Are you worried about online porn?
Well, don’t worry…
On TV women are smoother skinned, slimmer, and sexier than ever before. In magazines they reveal ever more, and what they reveal is ever more perfect. Online, well, online almost anything goes.
Some say that any child on the web is only two clicks away from adult pornography, and many do inadvertently come into contact with explicit images at a young age. In the UK the average age of first exposure is 11 years and research in one local authority found that by the age of 13 years 100% of boys had accessed online porn and 50% of girls. Many of these girls said they were pressurized to look at pornography by the boys.
Online pornography is many children’s main sex education.
Access is easy, but the quality of course is dubious.
Online porn is graphic and degrading. It is often violent against women.
So what is pornography doing to our children? Pornography affects our children’s attitude towards sex. It influences their beliefs about what is acceptable sexual behaviour. It distorts their views on relationships, and violence, and gender roles. It shapes boys expectations of girls and the female body. It damages body image. It confuses young people’s understanding of consent. Viewing online porn can become a compulsion. The biggest users of online pornography are boys aged 12 to 17.
Unfortunately the problem can be invisible to parents. Our children’s access to online pornography is difficult to monitor and problematic to restrict. Children want somewhere quiet to do their homework, which now often requires a computer, so these often end up in their bedrooms. Smart phones are with them everywhere. Even if you protect your internet at home, their friends may not be protected.
The European Parliament looked to ban online porn. Iceland is banning it by filtering at source. The UK government decided not to.
Does filtering work? Some would say that safety filters do not solve the problem anyway and that many children become adept at circumventing them. Certainly it is worth applying filters to prevent inadvertent access by our youngest ones. Older children need something more. They need our adult input to help them to navigate this new virtual world. Although they may have greater expertise at surfing it, we still have much wisdom to offer about how to live healthily within it. Their curiosity is natural. We must not make them feel wrong for being inquisitive. But they also need to know the risks, the harmful effects, how to resist peer pressure, and how else to find out what they are curious to know.
Increasingly prevalent is peer-to-peer content, generated by teens and shared between them. Sexting – sending sexually explicit messages or photographs – is commonplace. Girls report being placed under pressure by boyfriends to send photos of themselves. For many young people sexting is fun and they see no harm in it.
The best way to protect your daughter is to make sure that she has people to advise her; people she would turn to when she is not sure about something. Who does your daughter listen to and respect? Ultimately she is going to have to make many of her own decisions, but making sure that she has you, or an auntie, or a teacher, or an older teen to talk things through with, will better equip her to make the right decisions for her.
So, in the end, the best kind of filtering is not software, but human – where they filter what they have encountered through a trusted adult, and gain the ability to self-regulate their exposure.
So, to keep our kids safe – keep the lines of communication open. Rather than cracking down, help your children to make the right decisions for themselves, as you really can’t be at their side the whole time.
And don’t be afraid to turn your router off at night!