We live in a day and time where we have access to information 24/7. Computers, televisions, and smartphones put that information literally at our fingertips. While that access can provide us with some amazing resources, it can also make available information that is misleading or false, undesirable, contrary to Islamic values, and even dangerous. Access to pornography fits all of those categories.
Some parents might think the only way to stop the infiltration of pornography into the minds of their children is by simply cutting off the source of that material. They consider avoiding TV, shutting down computer access, and even never installing or disconnecting the internet from the home. There may be short-term advantages of this drastic measure. However, it does not teach young Muslims how to deal with pornographic material whenever and wherever they encounter it. And they are likely to see it all around them: at a friend or relative’s home, in a TV commercial, on a billboard or bus shelter, or even when mistakenly typing in the wrong url on a computer.
Below are some suggestions to help your child constructively avoid pornography whenever and wherever he or she encounters it. Please note though, this is not a comprehensive list of possibilities, nor may all of the strategies presented be suited for your child. Factors such as age, previous exposure, and your own comfort with the topic should be taken into consideration.
1. Get to know the topic yourself
Pornography is simply defined as the use of images (either pictures or films) to illicit sexual arousal. Examples run the gambit from XXX movies and magazines to graphic television commercials or billboards that are seductive or depict sex acts or “sexting” – sending nude or seductive photographs via cell phone.
Pornography itself is an issue but so is pornification, which refers to a culture where the messages, images, and ideas that stem from pornography have filtered down into the mainstream culture and become everyday ways of thinking and acting. This is the case for non-Muslims and Muslims alike, from Muslim-majority countries as well as in the Western world. And it is especially problematic for women and girls, because boys and men – the main consumers of porn – increasingly objectify the female body, and thus become less able to see women and girls as peers who are equally worthy of respect, dignity, and bodily integrity.
Girls and women may also become inclined to view the importance of looking “hot” and hypersexual. The combined response interferes with the building of relationships between genders that are based on empathy, respect, kindness, and equality.
Pornography is absolutely prohibited in Islam. It is important for parents to extend their education here as well. While it is worth your effort to steer your children away from this dangerous area, it is also important not to go too far to suggest that there is something “wrong” with sexual awareness and healthy sexual relationships. This is especially important if you come from a culture where any discussion of sex or the human body is considered taboo or shameful. You may also want to consult your local Imam, Muslim scholar or your child’s pediatrician.
2. Teach by example
A parent is always their child’s first teacher. Ask yourself, what I am teaching by my actions? If you as a father are ogling pornographic magazines and staring at bikini-clad women at the beach in summer, or you are a mother who doesn’t change the channel when an inappropriate scene shows up on television, you are likely sending a mixed signal. As a parent you are entrusted with the responsibility to educate your children about the world they live in. You not only have to provide that guidance, but you also have to know what your kids are watching, what magazines they read, and what websites they visit.
3. Watch TV with them
You can best demonstrate to your children how to handle the challenges of pornography on the television by watching television with them. Take charge of the remote control and every time a scene comes up which is inappropriate, quickly change the channel and mention why you are doing so. This form of conditioning will help your child associate that watching this type of material is Haram. You can make the same mention of things that you may happen into outside of your home.
4. Establish and value family time
People often turn to the media when they're bored and also when they are alone. Stay close with your children by establishing family time at least once a week. Be creative in offering a special incentive such as taking everyone out for ice cream on Friday night, playing a board game together, establishing a family movie night, etc. This will also strengthen communication between you and set the stage for more opportunities for discussion and consultation.
5. Get to know your child’s friends
Kids of all ages often get information about sex from their friends. In these instances, that information can be misleading and come from an unIslamic perspective. Get to know your children’s friends and their parents, too. And if you find out that certain children are not a good influence, do your best to discourage the relationship. By the same token, you can help your kids befriend children who are practicing Muslims of the same age, who can provide them with wholesome companionship without sacrificing their Islamic principles.
6. Get involved with their school
It is especially important to learn about what your children might be learning from school about sex education. The best way to get more details is by being involved with the school itself and volunteers are always needed. Get to know your child’s teachers, the principal, and about what is being taught and talked about in class discussions.
