Many parents believe that their children have not seen inappropriate content online, but kids are saying something very different. The reality is that children as young as eight and nine years of age can easily come across sexual content on the Internet – and most notably graphic adult pornography. Although most (if not all) of this type of material is legal, it is far from harmless to children and teens who view it.
Most often children are accidentally exposed to explicit material by incorrectly typing in a web address or words into a search engine and they unexpectedly find they are on a site they did not intend to visit. Nonetheless, research suggests that early exposure to sexually graphic material is likely to have a negative influence and a potentially harmful impact on children.1
In the past, people thought that because children didn’t understand sexually graphic information, they weren’t affected by it. Today, we know that while children do not have the emotional maturity, experience or knowledge to understand sexual content, they may unconsciously store the experience in their brains and try to make sense of what they have seen. It can be quite stressful and children may find ways to act it out to try to make sense of it. Impact can vary depending on the child, the age of the child, the content viewed and the circumstances around how it was viewed.
There are signs you can watch out for that may indicate your child is experiencing distress from having viewed sexually explicit material online:
If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour:
We cannot keep children shielded within a bubble, nor would we want to. What is important is to strike a balance between empowering children and protecting them.
Here are some suggestions:
It’s normal for tweens and teens to be sexually curious, and in fact seek out explicit material. Yet, adolescents who are seeking information about sexuality and relationships do not have the experience or knowledge to compare to some of the graphic material they come across. The result is that the material can end up being a teaching tool influencing their development of attitudes and beliefs about relationships, sex or sexuality.
Parental guidance is critical to influencing beliefs and shaping values around developing healthy and fulfilling relationships, so when talking about pornography it’s important to:
1 Alexy, E., et al (2009). “Pornography Use as a Risk Marker for an Aggressive Pattern of Behavior Among Sexually Reactive Children and Adolescents.” Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 14(6), pp.442-453; Svedin, et al (2011). “Frequent users of pornography. A population based epidemiological study of Swedish male adolescents.” Journal of Adolescence, 34(4), pp.779-788 ↩
The tips and other information provided herein is intended as general information only, not as advice. Readers should assess all information in light of their own circumstances, the age and maturity level of the child they wish to protect and any other relevant factors.