While touring Over 18, our documentary on pornography, one of the screening hosts gave me a copy of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. It’s a read-aloud book that introduces an awkward topic in a comfortable way, and I immediately made it a resource for parents on the tour.
I am thrilled to introduce you to the author of the book, Kristen Jenson, who is also the founder of Protect Young Minds, a website dedicated to helping parents empower their kids to reject pornography.
Recently, she was invited to testify before the Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee on the public health crisis of pornography, and is a leader in the Prevention Task Force of the National Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation. She’s also a mom, so she knows how important good resources are for parents.
What inspired you to write Good Pictures Bad Pictures?
It all started when I received a late night phone call from a traumatized mother who told me about her 17- year-old son. He had been sexually molesting his younger siblings—imitating the pornography he’d been viewing from the time he was in elementary school.
The next morning I searched for a children’s book to explain the dangers of pornography addiction and provide an action plan for how to keep kids safe online. But I couldn’t find any. So I wrote and published Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids in consultation with Dr. Gail Poyner, a licensed psychologist, to fill this much-needed resource gap.
What are some signs that your child is looking at porn?
We recently published a post on ProtectYoungMinds.org to answer this very question: 7 Signs a Child is Viewing Porn that Parents Often Overlook. Basically, you watch for certain behaviors or changes in behavior.
For example, is there a browser history on the device or has it been deleted? Does the child quickly change the screen whenever you come close? Do you notice a child taking a device into a bathroom and spending a lot of time there (even with the shower running)?
Now let’s talk about changes in mood. It’s common for kids who are looking at porn to become depressed and/or angry. The boy featured in the Over 18 documentary is an example of a child who became extremely angry with his family members. Finally, withdrawing from normal social activities can be another sign a child is being negatively affected by viewing pornography.
Some say that you shouldn’t talk to kids about porn because it will make them curious and more likely to seek it out. How do you respond to this?
The world will make kids curious about porn sooner or later. Parents have two options–to be proactive and answer their child’s questions on their terms or to let their friends or the internet satisfy their curiosity. It’s much safer for kids to be curious about pornography with you by their side then for them to be curious when they’re alone on the Internet or with a friend.
If you introduce it, you can also introduce your attitudes about it and set yourself up as the best source of information. You can assure your child that you will answer all of their questions. You can make it safe to ask those questions. You can assure them that their curiosity is normal, but warn them that following their curiosity about pornography is dangerous and can lead to addiction.
Kids are curious! Their brains are hard-wired to be curious and that’s exactly why parents need to talk to their kids about pornography earlier rather than later. I join many experts who believe that the days when parents could avoid the subject of pornography in the hope of not fostering curiosity are long gone.
What are three must-have conversations that every parent should have with their kids?
When it comes to preparing kids to reject pornography, kids need to know the 3 R’s:
- How to Recognize pornography–a simple definition that also includes how it can make you feel. They’ll recognize pornography when they see it and have the words to report exposure to you.
- How to Reject pornography–you’ll empower kids with a specific plan, like the ones in Good Pictures Bad Pictures, to deal with the highly memorable and often tantalizing memories that exposure to pornography creates. They’ll know exactly what to do!
- How to Report exposure–ask children to come and tell you as soon as possible after they’ve been exposed to pornography. And reassure them that they won’t get into trouble! Also, make sure kids know how to report exposure to porn at school. Get the free Ultimate Guide for Online Safety at School here.
Why make a Jr. version of the book?
Parents asked for it! In fact, as soon as the original book was published, I began to receive requests for a version for kids ages 3 to 6. Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is much simpler with even more beautiful watercolor illustrations. It’s a hardcover book designed to be more durable for younger kids. And my illustrator, Debbie Fox, added a fun feature into it—19 hidden cameras for kids to find!
The Jr. book is a basic message of safety—I don’t go into the brain science like the one for older children. The book begins with lots of examples of good pictures and then simply states: “Some pictures are good. But some pictures are not good. They’re bad for you.” From that point, the book gives kids a simple definition of “bad pictures,” explains the importance of keeping private parts private, makes the analogy that bad pictures are “picture poison” and then provides a simple 3-step “Turn, Run and Tell” plan that prepares kids to deal with accidental exposure to inappropriate content.
Today’s young children have unprecedented access to the internet, and they deserve to be armed early against its dangers. Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is a comfortable, effective way to empower kids ages 3-6 with their first internal filter!
What kind of impact have the books had so far?
I’ve received many success stories from parents! And I’ve been amazed at how many kids love our books and even say it’s their favorite book! One mom shared her experience with teaching her 9-year-old son the CAN DO Plan. Three days later he came home from school and told her that another student had shown him pornography at school. He said, “I knew exactly what to do. I was scared but I knew what to do.”
Instead of facing this troubling exposure alone, this young boy knew his parents were there to help him. He recognized what he saw and already knew several good reasons why he should not look at it. He had no fear of talking to his mom about it because she had talked with him first.
Now that’s called rocking parenthood!
What words of encouragement do you have for overwhelmed and discouraged parents out there?
There’s no “perfect way” to approach this. Your efforts, as long as they are sincere, loving, and ongoing will be good enough. Anything you can do to help your child be prepared for and avoid the dangers of their digital world is going to help.
Good Pictures Bad Pictures was written to give parents a comfortable script that provides just the right amount of age-appropriate information. I invite you to sign up for our weekly blog post and join our Protect Young Minds Parent Discussion Facebook group. We’ll keep you informed and give you practical tools to build resilient kids, step by step, one conversation at a time.
Good Pictures Bad Pictures would make a great gift for all parents, grandparents, and caregivers of children. If you live in the U.S., you can order both books here. Canadians, you can get Good Pictures Bad Pictures here, and the Jr. version here.
And don’t forget to check out protectyoungminds.org for tons of articles and resources!