Pornography, together with other highly sexualised content (eg movies, online games, TikTok etc.) is causing devastating harms to our children. As a psychologist of 15+ years working with children, adolescents and adults, I am seeing the fallout of the very stark reality, that children will commonly first view pornography whilst still in primary school. Before you think..."not my child" or "surely not"...read on. Here is what parents and carers need to understand about this topic.
It is important, as parents and carers, that through continual conversations we are the primary sexuality educators of our young people. The alternative is that pornography, social media and other online influences will undoubtedly be the main shaping force for their ideas and beliefs for all things sexuality. Pornography and other highly sexualised content being the primary sexuality educator of many children and adolescents results in:
Young people developing unhealthy and distorted views of “sexuality”
Young people being overwhelmed with shame, anxiety and/or distress as a result of the pornography (and sexualised content) they have seen
Addiction and/or compulsive viewing of pornography can develop, which negatively impacts their daily life and relationships
Young boys may act out in their relationships the disrespectful, violent and abusive behaviours they have “learned” from pornography. Girls often feel pressured to “go along with” and not speak up against such behaviours believing it's "just what boys do"
I'd like to share a collection of incidents that I have been privy to this year. The purpose of sharing is to highlight both the significance and prevalence of this issue as well as the very real fallout of children being exposed to pornography and other sexualised/age inappropriate content.
15yr old teen boy video taping his girlfriend performing sexual acts without consent
13 yr old teen girl received x2 d*ck pic before the end of term 1, year 7
10 yr old girl telling her mum she wants to lose weight because "boys only like skinny girls"
12 year old boys see a pretty girl and say “who wants to f**k that ass?
9 year old boy tells a girl in his class to “suck my d*ck”
21yr old young man upset after a partner accused him of being ”aggressive and scary” during sex, he thought his behaviour was “normal”
7 year old heard by teacher on the playground saying "Yo b*tches" to a group of girls
So what can you do to better protect your children?
So that porn is not your child's main sexuality educator...START CONVERSATIONS. And I'm not talking about having just "the talk". There needs to be so many (hundreds!) conversations from preschool into young adulthood about all things related to “sexuality” and pornography. Remember there is no such thing as a “perfect” conversation, just start! Don’t wait until after they have viewed porn as it is ideal for kids when they do see it (it is not a matter of “if” but “when”) that they view it critically and feel comfortable to come to us and ask further questions.
If you’re wondering how to even introduce these topics, some of my favourite conversation starters are: What do you think about...? What would you do if...? Do your friends ever mention...? Have you heard of ...? I read about a kid who…. How would you manage that?
If you discover your child has viewed pornography it is most important to stay calm and ask “curious” questions about their experience rather than getting “furious”.
Set and maintain age appropriate boundaries in line with what your children “need” and not what they “want” (funnily enough these can of course be very different!). Don’t be afraid to make those unpopular decisions, stay strong and don’t be swayed by their anger, outrage and upset.
Delay your child's access to social media. The prevalence of age inappropriate content found on these platforms is only one of the considerations. In addition to this, every social media platform has a minimum age requirement of 13. Any child under that age is in fact falsifying their age to sign up. Have you considered that simply adding a couple of years to their DOB creates a profile that is older than they really are and therefore has targeted advertising and content that will forever be age inappropriate. At age 14, they may be seeing 18+ content (think Tinder!) because of this inflated age.
Utilise safety settings and parental controls to minimise (nothing is foolproof!) the access to adult content. Did you know there are parental controls on all gaming consoles, iPads/iPhones (called Screentime), PCs, your internet connection, YouTube, Roblox, Fortnite and more? A quick Google search will find you a simple step by step guide to set them up safely on whatever games or devices are used in your home.
Supervise your children's device use. Ensure screens are always used in communal areas of your home and never allowed in bedrooms of primary school age children.
Take steps to be better informed yourself as a parent so you can feel more confident and empowered to play an active role in educating your child in relation to their “sexuality” (respectful relationships, being "safe", healthy bodies, sexual intimacy and more!). I can highly recommend all the resources provided by Melbourne sexuality educator Vanessa Hamilton (http://talkingthetalksexed.com.au/).
Whilst not a straightforward challenge or problem to solve, I urge every parent reading this to start a conversation today! Our job as parents is to mentor our children to develop healthy habits, learn skills and grow a critical mindset to support them to be safe and thrive in the world. I know so well this parenting gig is tough, reach out and support each other, we can do this.
Carley McGauran is a qualified psychologist and cyber safety educator.