Long gone are those days of young boys saving their pennies to buy Playboy magazines, share them around and hide them under their beds. The images may certainly have been eye opening to the young adolescent, but its fair to say they had nothing on the substantially more graphic depictions their little minds are now being exposed to via online porn sites.
There are many things about the online world I have happily moved along with, despite a little nostalgia for days gone by. But this element of the global, exaggerated and magnified world of the internet is one that causes me concern.
To help us with the myriad of information, I have sort the advice of Liz Walker who specialise in youth wellbeing and adolescent sexuality.
In this first instalment of our discussion, we look at some of the realities of children’s internet exposure, and part 2 will concentrate on some of the strategies when we suspect or know that our kids have been searching or inadvertently stubbled across online pornography.
How can we best protect our kids from stumbling across porn when they are young and not necessarily searching for it?
Liz: One way to protect our kids from stumbling across porn when they are young and not necessarily searching for it is by installing Internet and Mobile Device filters in the home, along with setting restrictions on Google search engines. Yet given it is easy for them to be exposed to explicit content on other kids mobile devices at school, this should not be the only defence. As part of comprehensive body safety education we teach kids protective factors to equip them to recognise predatory adults or other children or teens who may be engaging in inappropriate behaviour. Kids learn to recognise the ‘yucky’ feelings when their body tells them that they are unsafe. The same type of conversations need to be transferred to the online world. Kids need to know that sometimes there may be things they see that makes them feel uncomfortable, confused or disgusted. This type of education may also be a defence against online predators. It’s important kids learn they are not in trouble when they see something ‘rude’ or ‘yucky’, and that they can go to mum, dad or an adult who they feel safe with to talk about what they see. Depending on the age of the child, these types of conversations are also a great opportunity to incorporate the understanding that adults who love each other spend special time together. Sometimes ‘together time’ is when they are naked – but it’s best when they feel safe, loving and in a private space. Things online are not private and quite often, not loving.
There comes a time when we lose that control over what our kids are seeing and what they have access to? At what age do you see this happening the most?
Liz: As a natural developmental phase, kids move from being dependant on parents prior to puberty (anywhere from 8 – 13), to wanting to be more independent. With this, comes a tendency to value what peers say over and above parents opinions. Whatever regular and consistent conversations you can have with children prior to them pulling away, the more likely they will have a healthy understanding of what loving relationships are, and how they can reject messages that are degrading or over sexualised. Just like teaching body safety, we can teach kids about valuing & respecting themselves and others, what objectification is, and the importance of not comparing themselves to others. It’s also good to instil messages of gender equality and teach them to recognise attitudes of violence towards women. These are skills that will equip them to reject the messages of porn culture as they hit teen years. A good tool for parents to use in opening up conversations is the Parents, Tweens & Sex app.
Do you find some parents are naive when it comes to what their kids are exposed to?
Liz: In a recent small sample survey carried out by Youth Wellbeing Project, we found that nearly 75% of parents agree or strongly agree with the statement “I am aware that a significant proportion of children and young people are exposed to or access pornography.” However in conversations I have with parents, it can often be a case of ‘it’s not my child being exposed’. Similarly, some parents are naïve when it comes to what types of pornography are available for viewing. Even amongst professionals, many do not realise the different genres of porn or types of things their kids can have access to with less than 3 clicks of the mouse. This can include group sex, same-sex intercourse, sexual bondage, bestiality, and real or portrayed rape and sexual violence that incorporates humiliation, choking, slapping, hair-pulling and actual death of participants. It’s one thing to know that ‘porn’ is ‘out there’ somewhere, but another to actually be aware of what types of porn are shaping attitudes and behaviours.
I have read and quoted often that the average age a child sees hard core pornography is 11 years of age. And as mentioned above the type of pornography is disturbing, often involves a power imbalance, violence and practises that for me growing up were not even a remote consideration let alone being viewed as the ‘norm’ as many are today.
Whilst we may not be able to control the content that is out there, we can’t afford to put our head in the sand and hope it will pass by our child unnoticed.
Stay tuned for a follow up post on things we can do if we suspect or know our child has been exposed to online pornography.
Liz Walker is also available for youth coaching and presents to parents and teachers on addressing healthy sexuality and risk behaviours.