We often think of pornography usage being a problem only faced by those who have already reached adolescence. The prevalence of porn and sexually explicit material, however, has been changing that. These days, the average age of exposure is eleven years old, and that’s just the average. Many are being exposed much younger than that.

At this point, it’s clear that if we want to protect our children from the dangers of pornography, we need to be proactive. Similar to efforts to discourage drug and underage alcohol usage, we need to prepare them for the eventuality of availability and access.

Sexually explicit and suggestive material is not going away. We can’t completely shelter them from it. Instead, we need to prepare them to confront and reject it.

1. Prepare by Educating Yourself

The first step is to know the facts. Porn is a very emotionally charged topic, and there’s a lot of money involved on either side of the debate (especially on the side of proponents). We can’t afford to present our children with incomplete information and half-truths. Study the literature on pornography, the rates of exposure, and the effects it can have, especially on adolescents. Educate yourself on strategies for avoiding pornography and protecting yourself and others. And learn more about the addictive behaviors of porn and how to quit porn for those who find themselves trapped by a porn habit.

The more you know, the better equipped you are to help them, and the more helpful your advice will be.

2. Define Pornography Clearly

Sex talks with kids can be difficult and awkward. Finding the appropriate level of detail isn’t easy, and sometimes we waffle a little, giving vague explanations and using indirect language rather than giving them the vocabulary they need to articulate their feelings and questions.

While you should definitely use age-appropriate language when describing the problem and what’s at stake, don’t shy away from the topic. Explain it clearly, and don’t act embarrassed about the topic. Behaving sheepishly will set an example for the child that they should feel reluctant to bring up the topic. Instead, be calm, inviting, and straightforward. Answer their questions, and don’t be scared of the topic.

3. Teach Them the Dangers

Just as with warning children and teens about drug use and underage drinking, you need to be clear about the dangers of porn and the negative impact it can have on their lives. Utilize language and explanations that they will understand, but don’t sugarcoat it. They need to know what’s at risk, and how it can cause them difficulties in the future. Pornography definitely has a draw, and unless they know the cost that comes with it, they are liable to be hooked by it.

4. Make a Plan to Prevent & Handle Exposure

This is perhaps the most important step. You can’t open the discussion, pique their curiosity, and then abandon them to it. You need to help them build a plan for ignoring porn and understand the negative effects of pornography. Discuss with them guidelines for safe online activity, and safe media consumption. Teach them to come to you with questions and curiosities rather than to search for things online, and teach them to turn off or walk away from any material that crosses the line of appropriateness.

Some exposure will be accidental, or will come from friends. Like developing an emergency plan in the event of a fire, set guidelines for what to do in the event of exposure (turn it off, tell an adult, etc.). Let them know you won’t judge them or be mad because of exposure, that you will answer their questions honestly, and that you will help them avoid exposure in the future.

5. Regulate Media Consumption

Many times, nudity and sexual explicit material is embedded in works that would not otherwise be considered porn. From movies like Titanic to tv shows like Game of Thrones, popular media frequently contains material that would have a similar effect as hardcore porn on your children. Even when the sexuality is partially mitigates, such as partial/near nudity or audio that alludes to sex acts, the impact on your child can be dramatic, and the more they understand about sex, the more damaging these references to sex can be.

Beyond that, even in media that’s approved for teens or children can depict individuals in a sexualized manner by, for example, featuring characters wearing revealing outfits. Especially if there is already a member of the family suffering from a porn addiction, even exposure to “tame” media such as this can be problematic. That’s why it’s important to teach your children to walk out, walk away, or turn off media that’s objectionable. Set standards by example, and explain why you chose to avoid such media. Then, if you’re having trouble helping your children adhere to the established guidelines, consider utilizing parental control software.

Remember, they won’t be living under your roof forever, so it’s up to you to instill habits and values that will keep them safe as adults.

Talking about pornography with your child can be difficult, but it’s important to broach the subject, preferably before their peers or the media does. In the fight against pornography, you can’t afford to allow external influences to be the primary source of your child’s sexual education.