Children are growing up in a completely new world- a digital world. Accessibility to smartphones, and more importantly, the Internet is changing their behavior. Addiction to technology is no longer a rarity, but a norm.
- In 1970, the average American kid would start watching television at the age of four. Today, the average age of children who start getting exposed to digital media is only four months.
- Kids aged five to eight spend 64 minutes per day watching TV. Many of them have TV access in their rooms.
- 40% percent of children own smartphones
- 76% of parents want their kids to spend less time on their phones/gadgets.
Exposure to technology at such a young age does have some positives like enhanced communication or early access to educational materials. But, excessive use of technology also poses numerous risks to children such as exposure to pornography. The internet has considerably magnified child access to pornographic materials. This article will explore early exposure to pornography and its consequences.
Accepting the Problem
Even if youngsters can’t comprehend sex or its importance in human relationships, graphic or pornographic images leave lasting impressions. Even advertisements that are over-sexualized can impact a child’s brain. Parents find it impossible to believe that children aged eight to ten are being exposed to sexually explicit content. Not accepting the problem of children accessing pornography is a major stumbling block to solving this issue –
- Over 50% of internet users aged ten to seventeen have seen porn
- Two-thirds of this 50% report watching porn by mistake
- The University of New Hampshire (UNH) probed a large group of adolescents. 93% percent of boys who took part in the study reported watching porn when they were adolescents. For girls, that number was 62%.
- According to UNH, the average age at which children start getting exposed to porn is nine years old.
- Yale’s study on teenagers from the Netherlands is equally revealing. The researchers assessed a large group of thirteen-year-old boys and girls. 50% of the boys and 20% of the girls who partook in study reported searching for porn on the internet. In other industrialized countries, these trends are similar.
- In the same study, 74% of the boys and 82% of the girls stated that they looked up nude or seminude photographs on the internet.
Porn today is completely different to the porn of ten years ago. Nowadays, amateur videos shot by non-professionals are very common. In 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that 12% of all websites were pornography sites. In 2020, only 4% of all websites are pornography sites. But pornography does account for 20% of all search-engine requests in the world.
What the Experts Have to Say
According to ‘Psychology Today,’ pornography presents a depiction of sex without including important elements like tenderness, intimacy, respect, or love. Children are being given ‘scripts’ or ‘walk-throughs’ of what sex is supposed to be like. Hence, they grow up with an inverted view of sex as what they see in porn is not real sex, it’s just sexual material. While it’s not difficult for adults to make this distinction, children suffer setting these two apart.
Gail Dines, an esteemed sociology professor at the Wheelock College wrote an article in The Washington Post stating that porn is just an ‘industrial product.’ She stated that after forty years of research into the effects of porn on young minds, it is crystal clear that porn warps the way children comprehend important topics like gender equality, sexuality, intimacy, sexual violence, and relationships.
Who is at Risk?
Children who’ve been exposed to psychosocial trauma are more likely to view pornography. Underage victims of physical and sexual abuse are also more likely to consume pornographic material on the internet. The same applies to children who suffer from negative life experiences, such as the passing of a parent or bullying (both on and offline).
Another key driver is the opportunity to view porn. Youngsters with access to the internet are more likely to deliberately look up pornographic material on the internet. Children who know they won’t receive much condemnation if their guardians discover their pornography viewing are also more likely to watch porn. Numerous studies have confirmed that the typical underage pornography consumer is a sensation-seeking male with troubled family relations.
What Are The Effects?
Pornography on the internet attracts children who are already in a negative mental state. Hence, the cumulative effects of mental trauma and porn consumption can be lethal for children. Some of the concerning effects include –
- Early Sexual Experiences – Decades of research has confirmed that teens who consume media that romanticizes drug use, sex, and violence have a tendency to engage in those practices themselves.
- Even oversexualized movies can influence teens to engage in or seek out sexual experiences from a young age. In most instances, the sex is casual and unprotected.