7. Keep the computer and television of the house in a high traffic area
It's harder to watch porn if the computer is in the living room or dining room where everyone else can see it. A television or computer in a child's bedroom can be a huge temptation. Don't be surprised to discover your child is doing some late-night/very early morning web and channel surfing if they have 24/7 access to this media. Consider moving the computer to a high traffic area in the house.
8. Establish ground rules for computer use
Apart from setting hours for internet use for every family member, you can also make it clear what kind of material is acceptable and unacceptable to view. There are general safety rules that apply here:
- Never give out identifying information such as your address, phone number, school name, town, etc. in chat rooms, forums, forms or questionnaires.
- Never agree to meet anyone in person that you have met online.
- Never reply to any email, chat messages, or forum items that make you feel uncomfortable.
- Never send information or pictures to anyone over the Internet that you do not know.
- Never give your password to anyone except your parents, no matter who they say they are.
- Be aware that people may not be who they say they are. Someone who says she is a 10-year old girl may really be an older man.
- Never click on links in emails from people you don't know.
- Don't order anything or give anyone credit card information without your parent's permission.
- Always tell your parents if someone upsets you or makes you uncomfortable.
For more information on internet safety see https://www.childnet.com/resources/be-smart-online. There are many safe surfing tools available for the internet and technologies that allow parents to block certain channels and content.
9. Talk about pornography directly
A discussion about pornography should be done in an age-appropriate manner in the context of modesty. It may require a gradual approach and more than one conversation. Talk openly and clearly, ask their opinion about this issue, and share what Islamic guidance has to say about the topic. By opening up a dialogue, you send a signal that you care about what they think and are open to talking about any topic.
10. If your child has been viewing pornography, have a detailed conversation about it
Don't respond in this kind of situation by losing your cool. Instead, first gather all of the proof you can that they have gone on pornographic sites or have been looking at these kinds of magazines. This can be done by going to the "History" option on the menu bar of your browser to see which sites s/he viewed or has been viewing.
If you have evidence that your child has been viewing pornography from any type of media, it is very important to speak about it as soon as possible. Be the parent your child can be comfortable with, talk to honestly, and create an opportunity for him/her to ask questions. The talk should cover the topic in a brief but straightforward way. Pornographic images create a lasting impression. They often also contain exploitation or violence against women, and a tolerance or encouragement of sex outside of marriage. Be specific in addressing the reasons why this behavior is prohibited Islamically.
In some instances, it may be important to take away the TV or restrict the use of the internet or phone. Also consider making an appointment for your child with a youth counselor who deals with the issue of pornography, as well as a trusted local Imam or leader who can maintain confidentiality, to talk about the problem.
11. Remind them that Allah is always watching
We know that humans are prone to making mistakes. Kids need to be gently reminded that Allah, Who is the Most Merciful and Most Kind, is always watching them, even when parents are not. It is also important that they understand there are angels assigned to each and every one of us who are writing down our good and bad deeds (there is no neutral deed!). Each of us will be held accountable for them. Allah is the All-Forgiving and the Most Merciful. He is eager to forgive when the wrongdoing is recognized, the problem behavior stopped, and the intention is made not to repeat the sinful act.
12. Set the stage to discourage future transgressions
Revisit the points in this article and shore up any areas that are deficient. Consider surfing the internet with your children occasionally. It may also be a good idea to have a "pop check” where you will visit the browser history together. You can make suggestions about wholesome or cool Islamic sites. You might also suggest that they build their own Islamic website that is filled with games, puzzles, quizzes, and generally cool stuff. Some good alternatives include:
- Islamic Playground http://www.islamicplayground.com/Scripts/default.asp
- Joseph’s machines https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbNvfx3rYYxEopnRGxfu53Q
- TED Ed Talks https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-chemistry-of-cookies-stephanie-warren
Pornography is here to stay and parents need to keep vigilant in this area. For more information on how to help your kids handle pornography, mental health counseling, and parenting generally, check out these resources:
Culture Reframed Parents Program – building resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and porn; online programs for tweens, teens, and parents
Institute for Muslim Mental Health – articles on mental health generally, assistance in finding a mental health therapist, resource directory
The Family and Youth Institute (the FYI) – provides research, education via workshops and lectures
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