“WTF! My 8-year old daughter is watching internet porn!”

How Parents Can Disrupt Generational Trauma in WTF Moments

I lifted my daughter’s chin out of shame and saw her eyes fade beneath her tears. As her mother –I hurt when she hurts. “Repeat after me,” I smiled and she agreed.

I love my Spirit.

I love my Body.

I love my body without shame.

I am Loved.

As she spoke each word, she released her breath and started to breathe again, slowly speaking love into her truth. My only intention was for her to always know that her body is her own and her body is her home. I call this “Body Sovereignty”. Whereas shame could have claimed this moment –empathy disrupted her inheritance of a family legacy of body-shaming and sexual secrecy, transforming my family forever.

So…WTF? (What the F*@k)

This is an absolutely appropriate question that any parent would have after finding their 8-year old daughter watching internet porn. This is a “WTF moment”. Now, I’ve been a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and psychology professor for almost 15 years, but in that WTF moment …I was just a Mom with one question… “What the F*@k?”

Well, the “f*@k” under question here is called Generational Trauma. This is trauma that occurs when parents pass on trauma from their own childhood experience on to their kids …without even noticing.

Take a moment and ask yourself,What would your parents have done if they found you watching sex videos as a child?

As you imagine this WTF moment in your mind –also notice how it feels. Perhaps, that’s how your kid feels. When parents find themselves in these critical moments in time, our initial reaction to our kid is powerful and far reaching. How parents react can either serve as the continuation of generations of family trauma regarding sexual identity development — or the beginning of body-affirming values that your child will remember when they become parents.

How we experienced the “Sex Talk” or similar WTF moments as children, not only shaped our core sexual intimacy beliefs as adults, it also shaped how we parent in these moments. The same is true for our parents, and their parents, etc., creating a family pattern of beliefs, attitudes and behaviors regarding sexual identity development.

This is how parents can avoid transferring family trauma to their kids by using WTF moments like this, to teach body-love and self-sovereignty to your child.

1. This doesn’t make you a bad parent with a bad kid.

This moment makes you a parent that discovered a rare and powerful moment that can potentially inspire body positivity values that change your family forever. Imagine learning about sexuality in a way that made you love and honor your body. If you were taught to love your body from the moment it began creating sexual reproductive hormones, how different would YOU be?

Taking a moment to Pause for Presence so that you can approach this scene with humility, reverence and gratitude for the moment probably sounds crazy and impossible. But it’s not! Remember, this WTF moment will shape your kids core beliefs about sex. It’s kind of a big deal. You get to decide if they associate this moment with shame –or unconditional love and worthiness. What do you want to pass on to your kid? What do you want you kid to pass on to your grandchildren?

2. Pureform Your Parenting Presence.

As parents, we primarily create our “Parent Personas” from our own experiences as children. We evaluate our own parents and decide what worked out and what was just messed up –and edit accordingly, until we become the parents we always wanted. However, if we are being the parents we always wanted, who are we actually parenting?

Ourselves!

We become the parent our inner child needed –not the parent our actual child needs. Discovering your kid looking at sexual videos will probably cue ( or trigger) some trauma (even for a parent who is a highly skilled counseling psychologist). However, as parents we can disrupt the learned instinct to perform a “better parental version of ourselves” by being who we are. Your child doesn’t need the parent YOU always wanted –your child needs YOU and your loving Presence. So be with them –not in your head tending to your own childhood.

3. Allow Exploration –But Access History.

The internet will be a part of your kids’ sexual exploration. The internet doesn’t guarantee privacy, and neither should parents. Parents must accept these modern age realities — and with remote learning becoming our new norm, this fact is critical for parents to reconcile. Some parents make the mistake of responding to this fact by over-restricting discovery and curiosity. Of course, parents should be vigilant and active about teaching children internet safety, but should also be mindful of restriction becoming suppression. This could create an impulsive or obsession that was initially just curiosity. Like most adults today, kids are using the internet as a primary source of information. Thus, your kids’ browser history can provide notice of what your kid is actually curious about- but may not be able to express. Studies show that children today, have in one hour, internet access to the same amount of information that historically took humans 75–80 years of life and traveling to access. This means that it used to take an entire lifetime to learn what our children can access on a cell phone — in one hour. Let that sink in for a moment.

So, let’s just be honest. If you had the internet when you were a kid, would you have looked up “sex”?

Ummmm …Yes!

Why?

Because it is developmentally appropriate to be curious about sex in early adolescence. Your sexual reproductive system blossoms long before anyone can see. Puberty is a phase of sexual development; not the beginning and certainly, not the end. Remember, you want to know when your kid is curious about sex and they are more likely to search the internet than to ask a parent. Find ways to allow age-appropriate internet access BUT regularly access their search history. This isn’t about privacy –it’s about the responsibility of parenting. Let their exploration inform the timing for when you begin conversations about sex and internet safety.

