Our experts' guide to safeguarding kids against the harms of pornography.
ySafe Digital Parenting - Pornography
The risks of pornography have been well researched and documented. When children's sexual education begins or ends with pornography, the negative impacts can be extensive. Adult content has the potential to condition children's attitudes and beliefs about sexual relationships and behaviour, with clear links to strengthening attitudes of sexual violence, and violence towards women in particular. A longitudinal study found that of teens aged 16-18, pornography viewing normalised their belief that it was acceptable for sexual experiences to be painful, risky or coercive. Even more alarmingly, studies on the typical themes of pornographic films have found that roughly 88% of pornographic videos depict violence, where 94% of the violent behaviour was directed at women, and 95% of the violence was met with a pleasure response. This content is resulting in the development of normative views held by young people that sexual aggression is a socially appropriate behaviour.
Pornography impacts young children in different ways. Predominately, 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 are taking steps to protect children and teenagers from access (whether intentional or accidental) to content that is designed for adults.
Children of all ages are susceptible to the negative impacts of pornography. Research suggests that one in three children aged 8 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.
In relation to primary-aged children, their first exposure to pornography is often accidental, occurring due to inappropriate pop-ups on websites, or inappropriate results coming up on Google searches. Without proper filtering measures in place, young children can be exposed to any innocuous content that has a risqué adult connotation to it (e.g. search for pussy cats on Google). 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 content directly or are exposed to pornographic content due to distribution by their peers. Due to the accessibility of adult websites, teenagers often access explicit content on their personal devices, using their data to bypass any filter that may be in place when using a safe network at home or at school.
Pornography is also commonly accessed on social media sites and is not just limited to pornographic websites. Despite it breaching the platforms' community guidelines, popular apps such as Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat are littered with pornographic videos. In some cases, adult film stars livestream themselves on these platforms in an attempt to gain more followers or attract more people to their other content.
Here are our three top insights direct from ySafe's leading cyber safety experts.
Although many parents feel uncomfortable discussing the topic of pornography with their kids, having calm, open conversations with kids about pornography actually decreases their distress about it. So, if your child or teen has seen pornography (whether they stumbled across it or found it intentionally), follow the steps below when talking to your kids about pornography.
Many parents think of pornography as a cyber safety issue associated with teenagers. Research indicates though that 69% of boys had seen pornography by the time they turned 13, and 1 in 5 girls had too. This is largely due to unfiltered and unprotected access to devices, and in particular, 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 age 3+, to ensure that access to pornographic content is blocked. This includes both direct access to websites and unexpected inappropriate content that comes up as search results.
If your child has been exposed to pornographic content, here are the steps that we would recommend you take:
It’s very normal as a parent to feel panicked and upset when talking to your children about such a difficult subject. Entering into the conversation when you are distressed will give your kids the impression that there is something to be distressed about. We don’t want to project our fear onto them, particularly if they aren’t too concerned with what they saw. Try to be mindful about projecting your own fears onto them, as we can capitalise on their innocence in this moment by not adding our 'fear' to the fire (so to speak).
Give yourself time to be calm - take a breath. When you talk to your kids, try and maintain your composure. This says to your child that the situation is under control, and that they don’t need to panic.
We want to find the balance between helping our 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.
Ask questions first, and then base what you say around what they know, what they think or the questions they have. Start broad, and get to the specifics only if you have to.
Normalising body parts decreases embarrassment and fear. In the context of seeing pornography, this decreases feelings of distress for both the child and the parent, and leaves little room for children to feel ashamed or scared about their bodies.
Kids should understand that pornography is the same as movies. They are made up stories that aren't real. Real-life people don't always do what they saw, just like they don't always do what we see in movies.
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. You can ask your child to explore why you don't let them watch scary movies, and then discuss this in the same context as pornography.
If you need extra help with your explanation, you can describe pornographic films as having actors. Actors are people who are playing a pretend role, and what we see isn't their real lives. If your child is scared of what they saw happening to the actors in the pornographic films, you can describe what was happening in the context of action movies. For example, just like action-packed movies where an actor might be hurt from an explosion in the movie, they haven't actually been hurt at all in real-life. The same thing can be said for what they may have seen in pornography. Again, remember to only share information with the child if they have asked for it or have questions about it. Be mindful not to give too many details to avoid raising thoughts in a child's mind that they didn't have previously.
Once we've had the conversation, we have completed an important step in minimising the distress a child may experience due to viewing pornographic content. If speaking to a teenager, we have also helped develop a more balanced understanding of relationships, highlighting that intimate relationships often seen in pornographic are not a reflection of 'real life'. However, once the conversation is over, it is vital that we ensure that exposure does not happen again. Parents need to make sure that appropriate steps have been taken to manage the risk, including turning on filtering on children's devices (no matter their age) and blocking access to adult websites.
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