Last week on our Facebook account I posted a link to an information page created by childline.org.uk. The page is designed to help children make sense of the pornography they are regularly exposed to online.
As you follow through the link you’ll notice the language is quite stark. You might even describe the advice given as dispassionate or void of direction. Take heart; there is good reason for this. Helplines such as this provide children with a place to talk and ask questions they might be embarrassed or afraid to ask anywhere else. Because of the anonymity and acceptance of all queries at the helpline, barriers are broken down that would often prevent children from saying what is actually in their heart. The helpline is quick to suggest follow up counselling, point out situations that would put children in physical and emotional danger, and direct them to other safe reporting services.
The content was so captivating to me because it was written for children, twelve and up, based on the questions ChildLine receives about pornography from this exact age group. I felt I was getting a glimpse into the minds of typical Middle and High School aged kids.
How Does This Help Me?
I took this nugget of information and started to think about the real fears, concerns, and the confusion kids must have as they are maturing physically, socially and emotionally in a culture saturated with sexual expectations. I tried to imagine where my children would find help if these were their concerns.
- Would they feel comfortable asking me tough questions about sex and pornography?
- Would they consider me enough of an expert on the subject?
- Would they know that I will love and respect them unconditionally and listen without harsh judgement?
As I gave myself this quick evaluation I felt an urgency to take immediate action. I knew I needed to provide my children a safe place to ask important questions but I also felt I should be more straight-forward in my pre-emptive strikes against pornography.
Try to follow me here. If our kids are growing up in a sexually explicit online culture, then we have to find a way to be one step ahead and answer their tough questions about sex before they even arise. Our children need to see their parents, rather than the Internet, as “the expert” on sex. I want my children to feel confident in their ability to decipher fact from fiction no matter what kind of garbage is thrown their way.
Back to the Website
Under the heading —Porn is Fantasy, Not Reality— ChildLine dispels some common myths about sex that are propagated by the porn industry. For example: the illusion that people have sex all of the time, that they always experience orgasm, that unprotected sex with multiple partners is normal, that men should ejaculate on faces, and that people (usually women) like being forced into sexual acts.
It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to imagine the negative health implications that this disinformation has on the developing brain of an adolescent. However, because we are certain to encounter a sceptic or two in the effort to protect children, it’s worth gathering a few facts on how the brain responds to pornography. You can find this information here and here.
To help my children (8, 12 &16) understand the relevance of media misrepresentation I decided to share with them something else that had caught my attention online this week. “The Ugly Truth Behind Beauty Magazines” is a video commentary about the false portrayal of the female figure in print advertising. Bringing hot-topics up in casual conversation lets children know that you are willing to discuss a wide variety of subject matter with them.
The commentary explains that advertisers use gorgeous, tall, underweight, twenty-year-old models. Showing off the merchandise is secondary to selling the idea that the reader is inadequate. Never mind that the images are heavily airbrushed, digitally altered or in some cases completely generated by computer. Perfection of this level isn’t humanly possible but as an advertising tool it sells! Readers may feel the easiest way to compensate for their own shortcomings is to buy what the model is wearing.
I asked my children if they knew anyone at school that looked remotely like the women that flashed before us on the screen. They did not. I emphasised that this is because they are not real. Even the models in the photographs don’t look like that in real life.
Sadly, this lie —you suck, you’re not good enough, she’s prettier than you, comes at a much bigger cost than the Prada handbag. An astounding 70% of women admit to feeling more depressed within three minutes of browsing fashion magazines. And over 50 million women in North America and Europe suffer from eating disorders (underweight models included).
Connecting the Dots
My boys and I then talked about how the porn industry sells a similar lie. When we see pornography, we think that is the way sex should be. But in real life it is actually nothing like what is shown on the screen.
- A 45-minute porn flick will take 3 days to film but will give the viewer the impression that it is just one continuous scene.
- Pornography focuses only on the physical aspects of sex. It wants the viewer to believe that emotional connection and love are neither part of sex nor are they important to a relationship.
- When children under 18 have been exposed to sexualized media (pornography and sexualized TV) they are more likely of participate in unsafe sexual practices.
Discussing pornography as misrepresentation of sex was a very positive experience in our home. My kids want to be safe online. To do that I have to teach them how to spot dangers on their own. We can instruct children to look away when they see pornography and remind them tell an adult when they read something that isn’t true, but these are pretty abstract concepts for a child. When we take the time to relate these dangers to something they can identify with, they will be more likely to recognize them for what they are, and reject the lies more quickly.
Share with us a recent experience you had in helping your children understand misrepresentations online, and how they can define, recognize and reject pornography.
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