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Talking to kids about porn

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A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that many parents believe that children should be taught about the dangers of pornography as soon as they use the Internet.

The survey of 1,000 parents found that 60% are worried or very worried about their children seeing violent or sexual material on the web. While many feel confident that they can protect their kids the majority feel that they need school support to educate their children about the issue.

It’s always hard for parents to talk about sex. Most parents tackle the subject on a need-to-know basis. That is, parents answer children’s questions according to their age and stage of development. Young children are usually very curious and have no problem posing questions for their parents. The older children the more complex and potentially embarrassing the questions become. Such is the way of sex education taught at home.

The Internet has been a game-changer for kids. They are now more likely than even to be exposed to sexual images well beyond their ability to comprehend what they are seeing.

The need-to-know basis still applies.

The topic needs to be handled from two contexts. The first is about a child’s right to feel safe. They may not be able to verbalise it, but many pornographic images that kids come across can violate their feelings of safety.

The second context is around sex and sexual relationships in general. This discussion can be handled on a number of levels according to children’s ages. From a young age it’s raising awareness about images of naked bodies and whether it’s appropriate to be displayed on the web. With older children the discussion can be around the place and appropriateness of pornography, including its’ place on the net.

It’s been well established that online porn has been the first introduction to sexuality education for many young people. It’s just so accessible.

It can be argued that the proliferation of online porn normalises certain sexual behaviours such and, as some experts say, encourages young people to place risqué images of themselves online. A teenage girl texting a photo of herself to her boyfriend is no big deal to a generation who are becoming somewhat desensitized by online porn. What’s a bit of flesh exposed when you can see that and whole lot more online!

Many young people I’ve spoken with seem to view pornography as part of everyday life. Pornography needs to be placed in a context, and can’t be seen in isolation. It needs to be discussed and young people’s views need to heard and, challenged by adults, so that they develop a broader, contextual view including gender, relationship and power issues that are involved in porn.

And these conversations need to start early, in age appropriate ways, so that kids are made aware that not everything they see on a computer screen is safe, normal or even appropriate for them. The rules have changed around sex and sexuality education, and parents and teachers need to adapt so if we are to stay in the game with our kids and young people.

For more tips on talking to kids about porn join myself and Vanessa Hamilton for a must-attend webinar series, Talking to kids about sex & respectful relationships, where we'll teach you how to have open, honest and age-appropriate discussions with children about body safety, sex and respectful relationships. Learn more

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