- Boys exposed to pornographic media are three times more likely to take part in sexual activities from a young age.
- Media messages that standardize sexual experimentation and depict sex as a consequence-free action, impact children emotionally, intellectually, and socially.
- High-Risk Behavior – The earlier an adolescent is exposed to pornographic, the likelier he or she is to engage in risky behavior. These behaviors include – having multiple romantic partners, engaging in unprotected intercourse, and consuming drugs. These actions dramatically increase the risk of unwanted pregnancies and disease transmission.
- Sex Addiction – Research has long established that early exposure to pornographic material causes a lot of intimacy disorders for children when they grow up.
- Over 200,000 Americans are confirmed porn addicts. With widespread access to porn on the internet, these problems are being initiated at very young ages.
- In 2011, a study at a Midwestern Public University revealed that 83% of college students reported consuming mainstream pornography on a regular basis. These regular consumers were likelier to sexual assault.
- Violence – Early exposure to oversexualized media content increases the risk of children behaving sexually towards another child. The child (the offender) may not even realize that he or she is practicing sexual violence. Habitual consumption of pornography is directly linked to an increase in violent conduct.
- This 2013 study by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research reveals that most sexually violent offenders aged fourteen to twenty consumed violent pornography.
What Can Parents Do?
For majority of the families in this country, prohibiting internet access or banning media exposure in their homes is not a valid option. Sexual maturity is a natural phenomenon. Children deserve to learn about it from the people they trust the most – their parents, not some internet website. Hence, sweeping this issue under the rug is not a correct approach. Parents should approach the issue in the same way they’d approach any other important topic or issue.
When Is the Right Time to Talk to Kids about Sex?
Most fifteen-year-old children experience some form of exposure to sexually explicit content on the internet. Parents must be proactive and sense when their children need this talk.
Of course, there’s no fixed age as different children mature at different rates. Parents should use their instincts and discuss this important issue whenever they feel it’s the right time.
The goal of having conversations is not to intimidate or confuse them. It is to make sure they have a realistic view of how bad and unrealistic pornography is and what healthy relationships should look like.
How to Start the Talk?
Here are some pointers recommended by top child psychologists on how parents should start and lead the conversation regarding pornography and sex –
- Treat the topic as naturally as they would treat other important topics like bullying or drug use. Being straightforward is always better than twisting words or creating false narratives.
- Discover what the child already knows about sex and internet porn.
- Always be cautious of a child’s behavior. Moments where children act aloof or distant are ideal to start the conversation in a gentle manner. Parents should share their personal experiences and send positive messages.
- Since porn and sex are two very sensitive topics that can make children feel ashamed or guilty, taking a no-blame approach is vital. Parents should assure their children that they won’t face trouble for sharing their experiences with sex or porn. Parents should aim to become ‘safe spaces’ for their children, not moral authoritarians.
- Inform them that pornography consumption is strictly for adults. Tell them about the negative effects of early age exposure to pornography.
- Let them know that owning a phone comes with some ethical responsibilities.
Apart from education, parents must take practical steps to limit exposure to oversexualized content. 94% of American parents already take such measures but not all of them are effective. The best practical step for limiting media exposure is setting up parental controls such as MMGuardian on their child’s devices.
MMGuardian has been designed to allow parents to be as hands on or off as is necessary for their child. The Web Filter allows parents to be in completely control over what website and website categories their child can visit, no matter what browser they’re using, as well as view all of their browsing history. In addition, parents are able to view all of their child’s SMS, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and TikTok text messages, and parents will be alerted if concerning messages are detected on the child’s phone based on categories such as sexting, violence, predators, and many others. Parents will also have access to an extensive range of other features such as location, web filtering, app blocking, and much more. To try out MMGuardian and receive a 14 day free trial, just click the button below!
Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.
Parents must combine these practical steps with timely education to ensure their children aren’t sexually misinformed and are able to avoid many porn-related issues when they grow up.