“The growing ubiquity of mobile devices means those targeted or indirectly implicated are getting younger and younger — with children as young as 5 or 6 years of age now exposed to cyber bullying and online pornography — sometimes of the most extreme kind. In some contexts online culture represents the worst form of gang violence.”
The Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls Report – 2015
A common question from many parents is ‘when do we talk to our kids about sex?’, thinking that it may be a ‘one off’ awkward conversation about the birds and the bees. However our hypersexualised culture forces us to change our approach. We can either be one step ahead, or let culture frame the way our kids think about sex. Perhaps a better question to ask is ‘what sexualised messages do I need to counteract, so that my child will have a positive attitude towards their body, sense of self, relationships and sexuality? ‘
A wallpaper of sexual content bombards our kids. Whether we are comfortable with it or not, children either inadvertently or out of curiosity, learn about sex on almost a daily basis. Advertising, music, clothing, TV, movies and the Internet all offer a version of sex education that most of us would prefer wasn’t the mode of learning. Much of this content is degrading and objectifying (portraying people, particularly women, as nothing more than sex objects).
Parents and educators are perfectly positioned to offer children positive alternative messages that instill in them a value for themselves and respect for others.
Before children become pre-teens, important foundational learning related to wellness, safety and autonomy include:
- Gaining an understanding of private body parts and public / private behaviour
- Awareness of good and bad experiences (listening to their body as a way to stay safe)
- Knowing that some people are not good and may do unkind or violent things to others
- Knowledge of what to do, who to speak with and where to go in order to feel safe
- Awareness of healthy boundaries
- Developing relationships in a positive, sustainable way
- Exercising responsibility for self and showing respect towards others
There’s nothing scary about this kind of learning, which is recommended by International standards related to sexuality education. It is practical information that counteracts sexualised messages, and lays a grounded foundation for life and relationships.
Extending beyond this, as soon as kids are given devices that connect to the Internet, we need to be having conversations with them about ‘private’ pictures and ‘private’ movies, bodily boundaries, online safety and healthy choices.
Whatever children are exposed to, they have to find a way to manage. They absorb, transform, reject and imagine on the basis of experience or fragments of experience.
Exploiting childhood : how fast food, material obsession and porn culture are creating new forms of child abuse.
Kids who see pornography, need to find a way to manage what they encounter. If they have a gentle and safe conversation BEFORE they see explicit content, they have a grounded framework in which to process that information. The aim is to prepare them and provide context so they have the tools to know what to do. And most importantly, so they know they won’t be in trouble when they approach a safe adult and talk about it.
The alternative is that kids are left unprepared. A child who sees porn can very quickly let feelings overwhelm them. Responses can range from curiosity, disgust, confusion, guilt and arousal. “I hated this but I liked it”. “I don’t want to look at more but I really want to look at more”. “I get a sense that it’s bad for me but I don’t really know why”. Internal conflict without the knowledge of why porn is not healthy for them, may lead to shame, a life of secrecy and an unhealthy foundation for future relationships.
Porn images are often violent and extreme. Such exposure can have a range of troubling impacts. Navigating the task of keeping children safe and letting them know where to go if they feel unsafe – either by abusive touch or explicit online content – has become an essential component of life with the Internet.
Sadly, we also need to have an acute awareness of the growing number of children who have not had an ideal home or social environment for healthy development and have been abused and/or seen pornography. Some of these children then act out those inappropriate behaviours on other children. There has been a four-fold increase of children presenting to clinics with problem sexualised behaviours and sexually abusive behaviours over the past few years, with almost all cases attributed to Internet pornography. This provides an even greater need for all children to have comprehensive protective behaviours education that includes online safety.
IDENTIFYING WARNING SIGNS
Your child may already be struggling with pornography, so it’s important to identify the warning signs. Is your child or teen:
- Withdrawing from activities?
- Shutting down devices suddenly?
- Displaying noticeable changes in language, demeanor or behaviors?
- Having nightmares, wetting the bed, or experiencing similar ‘trauma’ induced symptoms?
- Spending long periods of time in the bathroom, toilet or shower?
- Talking about sexual things too advanced for their age?
- Exhibiting signs of depression and/or anxiety?
Warning signs may look different for your child, depending on their age and stage. Learning that your child or young person may be negatively impacted by pornography can be disturbing and upsetting.
HOW DO I RESPOND WHEN MY CHILD SEES PORNOGRAPHY?
Culture Reframed has developed a model to help parents respond well when they discover their young person has viewed pornography. Access the COMPOSE Yourself! model and learn key strategies to navigate this journey well.
Learning Resources – a comprehensive list by Culture Reframed, including books and an extensive video list.
CriticalPornIQ for schools, equips educators to implement policies and learning materials for students, and directs staff & parents to further support. Click through to be notified when it becomes available.
Online Porn: Advice on how to talk to your child about the risks of online porn and sexually explicit material provided from NSPCC in the UK.
Healthy sexual behaviour in children and young people: Your guide to keeping children safe, spotting warning signs and what to do if you’re worried.
Unfortunately Internet pornography has become the dominant sexuality educator of our time. Installing home filters is in itself, inadequate. At Culture Reframed, we advise that filtering and monitoring apps must also come with regular and consistent conversations, and a proactive attempt to keep up with the never ending stream of technological influences and apps your kids are using. The sheer volume of explicit content available, means it’s not a case of if kids will see porn, it’s a matter of when.
Popular prevention tools include:
- Safe Surfer: Supporting Online Safety (Home Internet Filtering)
- Net Nanny
- Qustodio Parental Control
- Content Barrier and Family Protector by Integro
- Safe Eyes and uKnowKids by McAffee
- Norton Family Premiere
- OpenDNS Home VIP
- PureSight Multi
- Witigo Parental Filter
These are just some of the many platforms available. Listing them here does not constitute an endorsement by Culture Reframed. Take the time to investigate what filters and monitoring apps are right for your family.
The below video clips provide great information for parents, along with helpful conversation starters. We recommend watching them first, to identify those best suited to your child’s development and needs.