A 2018 collaboration between UK, New Zealand and Australian online safety agencies into the role parents play in protecting their children from risks online such as exposure to pornography, published their findings in a report: ‘Parenting and Pornography’. In Australia, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner found that pornography exposure is considered the 4th topmost online risk by Australian parents and yet only a minority of them think their children have been exposed to it.
While considerable international research had focused on children's access, exposure to and views of pornography, ‘parents’ attitudes and views about their children's experiences around pornography had not been comprehensively reviewed’.
In academic literature, pornography is defined in different ways. It is generally accepted, however that pornography is printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner surveyed 3,520 parents of children aged 2-17 and found only 24% of parents in Australia think their children have or are likely to have been exposed to online pornography. Most of these parents thought that their children had come across pornographic content accidentally. This is a possible concern as the Australian Institute of Family Studies highlighted in their annual 2017 summary that in Australia “just under half (44%) of children aged 9-16 [who were surveyed] had encountered sexual images in the last month.” This highlights that encountering sexually explicit by children is higher than parents think, but why is this the case?
Well, while many morally and philosophically oppose pornography for being an industry that makes women submissive both on- and -off the screen, it still has an immense consumer base. And because of this reality, it’s not likely to be removed from the internet any time soon. Therefore exposure to gratuitous sexual aggression and exploitation is virtually inevitable for children — even if it is by mistake.
Interestingly, in the same study, the age and gender of their child influenced parents’ views about possible exposure to pornography. Approximately 27% of parents with sons felt they were more likely to access explicit content online compared to 20% of those with daughters.
Therefore, the question we need to be asking as parents is not ‘if’ my child has accessed or been exposed to explicit content but rather ‘when’, so we can be prepared and respond appropriately when it happens.
As pornography is considered the 4th topmost concern for parents, it is no surprise that parents show concern (39%), worry (25%), shock (21%) and surprise (20%) when they first discover their child has been exposed to sexually explicit content online. Parents, quite rightly are concerned that their child has come across material that is not intended for younger audiences and doesn’t align with family values.
77% of Australian parents report feeling overwhelmed and responsible for educating their children about online pornography. But doing this effectively can be a challenge. When sourcing information 22% of parents felt they knew enough and of those seeking further guidance 36% turned to friends and family, 33% to the Internet and 24% to their child’s school.
Being vigilant about monitoring their child’s behaviour will alert parents when a conversation needs to be had to discuss the content their children are being exposed to. These behaviours may include:
They have deleted their internet browsing history on their device or computer
They are accessing your streaming accounts
They become very secretive about or protective of their device.
They’re using phrases or language that leads you to believe they are accessing adult-only content.
Some empowering questions that will help parents have rich conversations with their children and that can be found in our book The Parent’s Survival Guide to Children, Technology and the Internet include:
What is respect? How is it shown to us? How do we show it to others?
How can we show respect towards bodies (our own and others)?
Have you ever seen pornography? Do you know what it is?
When you see something that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable or scared’, what do you do?
What messages about bodies, sex, gender, and relationships does pornography send?
For more information and related content visit:
Parenting & Pornography: Findings from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. December 2018
Family Insights — The Dangers Of Pornography For Your Teen | A Guide For Parents
eSafety — iParent and Online Pornography