Girl watching video

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Q: My 10-year-old daughter recently confessed to watching female bondage videos regularly on YouTube for at least the past year. My question is, do other parents experience this? I understand why she might be curious, but don’t understand why she watches them again and again. She has had a lot of stress-related symptoms, but I am unsure if there is a connection. According to her, she has not experienced any abuse or been in an inappropriate situation with a peer or an adult. Any suggestions, wisdom, help? Appreciate your insight.

~ Baffled by bondage, Boston MA

A: Dear Baffled,

First, your daughter telling you about watching bondage videos is a sign that you have developed a trusting and communicative parenting relationship with her. To build on that strength and maintain her openness with you, it might be helpful to reframe the situation in your mind from “my daughter confessed” (which implies wrongdoing) to “my daughter shared” (which does not). This shift may help you to discuss it openly and problem-solve, without your daughter feeling unnecessarily ashamed.

While hypersexual behaviors in children can sometimes be a sign that a child has been abused, watching these videos doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s a problem.  Many children watch videos out of curiosity. When they see something that’s new to them or that they find scary, confusing, or curious, they may watch it again and again in an attempt to make sense of it. Your daughter may be upset or intrigued by the images of bound women, trying to understand why they allow themselves to be tied up. Since you have such open, trusting communication, ask her, in a curious, nonjudgmental way, what draws her to the videos.

This discussion can offer an opportunity to talk with your daughter about gender, sex, and power issues—who is tying up whom, who is controlling the situations, is everybody safe, and is everybody consenting? This, like many situations that can initially be seen as negative or harmful media exposure, can be a cloud with a silver lining. Since you are talking about people in the videos, you can more easily talk with your daughter about important but difficult issues of human relationships and sexuality in a calm and thoughtful way before she confronts them in real life. One fact of human development that we must keep in mind is that children of all ages are aware of and explore their sexuality in different ways at different developmental stages. Seeking out sexual media content is normal for children of your daughter’s age, so being prepared to discuss it with her in a balanced, non-shaming way is really important to support her healthy development.

Your daughter’s responses to and behavior in this discussion can be a good indicator of whether you have reason for concern about sexual abuse. If she withdraws, or acts guilty or fearful, it is important to address the question pro-actively with her pediatrician, a psychologist, or other professional. If her interactions seem to be typical of her, it is possible that the connection between the video viewing and her stress symptoms is not so much that the videos are stressing her, but that she is watching, and trying to master, the images of bondage as an attempt to cope with stress. If her stress-related symptoms are disabling her, I would recommend seeking out therapy to help identify the cause, determine whether the bondage videos are related, and find coping strategies that work.

Finally, be sure to thank and support your daughter for sharing this with you. Encourage her to continue to come to you with anything she experiences, whether in real life or online, that causes her concern. This approach can help open the door for more complicated discussions (such as sex, drugs, and relationships) that are bound to happen as she continues to develop and move through life. For all the influences on young people today, and no matter how much they rebel, connectedness with parents is the most powerful influence on children and their development. Nurturing the powerful bond you share with your daughter and managing difficult conversations in caring, loving ways paves the way toward healthy adult coping strategies.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~The Mediatrician®

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