Care and Feeding

My Sons Are Watching Porn

How do I talk to them about this?

Photo illustration of a mom looking at a tablet with shocked eyes and one hand over her mouth
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a single mom to 12-year-old twin boys. I recently found porn on my sons’ iPad (I wasn’t snooping!), and I feel that I need to address it with them. I recognize that it’s entirely normal to want to watch porn—especially at an age when they’re trying to figure out their sexuality—but I have concerns about the content they’re watching. I’m very cognizant of the abuse and misogyny in the porn industry and that free internet porn also generally does not depict healthy sexual relationships. I want to make sure that they understand they won’t be able to go out into the world and do the things they’re seeing online. How do I approach this discussion without shaming them? Or am I completely overreacting? Should I just ignore it?

—Trying Not to Create Sexually Repressed Men

Dear Trying,

There are clips out there that depict healthier sexual relationships than the average Pornhub video, but the last thing your kids want is a dirty movie recommendation from you. Your sons are young enough for you to block adult sites from their iPad, and I’d say that’s a fair step to take considering what you saw.

Alas, you can’t keep your sons from finding other ways to view explicit content, so you need to prepare them to understand it as best as you can. Have regular conversations about both sexuality and misogyny so that when they come across certain themes in television, books, real-life scenarios and, yes, pornography, they are equipped to process them. Check out Sex Is a Funny Word for some helpful language to use. Emphasize the importance of bodily autonomy, affirmative consent, and treating all women and girls with kindness and respect—especially those who they may be intimate with. Talk about double standards regarding sexual activity and why they must never participate in slut-shaming, nor should they rush to be more active than they’d wish to be in order to seem cool among peers.

Get granular and awkward when you need to. Address the reticence some young men have to performing oral sex on girls while expecting to receive it. Tell them there’s a good chance their first time having intercourse might not go so well. Explain the consequences that may befall them if they do not practice safety and respect for their partners and themselves. They may not want to hear these things, but they need too. Good luck, sis!

Dear Care and Feeding,

What do I have to do to get drop-off play dates to happen? We have an only son, about to turn 5. We live in a walkable neighborhood, and he’s three weeks into pre-K at a school nearby. We have met other kids around here, and my son asks me regularly if someone can come play. Even more than that, he would love to go to their houses. I keep telling him that we have to wait to be invited and that most people don’t invite others over terribly often. But I do! I’ve always hosted dinner parties and other gatherings. My door is usually literally open; I would love for people to drop in unannounced.

I am trying! I text local parents, asking if their kid can come over to play. One parent replied, hours later, “Oh, man, sorry I missed this, it would have been great,” while there was still time left in the day for a visit. Another responded with “The girls are fighting, so they can’t come over,” to which I think, “Bring us one of them!” There was also “Let’s all go to the planetarium instead,” but I didn’t want an outing, I wanted a kid to come play with my kid.

I understand that the first few visits are about building trust and are likely to be short and require a parent as well. I think my family is presentable enough. We would observe any visitor’s dietary restrictions or other needs. Despite how I sound here, I don’t think I am sending crazy vibes through text. Why is this so hard? Do people not do this anymore? My kid wants someone to come play.

—Ready for Drop-Off

Dear RfDO,

Do you live in L.A., by any chance? We’re new in town, and I could certainly use a place to leave my kid for a few hours. You know, once we’ve done the requisite getting-to-know-you thing—which can be hard to schedule because we have a joint custody situation, so I also have to make sure that I’m getting enough one-on-one time with her. Plus, there’s the classes we’re taking together two evenings a week, my work schedule, time with other relatives …

You see what I’m getting at?

Look, a lot of folks aren’t terribly thrilled at the idea of leaving their child with another family unless they know them extremely well. That’s not necessarily commentary on your brood; it’s pretty understandable considering some of the awful stories we’ve heard about trusted adults mistreating children in their care, or allowing kids to run wild with limited supervision.

