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

Emily F. Rothman, Jennifer Paruk, Ashlee Espensen, Jeff R. Temple, Kelley Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)844-849
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • child health
  • parent communication
  • pornography
  • sexually explicit media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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