What parents need to know about pornography
By Justin Coulson |
Pornography has been seen by most 11 year olds
I’ve started this blog post a handful of times and keep putting it away. I don’t want to touch the topic of pornography, but I feel compelled to write about it.
Why write about pornography for parents? Well, put simply, if your child is aged 11, there’s a VERY strong chance he or she has already seen it – and not just a bit of nudity. I’m talking about deviant, explicit, pornography – the ‘hardcore’ stuff.
How should we behave if we find our kids have viewed this type of content? When I talk to parents I hear a broad range of attitudes regarding their feelings about children’s exposure to pornographic content. These attitudes begin at “I saw it as a kid and it never affected me”, while the alternative response is “I will do whatever I can to protect my child from porn.”
The question is particularly challenging because of the near silence on the topic from academic sources. A review of psychology journal database PsycINFO reveals scant research that considers how exposure may impact on our kids.
What do we know about pornography
Pornography production, dissemination and consumption is at record levels and growing.
With the proliferation of the Internet, smart phones and cameras, and social media, this particular ‘product’ is accessible everywhere, and to everyone. This article from the Washington Times suggests the expansive reach of pornography has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions. Research (cited in The Age article above, and elsewhere) shows teens are aware that pornography appears “everywhere in the media and society”.
Acceptance of pornography is at an all-time high
There appears to be a general mainstreaming of pornography. The popular media normalises pornography consumption through references to its use in sitcoms, dramas, music, movies, and music. And no, I’m not actually talking about these media showing pornography. I’m talking about how characters in TV shows and movies joke about their porn use, or how songs glamourise it and condone it.
‘Porn’ has become a part of our language, something to joke about, and something to occupy our brief moments when we’re looking for something to entertain us – although those ‘brief moments’ easily lead to hours of addictive consumption for regular users.
Pornography has changed
Experts are unequivocal in their statements that the porn of today is unquestionably more obscene than it was even a decade ago. There is no question that it has become more deviant, more violent, and even more degrading than it ever was.
Children are being exposed to pornography at record levels.
Author of Big Porn Inc., Melinda Tankard Reist, reports that young boys are being exposed to hard-core violent pornography before they even hold hands with, or kiss, a girl. She says 70 percent of boys have viewed adult content by the time they are 12 years old, and by the time they’re 15, you’d find it close to impossible to find a boy who hasn’t viewed it. Even girls are exposed to pornography at increasingly high rates with around half having viewed pornography by age 12 and 97 percent by age 16.
Teens are aware that pornography is degrading and discriminatory.
One study found teens saw pornography as portraying a man’s role as dominant, even brutal, and abusive and a woman’s role as subordinate and sexual. They felt that the content depicted a distorted reality where women were present in order to be used and abused.
Pornography provides a model of sexuality that IS followed.
Teens tell researchers they don’t actually like pornography, but they feel pressured to watch it. And they acknowledge that it provides them a model to follow. They feel compelled to act in accordance with the distorted depictions they view. This means they feel pressured to look a certain, sexualised way, and they also feel pressured to perform in a distorted, dominant (or subordinate) way – even abusively – when involved in personal intimacy.
What does this mean? Teens show an ambivalence towards pornography. They don’t like it, can see it’s negative impact, and yet they feel that it is the model they should follow in their own sexual relationships.
What is particularly concerning is that sexual abuse of children is on the rise – and it’s being committed by other children. This is one frightening example of such behaviour, where three eight-year-old boys caused lifelong harm to a male classmate as they enacted scenes from pornographic material they had been exposed to.
While research doesn’t yet provide us a clear link between pornography and young people’s behaviour, an article about violence and pornography published in The Sunday Herald Sun (Nov 4, 2012) highlighted,
With all this exposure to pornography, violence and crime content, are we surprised by newly released Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show sexual assaults and related offences committed by school-aged children have almost quadrupled in four years? They leapt from 450 to 1709.
I recognise that this increase is not necessarily accounted for by viewing pornography. There may be several other variables that contribute. However, the increase of sexualised content readily available for our children to dine on endlessly cannot be discounted as a contributing factor.
There are gender differences in pornography access, even among young people. Boys access this kind of content more than girls. They also spend more time viewing it.
So are there any solutions?
But the approach is complex. Visit any newspaper article on the topic of children accessing pornography and you’ll likely see comments from adults arguing strongly against any kind of safety mechanisms and filters or censorship to keep our kids from being damaged by this content. With such polemic views, the approach I’m going to suggest is a challenge.
I believe we need a whole of community approach – which means buy-in from the whole of the community. If we can place our children’s welfare above our self-righteous proclamations of individual freedoms, we might have a chance of reducing the risks our kids face. As it stands, governments are not taking responsibility. They not only expect us to do ALL of the protecting of our children, but also expect us to do all of the reporting of illegal content. They could make it much easier with some form of online protections, but they wont. They publish some token pamphlets to say they’re doing something … but there is no regulation, and limited or no filtering or blocking of explicit content.
Schools can help. The researchers cited in The Age article above indicated as much. While primary responsibility should rest with parents, it would be nice to have school’s assistance. If they can help our kids stay away from pornography just that little bit more, it will help. One Australian commentator (who asked to remain anonymous) warns, however, that pro-pornography activists are advising educational bodies as to how pornography can be used as a tool to help kids explore their sexuality.
Let me be clear – porn is NOT a teaching tool, and the research does clearly indicate that what it teaches is antithetical to what we want our kids to learn.
Here’s what parents can do about porn
- First, discussions about pornography should be part of an ongoing conversation about sex and sexuality between parents and children. That conversation should begin when a child starts asking questions about why she is different to her brother. It should continue through the questions about where babies come from. And it should carry on through teen years as kids and their friends begin to have experiences with kissing, holding hands, and so on. Of course, teens don’t like having these conversations. They require tact, a willingness to listen, and care to not go too far in either discussing things kids may not know about, or in making them too uncomfortable. Nonetheless, these are conversations I believe we MUST have with our kids. (Usually with large bowls of ice-cream.)
- Second, as children grow older they will be exposed to more and more of the online world. You won’t always have control over their viewing habits. While filters can be helpful (and I encourage them on home PC’s, laptops, tablets and smartphones), they won’t protect your kids when they visit other people’s homes.
- Third, don’t make a big deal about it. When we make a big deal about things we only fuel the fire of curiosity. Instead of turning pornography into an increasingly enticing ‘forbidden fruit’, be real about it. If you find your kids are deleting browser histories, being secretive about their online activities, or behaving in a way you think is strange and may be related to pornography consumption, go for a walk and have a frank and open conversation.
I’m not suggesting we should downplay it. I’m just suggesting we don’t want to BLOW IT UP! If we do that, our kids will never come to us about anything … and this is stuff we need to be talking with them about.
Discuss limits, discuss addiction, discuss, discuss, discuss.
Is pornography really that big a deal for our kids? Yes it is. It is damaging their brains, and their model of what a healthy, mutually satisfying, intimate relationship is all about.
If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend Melinda Tankard Reist and her group - Collective Shout. Get involved and keep our kids safe.
- This article was written for Kidspot and is based on an article originally posted by Dr Justin Coulson on parenting.kidspot.com.au
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