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“When I sat down to talk with 16-year-old high school junior Sam about his exposure to pornography in public schools, the first word he used to describe it was “normal.”

This statement is taken from an interview with a high school student in March this year.

Pornography is part of our teens’ reality and they see it as “normal”. It is intertwined with their daily lives in one way or another—hugely concerning given that exposure and continued access to porn has well documented detrimental effects. Here are a few ways that porn can impact young people’s lived reality:

Pornography is commonly used as a form of sex education and in turn, some teens are mimicking what they see with their partner.

As quoted in the key findings of an online survey of 1001 children and young people aged 11-16 across the UK, an online discussion forum and online focus groups carried out by Middlesex University.

“A greater proportion of boys (44%) said that pornography had given them ideas about the types of sex they wanted to try than girls (29%)”

Pornography addiction rates amongst young people is rising. Addiction Treatment Centres who run clinics across the UK, report that admissions have tripled over the last three years.
Pornography alters young people’s sexual tastes and influences their interests. For a reality check on how detrimental porn and the resulting behaviours can be, watch this video by Gabe Deems, founder of Reboot Nation an organisation that helps those addicted to pornography.

As quoted from the interview with Sam:

“Rather than dating, Sam says that “friends with benefits” is becoming the new term for relationships at his school

Pornography can influence young people’s experience of dating. Some adolescents prefer to “hook up” and have sex before deciding if they wish to date. Some are happier “hooking up” with numerous ‘friends’ rather than committing to one partner. Some consider headjobs or handjobs a more suitable “first base” than kissing (which is often seen as too intimate). Amongst other obvious problems, this may lead to one or both parties getting hurt should they form an emotional attachment. When sexual or emotional abuse results or encounters are painful, it may also result in young people “dissociating” from their experiences and developing arousal disorders.
Pornography normalises sexting. Sexting is rife and has become the norm with teens and young adults as quoted in the interview:

“Sexting is rampant in public schools (and illegal!), and Sam says that sexting has had the most direct, visible effect on friendships and relationships among his peers. It tears people apart. Images that are supposed to be private are now circulated freely”

Snapchat has enabled sexting more than any other app. 

Snapchat’s launch has taken sexting — the consensual act of sharing intimate photos — from a stigmatised and seedy activity, to a mainstream and widely-accepted practice”

Many kids remove their head from the photo when sending nudes. Perhaps this provides them with a false sense of security. For those who watched the recent SBS 4 part series The Hunting, you may have picked up on the main character’s best friend responding when she found out her friend had sent a nude with “and you even left your face in it!

As quoted in this article published in February 2018:

“One in seven teens report that they are sending sexts, and one in four are receiving sexts, according to our study of over 110,000 teens from around the world”

To be clear, sexual images of young people under the age of 18 are considered child sexual exploitation material. Some are so desperate for “likes” that they resort to sending nudes and all too often, they are all shared online and end up on predatory websites. Some can unwillingly become victims of sextortion which can have a detrimental effect to their wellbeing.

So what can we do to support our teens? Some advice doesn’t always translate into a realistic option for them, so we need to be listening to what they say. 

When asking for the opinion of the teens in my world, they unanimously agree that “blocking is a big deal”. They say that “blocking” is an absolute last resort and can have huge social consequences. 

They tell me that it’s not easy for parents to imagine their world. I’m reminded that we’re “Boomers” after all (actually I’m not one, but am told that we’re all lumped together in the same camp????). 

They assure me that even if parents were to create a social media account and follow what’s going on, we would not fully understand, simply because these are not our friends or social acquaintances and we don’t have any emotional attachment to what we’re viewing.

So what happens if they happen to send or receive a nude or if they are concerned that they may be viewing too much pornography? There is so much shame attached to this when approaching an adult that many children remain silent. 

Do they know who they can approach or where they can seek help? How can we help?

The boy in the above article was comfortable talking to the journalist because his parents talked to him about pornography and had boundaries in place at home. With regular conversations, we can equip our young people to be critical of porn’s messaging. A flow-on from that can be that the distorted and confusing messages from porn are no longer overwhelming, and they feel more empowered in their decision-making. 

During these regular conversations, we need to remind our teens that they can come to us when (not if) they make a mistake. Allowing them to know this will not encourage them to do the wrong thing, but will hopefully allow them to feel safe to come to us if or when they need to.

If an intimate image has been shared, or threatened to be shared without your teen’s consent, they (or you) can make a report to the eSafety Commissioner. They can also find eSafety information to help guide them through various online and social pressures, cyberbullying, instances of peers creating drama online, trolling, receiving unwanted nudes or being pressured to send nudes, online gaming plus more. And for times when they just don’t want to talk to you, or need an outsider point of view, point them towards Kids Helpline, accessible for young people up to the age of 25. They might be tempted to think it’s lame, but there’s no shame in asking for help. Ever.

If you learn that your young person is struggling to manage their porn consumption, Youth Wellbeing Project has put together some Essential Resources, including links that will help you become informed, filters, apps & recovery resources, videos plus more. In addition, Culture Reframed’s Program for Parents of Tweens and Program for Parents of Teens guide parents through topics that provide skills to build young people’s resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and the impacts of pornography.

Regular, honest conversations are your teen’s best chance for developing resilience and finding clarity as they navigate porn culture – despite any protests, the truth is that they need you now, more than ever.

This article was authored by Jenny Hoey, Porn Resilient Kids parent awareness advocate. Join Jenny for more conversations in the OATH4parents Facebook Group. Oath is a closed group where members have a common interest in parenting children safely in the digital world and prioritising their emotional wellbeing.

If you are in Australia and need help with a cybersafety issue, the eSafety Commissioner deals with 3 kinds of abuse. Cyberbullying, image-based abuse and illegal content. Report abuse here.

Report concerns to the Australian Federal Police about inappropriate behaviour towards children that you find online. This service can be used to report:

adults making online contact with a child under 18 with the intention of facilitating a sexual relationship; or
an adult accessing, sending or uploading sexualised material depicting a child under 18.

Jenny Hoey

Author Jenny Hoey

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