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Our experts' guide to safeguarding kids against the dangers of pornography.
ySafe Digital Parenting - Pornography
The risks of pornography have been well researched and documented. When children's sexual education includes pornography, the negative impacts can be extensive. Adult content can condition children's attitudes and beliefs about sexual relationships and behavior, with clear links to strengthening attitudes of sexual violence and violence towards women in particular. A longitudinal study found that of teens aged between 16 and 18, pornography viewing normalized their belief that it was acceptable for sexual experiences to be painful, risky, or coercive. Even more alarming is that studies on the typical themes of pornographic films have found that roughly 88% of pornographic videos depict violence, 94% of the violent behavior was directed towards women, and 95% of the violence was met with a pleasurable response. This type of content results in developing normative views in young people that sexual aggression is a socially appropriate behavior.
Pornography impacts young children in different ways. Predominantly, exposure to adult content results in significant stress responses in children, often inducing fear or sparking further curiosity. It is absolutely essential that all parents take steps to protect children and teenagers from access (whether intentional or accidental) to content designed for adults.
Children of all ages are susceptible to the negative impacts of pornography. Research suggests that one in three children aged eight and over are exposed to pornography online due to accidental access via pop-ups and web searches.
Intentional pornography consumption rapidly increases during adolescence, with a study finding that 87% of boys watched pornography either daily or weekly. The same study found that a quarter of girls watched pornography at the same frequency.
Primary-aged children's first exposure to pornography is often accidental due to website pop-ups containing adult content or inappropriate results from Google searches. Without proper filtering measures, young children can be exposed to any innocuous content with a risqué adult connotation (for example, a Google search for 'pussy cats'). Furthermore, conniving people on the internet have been known to edit pornography content into popular kids' content on YouTube.
Teenagers are more likely to search for pornographic content directly or be exposed due to its distribution by their peers. Teenagers often gain access to explicit content via their personal devices by using their data to bypass any filter that may be in place on a safe network at home or school.
Pornography is not just limited to pornographic websites–it's also easily accessed on social media sites and other platforms. Despite breaching the community guidelines, popular apps such as Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat are littered with pornographic images and videos. In some cases, adult film stars even live stream on these platforms in an attempt to gain more followers or attract more people to their other online content.
Here are our three top insights direct from ySafe's leading cyber safety experts.
Although parents may feel uncomfortable discussing the topic of pornography with their children, having calm, open conversations about pornography with them actually decreases their distress about it. If your child or teen has seen pornography (whether they stumbled across it or found it intentionally), use the steps below to help talk to your kids about it.
Many parents think of pornography as a cyber safety issue associated with teenagers; however, research indicates that 69% of boys and 20% of girls have seen pornography by the time they turn 13. This is primarily due to unfiltered and unprotected access to devices, with particular regard to unsafe search results.
As parents, it's absolutely essential that we take steps to safeguard children's devices to protect them from seeing pornography. We strongly encourage parents to use filters and implement Google Safe Search on kids' devices from ages three and over to block access to pornographic content. This includes direct access to websites and unexpected, inappropriate content that may appear as a search result.
If your child has been exposed to pornographic content, here are the steps that we would recommend you take:
As a parent, it’s normal to feel panicked and upset when talking to your children about such a difficult subject. Entering into the conversation when you’re distressed will give your kids the impression that there’s a reason to be worried, so it’s important not to project your fear onto them, particularly if they aren’t too concerned with what they saw. Instead, capitalize on their innocence at this moment and give yourself time to be calm–take a breath. When you talk to your kids, try to maintain your composure as this tells your child that the situation is under control and they don’t need to panic.
It’s important to find the balance between helping your child process what they saw and putting additional thoughts into their mind. Don’t jump straight into talking about sexual relationships or sexual acts right away. Instead, ask questions first, and then base what you say around what they know, what they think, or the questions they have. Start broad, and only get into the specifics if it’s necessary.
Normalizing body parts helps to decrease embarrassment and fear. In the context of seeing pornography, it will help lessen the feeling of distress for both you and your child, leaving little room for them to feel scared or ashamed about their body.
Kids should understand that pornography is the same as a movie. It is made-up stories that aren’t real. Just like in the movies, real-life people don’t always do what they saw.
You can also discuss pornography in the context of different genres of movies, such as scary films. Some adults like scary films, but lots of others don’t. Ask your child to think about why you don’t let them watch scary movies, and then discuss their answer in the same context with pornography.
If you need extra help with your explanation, you can talk about pornographic films having actors. Actors are people who play a pretend role, and what is shown on the screen isn’t their real lives. If your child is scared of what they saw happening to the actors in pornographic films, you can explain using action movies for context. For example, in an action-packed movie where an explosion might injure an actor, they haven’t actually been hurt in real life. You can apply the same reasoning to what they may have seen in pornography. Again, remember only to share information with your child if they have asked for it or have any questions. Be mindful not to give too many details to avoid raising thoughts in a child’s mind that they didn’t have previously.
Talking calmly and openly to your child will help minimize any distress they may be experiencing due to viewing pornographic content. Speaking to your teen helps them develop a more balanced understanding of relationships, highlighting that the intimacy often seen in pornographic content is not a reflection of real life. Once the conversation has been had, it is vital you ensure exposure does not happen again. Take appropriate steps to minimize the risk, including turning on filtering for your child’s device, regardless of age, and blocking access to adult websites.
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