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Elementary Pornography – 42% of ten year old children view internet porn

In a study in the February 2007 Pediatrics, researchers found that 42 percent of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 Internet users ages 10 to 17 had been exposed to online porn in the last year. This study was completed five years ago, and since that time, unrestricted use of technologies by children has risen to a startling level of an average of 7.5 hours per day. Even if only a small percentage of this time is spent engaged in pornography, we could reasonably assume that children who use pornography are undergoing an epic shift in how they view sexual relationships, and relationships in general. While being sexually curious is certainly part of a child’s developmental process, in past years satisfying this sexual curiosity wasn’t near as easy as it is today, and was more often conducted under the watchful eyes of the parents. Today, only 30% of children have any rules or supervision at all regarding technology use, making pornography readily available to even the youngest of children. 75% of children have devices in their bedrooms, further limiting supervision by parents. Wireless internet is a given in most schools, and even with internet restrictions and pornography trackers, many internet savvy children are able to access pornography in school-based settings. With the advent of multiple platform technologies such as the iPone and iPad, watching pornography is as easy as googling the word “sex,” as the 40 million Americans who visit porn sites each year can attest. Critics worry about online pornography’s effects on adults’ work and family lives, but even more about its impact on children and teens. While there are many school-based programs designed to protect young children from internet predators, there are no programs to date that educate children regarding use of pornography. This article is designed to raise awareness regarding the detrimental effects of internet pornography use by children by profiling existing research, discuss the “red flags” to watch for in children that might indicate pornography use, and to pose a number of initiatives and solutions parents, teachers and health professionals can enact to address this growing concern.

Research

Studies show relationships between internet porn use among young people and the following sexually related behaviors:

  • sexual compulsion and/or addictions
  • early sexuality
  • sexual abuse of others (assault, rape, molestation)
  • sexual abuse by predators

In the March issue of Sex Roles researchers found a link between the type and explicitness of sexual media the teens saw and their tendency to view women as sexual “play things.” The more explicit the material viewed, the more likely young people were to see women in these ways. Researchers have found that children and adolescents who frequent porn sites are more likely to view sex as a purely physical function and to view women as sex objects. Another study found a relationship between porn use and the feeling that it wasn’t necessary to have affection for people to have sex with them. Aggression toward women, lack of empathy, and difficulty developing intimacy with sexual partners are common problems of adults who view pornography. What happens when children start using pornography as young as ten years of age, and how will their future relationships with their partners be affected? For years a widely accepted concept in addiction theory is that one of the underlying factors in addiction, especially child addition, is a failure or dysfunctional primary attachment between child and parent(s). Also found in addiction/attachment research is that children who overuse technology have increased incidence of isolation, depression and more problematic relationships with their parent(s). As child pornography use escalates, tolerance to sexual stimulus develops, making the child more prone toward a sexual addiction. In teen years, what was once a pornography addiction can now escalate toward engagement in risky behaviours, as the need for increased intensity of stimuli builds, resulting in the purchasing the services of prostitutes. Does the type of life parents and teachers envision for the New Millennium Child include prostitutes? Likely not, yet adults are continuing to ramp up the use of unrestricted and unsupervised technology by young children in schools and homes, without providing the most basic media literacy education.

Red Flags

  • Excessive use of the internet (pediatric experts recommend no more than 1-2 hours of total technology use per day)
  • Isolation and/or depression
  • Seeking mood-altering experiences (drugs, alcohol, high risk behavior)
  • Few friends and difficulty with interpersonal relationships
  • Low pursuit or engagement in social activities
  • Substance abuse and delinquent behaviour
  • Sexually deviant behaviours

Solutions

Addressing child addictions, whether to technologies in general or pornography, is going to be a long, arduous and costly journey for parents, as well as the education and health professions. As research continues to discover problems associated with technology overuse by children (see Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children www.virtualchild.ca), parents, teachers and health professionals need to team together to create educational programs for managing balance between technology and activity (see Balanced Technology Management slide show www.zonein.ca). The following list of solution-based initiatives are to serve as a guideline for parents, education and health professionals.

1. Improve Primary Attachments

Parents and teachers alike could look at ways in which they can improve their relationships with children, and hence improve the primary attachment. Children learn about healthy relationships from viewing how the adults in their lives interact with them, as well as each other. All pornography should be removed from the home and from parent’s computers. If children view their parents using pornography, or even pursuing relationships with virtual avatars, this supports the idea that these type of relationships are normal and should be condoned. Primary attachments can be improved by parents spending more quality time with their children, engaged in non-technology related activities. The new “Unplug’in” game helps children and families develop interest and build confidence and skills in alternate activities www.zonein.ca under products.

2. Education

Children require formal education on both the healthy forms of expressing human sexuality (talking intimately, holding hands, hugging, kissing), as well as unhealthy expressions (abuse, aggression, humiliation, and human degradation) which are portrayed in pornography. School-based media literacy programs (see Live’in Resource Guide www.zonein.ca) seem to be the most efficient and effective initiative to address the growing problems associated with technology overuse by children. Children should also understand that child use of pornography is illegal, and that they could be arrested.

3. Restriction and Supervision

All technologies should be kept in a place where adults can view what the child is doing, in home and in school-based settings. One teacher supervising a class of 30 students using a variety of technologies is impossible to monitor. While using filters and tracking devices might work for some children, others are very tech-savvy and will be able to disable these programs as fast as they are downloaded.

Future

Technology is like a train going a hundred miles an hour toward an unknown destination. What is now very clear to researchers is many children are falling off this train with devastating consequences. Until research catches up and provides adequate information for education and health professionals on the impact of pornography on children, we should proceed with the utmost of caution and strive to educate, restrict, and supervise technology usage. Determining risk vs. benefit is essential when attempting to reduce the use of technologies, especially in the educational system where there minimal to no studies that report any educational benefit at all. Researchers require a more detailed look at the effects of internet pornography on children, more longitudinal studies, and a closer look at how inadvertent exposure may affect the young.

References

Ybarra ML, Mitchell KJ. Exposure to Internet Pornography amoung Children and Adolescents: A National Survey. Cyberpsychology and Behavior. 2005; Vol 8, No 5, 473-482

Wolack J, Mitchell K, Finkelhor D. Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users. Pediatrics. 2007; Vol 119: No 2, 247-257

Freeman-Longo, RE. Children, Teens, and Sex on the Internet. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. 2000; Vol 7:75-90

DeAngelis T. Web Pornography’s Effects on Children. American Psychological Association. 2007; Vol 38: No 10, 50-51

Author

Elementary Pornography was written by pediatric occupational therapist and child development expert Cris Rowan, and can be reproduced with permission from author.

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT, AOTA Approved Provider Status

CEO Zone’in Programs Inc.

6840 Seaview Rd. Sechelt, BC V0N3A4

604-885-0986 p, 604-885-0389 f, 604-740-2264 c

crowan@zonein.ca

www.zonein.ca, ww.suncoastot.com, www.virtualchild.ca

Author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”