Care and Feeding

I Walked in on My 12-Year-Old. I Can’t Believe He Was Watching … That.

Should I just let it go and assume “boys will be boys”?

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Westend61/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a mom of a 12-year-old boy. I recently walked in on him masturbating. This wouldn’t be that peculiar except that he was watching deep fetish S&M porn. I didn’t even know what S&M was until I was in college! We spoke about it briefly; he begged me not to tell his other mom, and I agreed.

But I’m still troubled and I’m conflicted. Do I violate his trust and talk this through with my wife to understand how we can best support our child’s sexual exploration, or do I honor my word and just leave it and assume “boys will be boys”?

—Silent or Speak

Dear S.o.S.,

You can keep your promise not to disclose the encounter (and, specifically, what type of porn your son was watching), but it is time for some family sex talk anyway. It’s awkward and it’s not fun, but it is necessary—especially considering how much your kid may feel like he knows at this point already—but he’s overdue, it seems. You also must talk to him about the dangers of exploring porn on the internet, which is something he needed to hear even if you hadn’t walked in on him doing just that.

Explain to him that there are lots of ways that people have sex, and he will have the ability to explore the full gamut of his sexual curiosity as he gets older. However, just as an AP calculus lesson is likely to confound even a third grader who excels at math, S&M represents a level of maturity and understanding that a person his age is not prepared to summon. It is too much for him, and you need to let him know.

You also should use your computer’s settings and/or device apps to prevent him from accessing hardcore pornography. There is plenty of material available on the child-friendly side of the internet to indulge his age-appropriate curiosities about sex; you don’t need to allow him unfettered access to the whole web for him to figure out how to masturbate and to what. Look to books like Planned Parenthood’s In Case You’re Curious for language.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I am stepmother to an 8-year-old. Her father has custody, and we live several hours away from her mother, who is a nice person but doesn’t always make great parenting choices. My stepdaughter visits her mother for a week or a weekend from time to time, and I understand that these visits are important to her, but I struggle with how to talk to her about them. When she talks to me about going to see her mother, she will say things like “My mom lets me eat candy for dinner” or “Sometimes I stay up all night at my mommy’s house—she lets me.” For the most part she is not saying this to try to manipulate me; I think by now she realizes that rules are different in different houses. I guess she is just expressing excitement about going to see her mother. What is the best thing to say in these moments?


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