With pornography freely available on the internet, parents can no longer take a hands-off approach to their child's activities online, writes Susan McLean from The Age. [I don't apologise for including this provoking article, it is a terribly important issue and one that seems to rest in the ‘too hard basket' for most parents, or parents simply refuse to believe it is a very real and present risk to our children. Susan McLean is highly regarded and respected amongst educators across Australia – P Teys]
The sooner parents realise the risk their child will be exposed to pornography online is real the better.
No longer is it OK, if it ever was, to say, "I don't understand tech", or "I don't use it, so I don't get it". The internet and all the wonderful and not so wonderful things about it are here to stay and parenting in the 21st century requires you to be able to parent online.
Cries of it's just” moral panic", or "the risks are just not that bad" still permeate the "mummy blogs" of the uneducated and ignorant, who unfortunately have access to a large number of vulnerable parents, hungry for advice.
The fact is that pornography and easy access to it is something parents must understand. Even if your child does not look for online porn, it will most certainly find them. An innocuous search for something like, "naughty girl", will lead kids to a variety of porn sites, images and videos as will a search for a picture of a cute cat for a school project simply by typing in the word "pussy".
There can be no doubt that children are viewing pornographic videos that are far from what could be considered normal or mainstream. We know from research the average age for first exposure to pornography in Australia is 11 years of age.
A 2009 study found, "that early exposure to sexually explicit material increases the likelihood that both male and female adolescents will engage in sexual behaviour much earlier than their non-exposed peers". Another found: "Those who use sexually explicit material are more likely to engage in extreme risky sexual behaviours”. [This paragraph has been censored by P Teys]
Collectively, many comprehensive studies have concluded, "youths that consume pornography may develop unrealistic sexual values and beliefs" and that "consistent findings have emerged linking adolescent use of pornography that depicts violence with increased degrees of sexually aggressive behaviour".
Primary school teachers tell of students behaving in a highly sexualised way, using explicit language and engaging in "play" that is not remotely linked to age or level of development. Police tell of sexual assaults being committed by and on younger children by their peers. There are only two places that children can be exposed to this and therefore sadly learn these behaviours: unsupervised access to pornography online and/or being the victim of a sexual assault themselves. The most common being option one.
In the earlier days of the internet, you had to pay via credit card for explicit pornography ensuring that children did not have the ability to access such content. Now pre-paid credit cards can be sourced at any supermarket, and most pornography is free, so this protective factor no longer exists.
Pornography is now portable. It is available anytime, anywhere and kids are bringing it to school on their phones, iPads and tablets with increasing frequency. Rape, torture and bondage are common themes. This type of pornography shows nothing about love, consent or respect. General practitioners are seeing an increase in young girls presenting with injuries sustained trying to emulate sex acts their boyfriends have seen online and want to try. They are often too afraid or intimidated to say no. Research by Dr Jennings Bryant found that: "More than 66 per cent of boys and 40 per cent of girls reported wanting to try some of the sexual behaviours that they had seen online and by high school many of them had."
Early exposure to sexual content can have a profound impact on childrens' values, attitudes and behaviours towards sex and relationships. It has never been more important for parents, teachers, grandparents and carers to have conversations about sexuality and relationships with the children in your care.
Above all else, do not let the internet be your child's sex educator.
Source: Susan McLean’s column from The Age ‘Comment’ - Susan McLean is a cyber-safety expert and was a member of Victoria Police for 27 years.