Parents Play Important Role in Teen Exposure to Online Porngoraphy
> 2/5/2007 10:15:30 AM

It's no secret that the internet is teeming with pornography. But just how infested is something of an area of contention. There's a great deal of money to be made in "NetNanny" type filtering software, so there's a lot to be gained from exagerrating the problem. This week however, researchers from the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC) have published one of the most extensive studies into the issue of internet pornography and its effects on children and teens.

The take away conclusion from the abstract of the team's research in this month's Pediatrics highlights the fact that this issue presents a problem. They stop well short of the typical "society is crumbling" pronouncements though:

More research concerning the potential impact of Internet pornography on youth is warranted, given the high rate of exposure, the fact that much exposure is unwanted, and the fact that youth with certain vulnerabilities, such as depression, interpersonal victimization, and delinquent tendencies, have more exposure.

Through telephone interviews of 1,500 youth internet users (defined as those between 10-17), the CACRC team found that 42% had been exposed to pornography over the last year. Two-thirds of those exposed had viewed unwanted images of pornography. The only specific activity that the group could link to unwanted exposure was the use of file-sharing software, and they also found that filtering and blocking software reduced unwanted exposures, as did law enforcement presentations about pornography.

As one might have guessed, the media has already chosen a headline created to grab the most attention yet convey the most skewed view of what the research acually shows: "Study: More kids exposed to online porn." While technically true (the results of this current study show that 25% more kids have been exposed to porn than in a similar study conducted five years earlier), the problem is that the headline makes this new research seem as if it's predicting impending disaster. In actuality, the interesting statistic, obviously absent from the AP write up, is the percentage growth in terms of children with access to the internet overall, as it would be helpful to know if over that same time internet access increased by over 25% for all children.

Much of this is beside the point however. What is important is that pornography is available, and can be accessed by anyone young enough to navigate a browser window. The NetNannys and the filters and the blocking software all provide a respite from unwanted exposure to pornography, limiting the chances that an unsuspecting child might accidentally happen upon these images, but they will not stop a curious child from finding what is out there. They also shouldn't be relied upon by parents to do so.

Pornography can be a very harmful thing for children to see, especially at younger ages. Images of nudity and sexual activity can create distorted expecations about body images, romance and intimacy. These negative stereotypes and expectations, especially when encountered during a teen's formative years, can feed into attitudes and behaviors of an unhealthy nature.

It is important to realize that there is no hope of putting an end to online pornography, and while many adults might not admit as much publicly, one suspects that such a movement would have trouble gaining any traction. With only 42% receiving any exposure to pornography at all, teens and children are certainly not driving the multi-billion dollar porn industry. It is instead the mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles of these children. What adults need to realize is that when they keep porn in their family homes, when they hide or deny their own porn usage, they send a very specific message to children. Much in the same way that filters and blockers create a "forbidden fruit" type of mystique to online pornography, when adults keep mum about sexuality and sexual desires, they create an allure for the subject within their offspring.

Parents have the ability to have open discussion, when their children are ready, about issues involved with sex, sexuality and even pornography. Like it or not, porn is a part of the modern, web-based, world. Just as parents warn their children to not talk to strangers or to look both ways before crossing the street, it has become all the more important to teach safe and healthy interet usage strategies to children.

Can we prevent young web users from ever encountering an unwholesome image or video? Of course not. The far more important message to our children has to be an honest  discussion about pornography and the distorting notions it conveys about sex, relationships, womens role in our society, and the intimacy shared between two humans in love. Children will listen to your views and take them seriously. It will also help if you practice what you preach.

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