Despite many of our popular beliefs, the internet is not a safe place for our children to be roaming around. Pornography and predators seem to be lurking everywhere, just waiting to hook your child into their schemes. It is becoming increasingly important for parents to know the facts about their teenagers time spent online, as well as how to approach this topic with them.
In this article we will explore the reality of what children and teens will be introduced to online and the ramifications of that exposure in their lives. Next week we will post a follow-up article about how to approach the topic with your children to help them navigate the emotions and habits that could develop from viewing pornography.
Now for the nitty gritty: The Numbers.
The numbers don’t lie. Your boys have a 90% chance of being exposed to porn before the age of 18, while your girls will have around a 60% chance. Let me rephrase that, 9/10 boys and 6/10 girls will be exposed to porn before they turn 18; before they fully mature. Not to mention that one out of every seven teenagers will be subject to an online sexual advance.
What’s more, in a study that polled children about pornography exposure before the age of 13, half of the male children and one-third of the female children will have been exposed to pornography in some way. For the male children, almost a third will be exposed to pornography before they are 10 years old. Perhaps the most troubling part is that the majority of exposure (about two thirds of the group) is unwanted and unwarranted.
If that information does not convince you that internet accountability is crucial for your children, then I don’t know what will.
Where and how is your child being exposed?
Two primary ways children and teens will be exposed to pornography are 1) stumbling upon it by accident and 2) Hearing about it from a family member or friend.
Stumbling upon it will often occur because of an errant google search or because they it stored on a device they are using. Errant searches definitely top the list here, odds are you have done this yourself. You go to Google to search for a person or movie (or almost anything) and start looking through the results to which you find a link to a pornographic video, image, or page.
Another interesting place where children will often stumble upon pornography is in their email (if they have one). This is pretty common when you think about how much spam email is sent out. If you have a young child receiving a bunch of spam–even if it is labeled as such–there is a high chance that they will end up clicking the email and becoming exposed to pornographic content. In fact, Symantec, released a poll in 2003 that indicates out of one thousand youths under 18, one in five of them opened spam emails sent to them.
Lastly, if you (or a spouse, child, friend, etc.) have a search history that contains pornographic material it will make it even easier for your children to have access to pornography when using your device. Even more, if you have downloaded any risqué (or legitimate) pornographic content onto your computer there is a high chance that your kids will find a way to that media–children are wizards with technology. This obviously is a pretty detrimental find for a child as they will likely see you as a role model and will want to emulate your actions. Thus, finding pornography on a loved one’s device will likely lead your child to want to do the same. For more information on how your pornographic consumption affects your child, please read this article.
The more straightforward way children and teens are exposed is through a family member or friend. This is usually a pretty simple process. A friend or sibling is exposed to pornography and starts using it. Then, after being found out (or due to a sense of “coolness”) they end up showing your child what they have been looking at. Just like stumbling across pornography on a loved ones device, this type of interaction will yield a higher interest in pursuing it further. If your child’s friends are all looking at pornography, then there will be a strong pull for them to do the same. We all know about peer pressure, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it will play a key role in our childrens exposure–and intake–of pornography.
How will being exposed affect my child?
If you made it this far, I’m sure you are concerned with how likely it is that your child will view pornography and are concerned about its effects. While there is still much to be researched on this topic, and the results are debatable, there is nonetheless a lot of strong anecdotal evidence about negative results.
Before I list out these effects, I want to briefly touch on a concept called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process by which your brain creates new neural networks by constantly reorganizing itself. Basically, this means that your brain is constantly optimizing itself to perform efficiently despite any loss to brain function due to age, injury, etc. One of the known components of neuroplasticity, is that as we age our brains become less plastic, and resist change at a higher degree than when we were younger. This is especially true for children: neuroplasticity is at its highest during our childhood and adolescent phases, then decreases continually for the remainder of our lives (Please note that this does not mean that we cannot change our brains, or ways of thinking, once we are older, it just means that our brain cannot restructure itself as easily). This means that our children’s brains are literally being shaped by their experiences and, as most of us know, those experiences will determine much of their character throughout their lives.
So, due to the high neuroplasticity, any values or ideas that are learned from pornography will have a lasting impact on children’s lives if they are not addressed appropriately. In addition, habits built during this time are what become the triggers that drive the continual use of pornography as we age. (For more information on triggers, check out our article about them here).
Along with the habits and triggers that are created from pornography exposure, research suggests other negative effects also carry over. The Associate for Pediatrics conducted a study on these effects and found distinct results of children viewing pornography.
Male subjects in particular tended to objectify women, or view them as more object than individual, an attitude linked to current rape theories. Pornography portrays women (and men) as enjoying degrading and/or violent sexual encounters which can influence young men to believe women might enjoy being raped–or that they would welcome it. Naturally this could create laissez faire attitude about rape in general, that it is not a big deal. Worst case scenario, pornography cultivates a culture of men who do not take rape seriously. These views will often be associated with an interest in more extreme forms of pornography–often more violent. It has been shown that the more pornography is consumed, the more the viewer will begin to desire “novel” forms of pornography. A casual attitude toward sexual violence against women is directly related to pornography consumption.
For children in general, there is a strong indication that the exposure to pornography results in a hyper-sexual view of the world. The subjects tended to have a high rate of devaluing marriage; they are twice as likely to believe that marriage is unimportant. One reason researchers give is that children see their parents with multiple sexual partners both in and out of a marriage. Thus they are open to multiple sexual partners before marriage as well as infidelity in a committed relationship. And why would this come as a surprise? Pornography commercializes and devalues the role of sex in our culture. When you adopt the view that pornography is normal and acceptable, to have sex with whomever you want, whenever you want, then the ideals of long, extensive, relationships with a single partner are valued less highly.
More than anything, the pornographic worldview creates a culture of recreational sex. It destroys the basis for intimacy and promotes infidelity for both sexes. The only way to overcome these effects is to address these responses to pornography with your child, in a healthy way that does not promote shame. Finding a way to meet your child where they are at, without forcing them into isolation due to shame is hugely important. If anything, this process of isolation is what has allowed pornography to flourish, and it will only help create a habit if done so.
Now, I am sure that you want to know what to do when you find your child has been viewing pornography. Our follow-up post next week will cover that information. In the meantime, I encourage that you go reread the section about how your child will be exposed to pornography and consider ways to prevent them from happening.