocent. This was until I checked her internet search history. At which point, my heart stopped with an almighty THUMP and I felt the blood drain from my face. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing…

 

 

My 12-year-old daughter had been watching porn.

 

 

Scrolling down a list of inappropriate URL’s, my stomach tied itself in knots. Even as an adult, I was disgusted by what my daughter had been witnessing on these 18+ websites. The first question that flew straight into mind, was ‘how the hell did she access this stuff?’ I had always been so careful when it came to internet safety. I did my research and found peace in knowing she was safe.

 

After dancing in repetitive circles, I eventually got to the bottom of how she gained entree to such ‘filth’ – as my dad would have called it. She had hatched a ‘master plan’ with a friend from school. This friend – being a bit of a whizz on the ole ’tinterweb’ – had helped her to remove the safety features from said phone and, therefore, she was exposed to anything her curious 12-year-old mind could fathom. How foolish I had been.

 

 

As much as I felt frustrated by my daughter’s actions, I also felt disappointed in myself.

 

 

How I could I have let this happen?

 

 

As I tore myself apart as a parent, I started to reflect on how I was as a 12-year-old. The kids of today seem so eager to grow up. Too keen, if you ask me. At twelve, I was still so innocent. Of course, I knew what sex was, but only from a scientific ‘and then the sperm fertilises the egg’ perspective. In fact, the furthest I got to full frontal nudity was rubbing Barbie and Ken’s plastic ‘nether-regions’ together on their retro 1980’s bedsheets. I knew Barbie and Ken were ‘making love’, but ‘Barb and K’ were also in a loving relationship. I didn’t understand what this meant, but it just felt natural they do so. A token of their love for each other, if you will.

 

As I entered my teens, I became more curious about this mysterious thing they called Sex. However, attending school back in the late 90’s, I was only shown small snippets of what sex entailed and, generally, from a methodical point of view; A meets B and makes C. None of this ‘boy meets girl and develops feelings’ jazz. I mean, feelings? What are they? They certainly weren’t discussed during my biology lessons.

 

 

As far as I was aware, sex was for producing babies rather than for enjoyment purposes. I was none-the-wiser until ‘talk’ circulated the school and my birds and bees’ knowledge began to expand in a mass of words I didn’t even know existed. Curiosity soon got the better of me and, minus the internet, I found myself waiting up for my parents to go to bed so I could tune into a ‘post-watershed’ show called ‘EuroTrash’. This wasn’t pornography as such, but it was enough to feed my growing interest in this mystical enigma.

 

As I stepped foot into the millennium, it became easier to access things that ‘tickled’ my curiosity. The INTERNET opened up a whole new world and, I, the oyster. And so, I found myself giggling away with my ‘bestie’ as we trowelled the world-wide-web for ‘ruderies’ – as we called it. The laughter soon stopped, when my father caught me engaging in a spot of clumsy ‘cybersex’ with, most likelysome 50-year-old pervert from the other side of the globe. Needless to say, I received a thorough bollocking and I didn’t do it again… not under his watchful eye, anyway. *Insert winky face*

 

Despite grasping the concept of sex, I don’t believe I was exposed to ‘actual’ pornography until much later –  16 years old, or maybe older? And, even so, this was a somewhat underwhelming experience. As I tried to make out ‘what was what’ through a boxy screen of grainy moving images, I soon grew bored and switched off.

 

 

But that was then, and this is now

 

 

 

Things have since changed, and kids are more switched on than ever. Gone are the days of top shelves and padlocked drawers. Sex is all around us and it’s screaming louder than ever. Whether we like it or not, pornography is deeply entrenched in our culture and our children are being seduced daily. Let’s face it, it only takes a mere ‘pop-up ad’ to rob our children of their innocence. With one curious click, they could be exposed to a vast array of inappropriate visuals… and BAM“Mummy, why is this man hurting this lady?”

 

 

It’s a frightening thought.

 

 

So what does one do when their child is exposed to porn? I mean, this isn’t exactly in the parenting manual, and I think we’ve already established that a good old fashioned ‘bollocking’ isn’t going to cut it.

 

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t prepared for this. My gut reaction was to run around the house – arms in air – screaming “OH MY GOD! My daughter is scarred for life!”. Alternatively, I did the ‘UNTHINKABLE’ and logged onto Mumsnet, where I was inundated with horror story after horror story, and I logged off feeling like the worst parent in the world.

 

 

Then I stopped, took a deep breath and collected my racing thoughts.

 

 

The truth is, as much as we want to protect our children 24/7 – we can only do so much. In a ‘smartphone kids’ generation, it’s not easy for ‘us parents’ to keep tabs on our children’s web-browsing. With an average age of pornography exposure plummeting to a mere 11-years-old, us parents have a battle on our hands. We could install the most vigorous parenting controls out there, and sure, this might prevent our kids from seeing it for a time, but as they reach a certain age, it’s beyond our control. When they’re out of sight, who knows what they could be viewing? If they are hellbent on looking at this type of stuff, then they are sure to find a way.

 

 

No parent wants to find porn on their child’s internet browser history, but being aware is better than being oblivious. Trust me, as a mother, I didn’t want to believe that my daughter was already thinking about sex, let alone ‘watching’ it. The mere thought had me spiralling into a panic-stricken frenzy. “She’s too young!” I’d tell myself, as I tidied around a room dotted with teddy bears and dolls.

 

But – as much as I try to fight it – my daughter is growing up and it’s only natural that she will become more curious about sex. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sex, after all, is completely natural. What isn’t so natural, is the way it is portrayed by the porn industry. You only have to watch porn for a few short seconds to see how far from reality it is. Not only does this material contribute to unrealistic understandings of sex and sexuality, but it may also normalise sexual violence. The more young minds are exposed to such content, the more ‘desensitised’ they will become and, worse still, the more warped their views on sex and relationships will be.

 

 

It’s enough to send any parent into a panic-frenzied meltdown. 

 

 

We can’t shield our children from the things they are curious in, but we ‘can’ keep an open communication with them. As much as I was HORRIFIED to find my daughter had been … dare I say it... watching porn, my discovery opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to ‘break the taboo’ and have that all-important chat with her. To be honest, it was a conversation we were both dreading. I mean, who wants to talk about sex with their parents? But after a few awkward silence’s and flushed cheeks, the discussion began to flow. The more we talked, the easier it became and the less embarrassed we felt.

 

 

As much as I wish that I could turn back time and erase the pornographic images from my daughter’s eyes -the truth is – I can’t. Time travel just won’t allow it. But, by discussing sex in an ‘open and honest’ way, I hope she will be able to make more sophisticated judgments about the realities of sex and relationships, rather than letting the unrealistic world of porn, shape her views and beliefs.

 

Standing at 5ft 2 inches tall and with a touch of makeup, my daughter could easily be mistaken for a 15-year-old. She is growing up and, quite frankly, this scares the crap out of me! As she poses into to her camera lens – wide-eyed and pouty-lipped – I can’t help but feel a sadness swelling inside of me. A sadness that she has been exposed to things that are way beyond her understanding. It can’t be easy growing up in such a sexualised society. I thought I had it tough, but times have changed. All thanks to the wondrous, and endless capacity of technology and social media, today’s generation are more vulnerable than ever. This is why it’s more important than ever to educate our kids, regardless of how uncomfortable or downright embarrassing it is, so they can make good, well-informed decisions in a world that tell’s them not to.

 

Sometimes I ponder how she will cope in years to come. But then I remember what a beautiful, strong and scarcely independent young lady she is becoming …and I know she will be just fine.

 

 

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