Work on building up your friendships with other parents and your son’s friendships with his peers, and opportunities to have play dates will likely follow. Also, you may want to work on being more sensitive to what other families have going on: You said there was still time for a visit from the kid whose parent didn’t see your message for hours, but how can you know that for sure? They may have had their own plans. If both of “the girls are fighting,” allowing one of them to come play at your house isn’t really fair. As for “let’s go to the planetarium instead,” that parent may have been interested in spending the day with his child, or getting comfortable enough with you to allow for a future drop-off date. Don’t be too thirsty to host kids in your house—that’s a good way to scare potential visitors away.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My friend has chronic medical issues coupled with a physically demanding job. She often asks me to take her 12-year-old son to school or pick him up. Every weekend, I take him to sports activities and then out to lunch or dinner while she rests. I clean her house every two weeks, pick up her dry cleaning, grocery shop, and get her medications from the pharmacy. Occasionally, I take her to the doctor’s office.

The problem is, I’m not that young, and I am tired of helping her out all the time. I have come to realize that she has delegated almost all of her parenting responsibilities to myself and other friends, most likely out of necessity, and I think she needs to hire caregivers rather than expect us to help all the time.

I know her son likes it when I come get him from school, or when I sit and watch him play sports. Without fail, he thanks me when I clean up their house. If I walk away now, what will it do to him psychologically? I should add that he does a lot, too. He cooks and does most of the laundry, helps his mom with her medications, and even assists her when she gets into bed at night. His dad is not in the picture and lives in another country. Should I suck it up and continue to help out until he is 18? What is the best solution here?

—Tired Old Lady

Dear TOL,

Your friend may feel guilty for how much she leans on you and her other buddies, but simply may not have any other options. Or perhaps she doesn’t realize just how much she’s asking of her village. Either way, it’s time to set some boundaries and to help her figure out how to get all of her family’s needs tended to without draining you or anyone else.

Let her know how much you care for her and her son, and that while you are happy to keep helping you do not have the time or energy to take on as much of the load as you have been. Keep up one or two of the tasks that allow you to spend time with her son, and help her to plan out ways to get the other things done—perhaps via TaskRabbit, folks at her church, etc.

Don’t let this frustration fester until you’re so tired that you get angry at your friend, or end up burned out yourself. Do what you can, and if she’s a good friend in return, she’ll appreciate you for it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My ex-husband and I divorced nine years ago and due to his substance abuse and mental health issues, he has not been in my son’s life. I made every effort to keep him involved, but he moved away without letting us know and has never contacted us since or paid any kind of support. My son is 14 now and a good kid; he has some self-esteem issues like most teenagers, but he has coped with the loss of his other parent pretty well.

I check social media periodically hoping to come across my ex just to make sure he’s OK, and I recently discovered that not only is he still drinking, he’s having a baby with his new girlfriend. I’m afraid this will devastate my son. I feel that I have to tell him, but I hate to hurt him this way.

So, what do I do? Tell him? Get him in counseling first and then tell him? (With my insurance, that could take months.) Or just let him try to enjoy high school and if he finds out later, support him through it?

—Feeling Conflicted

Dear FC,

There’s a possibility that your son also checks social media in hopes of a glimpse at his dad’s life.
Even if he doesn’t, it’s entirely possible he’ll come across this news somehow, thanks to some adult who thinks he’s being helpful. He may have found peace with his father’s distance, but the idea of that father choosing to have another family is so much more complicated a pill to swallow; don’t allow him to learn about that the hard way.

Begin the process of getting him in counseling now; if your insurer denies you or will take entirely too long, look for free or low-cost alternatives in your area. Honestly, therapy would be ideal even if your ex wasn’t expecting a new child, no matter how chill your son seems about his father’s betrayal and substance abuse issues.

Plan a time to speak to your son when you know he doesn’t have a big test or project due the following day. Tell him what you know, but also remind him that he cannot assume that this man is going to be a great dad to a new baby and that he’s the only one missing out. Let him know it was important for him to be in a situation where he has a stable parent and a home free of the drama that accompanied your marriage, and that it’s also OK for him to be angry at this situation. And, as always, remind him that his father’s illness and callousness are not indicative of anything he has done wrong himself. Be there for your boy, as you have been all along. Best of luck to you both.

—Jamilah

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