• Leah Jewett

10 things teens say about parents & porn



Why do I think it’s important for you to read the results of a study on porn with 52 teenagers from the other side of the world? Because in these fast-changing times, this New Zealand research is a relevant snapshot. Because it’s always important to hear what kids have to say – and it’s thought provoking to see how their viewpoints and experiences can apply to your children’s lives. Because the more you compare and contrast other people’s views with your own, the better able you’ll be to figure out where you stand and to start open conversations.

A new report from the New Zealand Classification Office (tagline: “Watch carefully; think critically”), Growing Up With Porn emphasises that porn has become normalised for kids whether they watch it or not. Although young people know that porn is fake, commercial and a bad guide to finding out about real-life sex, they still turn to it as a default learning tool.


Here’s what this diverse group of 14- to 17-year-olds had to say about parents and porn…


1) It’s hard to talk to parents

 “There’s a really big taboo around porn. I don’t talk about it with my parents or the adults in my life because I don’t feel comfortable talking about something that I feel like I’d get told off for” – boy, 15


 “If someone was sending you threatening messages on the internet, you’d say, ‘Mum, this person’s being scary.’ If you had a porn pop up, that’s probably a lot scarier to tell your parents” – girl, 16


 “The things that are associated with porn are just so negative. That’s why a lot of people don’t want to talk about it with the adults because it just feels like we’ll get majorly judged” – boy, 15

2) Parents need to think about the way they talk

“The second adults hear the word sex from a 10-year-old, they shut down and go, ‘You don’t talk about that.’ They’re gonna have questions if you’re shutting them down like that. Obviously, you’ve made it clear that they can’t come to you, so where else are they supposed to go?” – girl, 16


“Don’t go straight to the bomb question like, ‘Do you watch porn?’ Maybe build a stable relationship where you feel like it would be OK to talk to your child about that kind of thing before you just jump straight into the hard questions” – girl, 15


“Be more open, have a normal conversation, make it a comfortable topic because it’s important and it’s normal” – girl, 17


3) Parents have to start talking about porn


“That’s the first step, to be able to talk to your kids about this. It’s to get them to trust you and you to trust them. If you don’t have that and your parents try and talk to you about something like that, no kid is gonna listen” – boy, 16


“Be open with your kids. You can’t just rely on the government or the schools doing it – you have to get involved. You can’t keep them bubble wrapped forever” – boy, 17


“It’s often viewed as if you don’t bring it up, then they won’t seek it out. It’s more like, if you don’t bring it up, then they won’t seek it out safely” – transgender male, 16



It’s rare that kids talk with their friends about porn in a serious and informative way. It’s also rare that they talk about porn with adults, although teenagers do see this as a way to reduce its negative impact. But only 1 in 20 kids raise the topic of porn with parents, according to the related 2018 survey NZ Youth And Porn. Meanwhile parents are almost twice as likely to discuss porn with boys than with girls. Not talking to girls about porn – and not talking about girls and porn – just perpetuates stigmas and double standards around female sexuality.

Young people feel that…

  • Children are seeing porn too soon (for 1 in 4 New Zealanders, it’s before age 12)

  • It’s not OK for children to see porn

  • Adults should talk about the fact that porn is staged and most people’s bodies don’t look like porn stars’ bodies

  • Porn was less impactful for young people after they’d already become sexually active or had sex education in school or from parents

  • Parents should let children and young people know that they are open to talking

Young people say that porn…

  • devalues sex and “ruins” intimacy

  • doesn’t teach about consent, communication or safer sex

  • has negative influences on their expectations about sex and relationships and other people’s expectations of them as well as on body image, self-confidence, self-consciousness, pleasure, sexual behaviour and gender roles


Neither parents nor young people know where to find good information to either help kids make sense of their reactions to porn or balance and counter the messages they get from it.



So what do young people say would help? They want…

  • porn to be part of sex education

  • parents to control their children’s access to porn with filters, locks and other online safety tools

  • parents to talk openly with them

Parents’ often simplistic, negative and unrealistic attitudes about porn don’t resonate with teenagers’ experiences. Their attitudes can make it harder to talk, can create feelings of guilt, shame, fear or anxiety and can stop young people from seeking help. But if parents convey their values about porn, sex and sexuality clearly, non-judgementally and supportively, kids can take those values on board in a positive way.

Chief censor David Shanks says it’s possible to take a real step forward – that includes putting in place laws to protect young children, providing good-quality sex education and equipping parents and adults to have informed, open discussions.

That optimism is echoed by the 16-year-old who says: “I have a lot of faith in my friends and in my generation. If there was some education or some culture shift where people started talking about porn, I think there would be a real change in how people treated each other.”


See Growing Up With Porn: Insights From Young New Zealanders and also How to talk with young people about pornography (both from the New Zealand Classification Office, 18/4/20)


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