Are your teenage children watching pornography?
Over half of 11- to 13-year-olds have watched pornography, according to a large-scale study by Revealing Reality.
Many children’s first experience of pornography occurs accidentally – often whilst using the family computer, laptop, or a smartphone. Inadvertently accessing this type of material can lead some young children to seek out pornography intentionally to satisfy their curiosity. A recent study found that 79% of 17- to 19-year-olds had viewed sexually explicit content, including aggressive or violent pornography.
If you are the parent of a teenager, you may remember top shelf ‘adult’ magazines in your childhood. Pornography was restricted and out of reach, literally. Accessing sexually explicit images required deliberate action.
Today, hardcore pornography is easily accessible online. A study commissioned by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) suggests that “pornography remains a single click away for most children and teenagers.” Graphic sexual images pervade social media. An inadvertent click on a seemingly innocuous link or opening a spam email can load uncompromising and powerful images that children will find disturbing and upsetting. Children may get lost down Internet ‘rabbit holes’ without appropriate supervision and content control, exposing them to increasingly explicit images of staged sexual activity.
What are the consequences of watching potentially harmful content at a young age?
By viewing sexually pornographic material, teenagers may face potential emotional, psychological, social, and physiological disorders and issues. Watching explicit material can:
- Influence a young person’s expectations about sex, attitude to risk and personal safety. It can shape future sexual practices.
- Normalise sexual violence, especially violence against women and unsafe sexual health practices, such as not using condoms.
- Reinforce the stereotypes of active male and passive female sexuality.
- Skew attitudes to infidelity, sexually transmitted disease, and unhealthy intimate relationships.
- Create reality gaps and uncertainty that lead to sexual dissatisfaction, anxiety and fear.
- Be the primary source of a young person’s sex education in the absence of guidance and provision of appropriate discussion and information.
- Increase the likelihood of earlier first-time sexual experiences, particularly among adolescents who watch pornography frequently.
- Lead to increased self-objectification and body image issues.
How can I protect my child from harmful online pornography?
Adopting an open, honest and supportive tone in your conversations is essential. Create a positive context around your discussions about sex and intimate relationships, guiding your children as they begin to become aware of sexuality and sexual behaviours. Parents may feel uncomfortable, ashamed and embarrassed that their children have seen graphic sexual images. Still, research suggests it is almost inevitable that children as young as 7 will encounter images that they find troubling. A proactive approach is essential.
The instantaneous nature of the digital world and the rampant pace of technological change can be baffling. Parents and caregivers need a good understanding of the Internet and social media and an awareness of the online dangers facing their children. Being informed and active in our children’s digital lives will allow us to help them navigate this sensitive topic.
Parental controls are a valuable tool for caregivers, putting you in control of what your children see on their phones or computers. By default, filters are applied on all mobile phones, and these need an adult’s permission to remove them.
If your child has accidentally stumbled upon explicit content, ask them how they found it. This will help you know and improve online security measures. Find out where it happened, the circumstances around the event, who introduced them to what they’ve seen and importantly, how they felt when they saw it.
It’s far easier to monitor and supervise your child’s Internet use if your home computer is in a family room. Set and stick to rules about time spent online. Ensure you give your child the time and attention they need and limit your smartphone and computer use when you’re together.
What can I do if my child is upset by something they’ve seen online?
Encourage your child to talk to you openly and honestly, especially if they have seen something online that has troubled or upset them. Stay calm and thank your child for their bravery and honesty. Let them know you will sort everything out together and that telling you they’ve viewed inappropriate content won’t result in punishment or removing their access to the Internet.
Explain to your child that pornography is often unreal and staged and promotes negative stereotypical views about gender, sexism, sexual objectification, and violence. The timing and content of this conversation will be different for every child. Use age-appropriate language and be guided by your child’s questions and comments.
Sanctions and punishments for viewing pornographic material, accidentally or intentionally, can make children feel shame and make them less likely to tell you about other troubling or sensitive issues. If your child asks questions about sexually explicit content, you have the chance to teach them about genuine intimacy, love, consent and respect.
Educate your child so that if a friend sends them links or images, they know how to respond and when to ignore or report inappropriate content.
How would I know if my child is viewing pornography?
Viewing pornography can be intriguing to any young person. It is a ‘forbidden’ viewing that for some, can make it more appealing. Pornography can provide sexual stimulant for some and increasing numbers of teenagers are becoming addicted to viewing pornography.
- Is your child taking their device to the bathroom?
- Is your child quick to change what they’re doing online when you enter the room?
- Is your child shifting their behaviour suddenly?
- Are they withdrawing?
- Are they exhibiting symptoms of depression?
How to support your child?
If your child has developed a habit using porn they be be embarrassed about seeking help.
- Acknowledge the issue.
- Offer unconditional love.
- Facilitate any support treatment.
- Do not judge or shame them, validate their worth.
- Help your child to explore healthier ways to fill the emotional needs that porn is meeting.
- Keep the lines of communication open and keep talking.
Resources and support are available to help you protect your family from the harmful effects of inappropriate access to pornography.
Get in touch if I can help you navigate or deal with any aspect of your child’s mental health and development.