4. It’s not about Sex — It’s about Safety.

As much as you may be triggered by the explicit sexual videos that your kid is viewing, let me remind you this is NOT about sex. It’s about your child’s relationship with their changing body and safety. Most parents have some vague plan for how to approach the infamous “sex talk”. Parents generally prepare for this discussion to take place in late adolescents (13–17). At this age, it makes sense to explain the anatomy of reproduction, sexual consent and how to avoid pregnancy and sexual health risks. But when talking to an 8 to 10-year-old, that’s not what they want to know; they want to know that it is safe to be curious about what their body is feeling. They want to know if what they are feeling is safe. For this reason, parents should focus the conversation around body-loving affirmations to reinforce trust and safety. This is the first of many conversations — that will most likely begin with the internet.

When I discovered my daughter exploring, she was mortified and quickly burst into shame-filled tears. I interrupted her from repeating, “I’m so sorry Mom, I’m so sorry!” and invited her to repeat these loving affirmations instead: “I love my Spirit. I love my Body. I love my body without shame. I am Love. I am Loved.” This one technique hit the reset button for us both and allowed her to feel my unconditional love instead of shame. There is nothing my kid can do that would make me love her less. In this moment, she needed to know that more than ever. Love is what makes our children feel safe. So love them, even when they are trying to understand sex.

5. Don’t call it “Porn” — call it Sexual Videos.

Language is what cues our brain and our emotions. For instance, what thoughts and feelings emerge when you hear the word “Pornography”? For healthy adults, our brains adamantly reject any combination or association of this word with children. This is a good thing- but it also means that the language alone could prompt behaviors that project disappointment, disapproval and even disgust towards our child. Thus, renaming is reclaiming. When talking to my daughter, I made sure that I did not use the “Porn” or “Pornography”. Instead, I referred to what she was viewing as Sexual Videos. That language made our space feel safer and less triggering. Simply changing the language changed the tone from punitive and deviant — to supportive and developmentally appropriate — without avoiding the fact that we were talking about sex.

Albeit uncomfortable to consider, the truth is that we were not talking about “…when two people love each other and want to have babies”. We were talking about sex and safety. Yes, my kid was viewing sexual videos, but that didn’t make her deviant. Parents can’t be afraid to say “sex” –but MUST avoid unintentionally exaggerating the experience into something worse by using harsh and shaming words.

6. Don’t Let Silence Shape Sexual Identity.

For me, this WTF moment with my daughter cued the awareness that my daughter was not only watching sex videos –she was watching lesbian sex videos. Although I openly identify as a proud straight-passing, bisexual Black woman in my family and in my community, I still didn’t know what to do. Not wanting to “out her” by probing …or force her to conform to identity labels she was too young to understand, for a moment, silence seemed like the best option. Then I remembered when silence shaped my sexual identity development.

At 10 years old, my WTF moment was experienced at a sleepover with a female-friend where her parents caught us kissing. I remembered their outrage and them moving us frantically to different rooms, where they monitored us separately for the evening. In the morning, they insisted that my Mother pick me up immediately despite our plans to play at the park after pancakes. They didn’t make breakfast that morning and when my mother arrived, I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye and her parents never acknowledged my departure. I remember loading my backpack full of shame and confusion into the trunk of the car and cautiously getting into the passenger seat next to my Mom. I had prepared for an intense lecturing, or yelling, or possibly a spanking; but her discipline was worse than my child brain was able to imagine. She… was… SILENT.

That shameful silence became a part of my sexual identity. I learned to not talk about sexual experiences, like so many people do. However, parents must understand that if we don’t take these moments to engage our kids with empathic communication, we risk teaching our kids to keep sexual experiences a secret.

Remember, nothing is more effective at transferring trauma than silence. Break the silence with empathy.

Yes, finding your kiddo looking at sex videos can feel devastating for a parent and will probably cue your own trauma. However, when parents show up in Pureform, avoid overly restrictive consequences, and cultivate empathic communication and safety, you can begin disrupting the transfer of unhealthy family patterns of shame and silence regarding sexuality. Remember, no matter what your child was looking at –shame cannot make it better. Parents can use these developmentally appropriate WTF moments to positively change how your family talks about sex and sexuality for generations. This is how we raise healthy children who are sovereign in their own body and respect the sovereignty of others.

— — — — Written by Dr. Bre (she/hers/Queen)

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors solely. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Planned Parenthood or any organization.

Author | Speaker | Coach | Consultant — Dr. Bre is the Director of Equity, Inclusion & Community Engagement for Planned Parenthood of Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands and Planned Parenthood of Kentucky & Indiana. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and prominent Equity & Inclusion executive, professor and thought-leader in healing-centered social change with over 15 years of experience.

Need Inspiration | www.drbre.com.

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I am an empowerment speaker, coaching therapist, equity consultant, podcaster and author that believes healing is social justice.

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