A Qualitative Study of What US Parents Say and Do When Their Young Children See Pornography

Acad Pediatr. 2017 Nov-Dec;17(8):844-849. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2017.04.014. Epub 2017 Apr 24.


Objective: There is no empirical information about how parents react when they discover that their young children have seen pornography. To address this gap in the literature, the current study sought to improve our understanding of parental reactions to discovering that their children ages <12 years old have seen pornography using a mixed-methods approach.

Methods: A convenience sample of participants (N = 279) was recruited from the online survey service Mechanical Turk. Eligible participants completed an online survey comprising close-ended and open-ended questions about their reactions when their young children saw pornography. Qualitative data were analyzed using a content analysis approach.

Results: Parents had 5 main reactions when realizing that their children had viewed pornography: 1) angry, shaming, or punitive; 2) calm and factual; 3) ignoring, minimizing, or denying that it happened; 4) panic or fear; and 5) lying to the child about what the child viewed. Most parents reacted calmly, while a small percentage reported that they hit, scolded, or shamed their young children for seeing the pornography. Many reported not knowing what to say or do.

Conclusions: Development and evaluation of parental scripts for developmentally appropriate parent-child (or pediatrician-child) communication about pornography could benefit the field.

Keywords: child health; parent communication; pornography; sexually explicit media.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions*
  • Erotica*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenting*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult