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"Our Sons Viewed an X-rated Video"

QUESTION: Recently, our sons, aged 10 and 13, viewed an X-rated video that my wife and I received as a gag gift. My wife and I are extremely upset at ourselves for not getting rid of the video immediately, and upset at them for searching through our closet. What should we do now?

ANSWER: Do not become so overwhelmed with your own guilt that you emotionally charge the situation with greater intensity than is already present.

Mistakes happen. It is how we handle them that contributes to our children's character development. Use this opportunity to talk with your children about sex and sex videos. This may be the first, but it is not the last time they will have access to adult material.

Reflect on the possibility that this video represents a growing curiosity about sex that needs a safe outlet. Your thirteen- year-old may need to talk with you about normal sexual feelings he is having. Perhaps he is experiencing erections or wet dreams but has not found a way to come to you with his questions. Provide him with a safe place to talk about his budding sexuality. The impact of the video will diminish as discussions between you and your sons grow.

Focus your attention on a way to openly discuss what was viewed. Ask them what they saw and how they felt about it. Answer their questions honestly and clearly explain your specific concerns with their viewing the video. For example; the video is distasteful because it devalues woman, or it confuses sex with violence, or it does not teach safe sex, or any other ways you as parents specifically disagree with its message.

Use this event as a springboard to communicate your own basic values about the meaning of sex and love between a man and a woman. Take a matter-of-fact approach to the reality that this kind of product is "out there" in the world. Do not put your head in the sand. You will gain their trust with your honesty. Let them know that you want to be the one to answer their questions rather than leaving them scrambling for their information from less reliable sources. But do not be afraid to answer with "I don't know" if that is your most honest reply.

And lastly, consider that your ten-year-old may be affected differently than your teenager. Tailor your discussion to meet your younger child's concerns, but make yourself available to answer your teenager's questions in greater depth. Let them know you are willing to talk to them about any topic that arises in their lives.

Be sure to initiate checking in with each of your sons in the next two to four weeks to see how they are processing the experience. You are likely to find that your guidance and accessibility will have a comforting effect!

Although these may be difficult questions to face, being willing to talk about uncomfortable subjects will open communication on the road through adolescence. If your children can turn to you for help, destructive influences are more likely to be diffused with education rather than dangerous experimentation.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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