I started to feel a bit anxious as I sat waiting for the Principal in the school office —like I was a kid getting in trouble for something I didn’t do. Interestingly enough, when she opened her door and extended a welcoming hand, I sensed similar apprehensions on her part.

For better or worse, I had managed until this moment to slip under the radar of our new Administration. Now here I was at our first face-to-face, ready to talk about pornography and its influence at school —Gulp!

I knew, according to the letter that had come home the first day of class, that our school has an  Acceptable Use Policy for computing and information technologies (AUP). Also, the School Board uses up-to-date filtering software to help safeguard students’ online activities.

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What I was most interested in knowing was how does the school prepare students for the inevitability that they will be exposed to inappropriate content online —including pornography— either on school grounds or at home? I tried to keep our conversation focused to the following concerns:

  • Does the school give children a basic definition of what pornography is, and teach them why it isn’t healthy for kids to view pornography?
  • Does the school clearly teach children what they are to do if they inadvertently see pornography?
  • Does the school teach children that they will not get in trouble when they report exposure to inappropriate content?
  • Are teachers trained to teach safe reporting procedures to their students and how often are these safe reporting procedures reviewed in the classroom?

These questions are taken straight from Online Safety at School: Ultimate 10-point Checklist which I downloaded free at protectyoungminds.org. The checklist really was invaluable in helping me prepare for this little meeting. Because of it I was able to stay focused on very specific concerns and articulate my thoughts clearly, all while maintaining a professional tone.

Was the meeting productive?

I did get my message out —though not as eloquently as I had rehearsed in my jammies the night before. It’s so tricky when you’re talking with someone who hasn’t got the script! What I expected to be a quick 15-minute presentation turned into an hour of back and forth discussion. I wouldn’t say it was an argument, but I really had to work to hold my ground. Somehow I managed to squeeze in these points:

  • Children usually encounter pornography for the first time between age 8 to 11.
  • Children who inadvertently stumble upon pornography at a young age often go back to it on their own within three to six months.
  • Children have the right to be given a basic and accurate definition of what pornography is, why it is a harmful substance, and how to follow safe reporting practices.
  • Pornography is emotionally confusing to a child and disrupts normal brain development.
  • Children can be exposed to pornography at school in a variety of ways: stumble  upon unblocked images at the computer; shown images from a classmate on a personal device; or are instructed by a classmate to “check out” a specific pornographic image or video when they get home.
  • Unless children are repeatedly taught safe reporting practices they are more likely keep their experience with pornography to themselves, even when it causes them distress.
  • Pornography is a substance which changes your sexual behavior and negatively impacts how you view other people.
  • By the time students enter High School many have established routine habits of viewing pornography.

Did what I share sink in and resonate with the Principal?

While I was suggesting that pornography could be addressed more thoughtfully within the elementary school system, the Principal was defending the School Board’s current policy on the subject —or lack thereof.  She believes online safety can be high priority in the classroom without narrowing the lens to address pornography directly. She commented that she felt students could define it on their own and would easily recognize inappropriate images as something to be reported.  In her opinion, discussion about pornography rests mainly with parents. She contends that she has other, more pressing concerns deal with each day.

However, she did admit that she could see a distinct connection between a student’s online experience at home and his or her ability to cope at school. Cyber-bullying and compulsive gaming habits have increased the number of social and behavioral related concerns that come through her office.  Personally, I think it is tragic to dismiss the idea that easy access to pornography could be an accessory if not a catalyst to these other issues. But, to address this topic directly is simply not on the School Board’s radar!

Our Principal was surprised to learn I had concerns about pornography at school. She claims I am the only parent who has spoken to her about this issue. It would be nice to believe this is a reflection of the safe and upright community in which we reside. Unfortunately, I know of too many first-hand accounts and have read too many news articles of how pornography impacts young children to be that naïve. What it really speaks to is the fact that as adults we simply aren’t comfortable talking about pornography in the context of children and adolescence. We want to believe this is a problem that doesn’t exist —at least not in our own backyard.

What can you do?

Please speak up. Talk to your school Administration. Tell them that you are concerned with the fact that so many children are developing habits of viewing pornography before they get to High School. Ask them what the schools in your area are doing to address this as a health concern. Get specific details: How is pornography defined in the classroom? Are students taught why it is harmful to them? Take the time to review your school’s AUP. Ask your child’s teacher if they know of, or have seen inappropriate content being shared on school grounds.

Please leave a comment or email us with your personal experiences.

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