We educate youth on the harmful effects on the brain, on relationships and on society, and that's kind of what we stick to. We educate with science, facts and personal accounts. —Clay Olsen, Fight the New Drug
SALT LAKE CITY — Computers, smartphones, tablets and gaming devices allow children and teens to easily access the Internet. But that's not all they're gaining access to.
In the past year, one in four children have seen sexual material they didn't initially seek online, according to the Crime Against Children Research Center.
"I don't think you can be too (young) to learn about bad things," Beth, a seventh-grader at Bennion Junior High said. "Because with how often technology is used, I have younger siblings that are six and four and it could happen to them, just the pop-up. I think it's a good thing that we were told at a young age."
Beth, who spoke on condition her last name not be used, was one of about 3,000 students from Bennion Junior High, Eisenhower Junior High, and Taylorsville High School who attended assemblies last week aimed at protecting kids from pornography.
"We have had a lot of parents who have said we need help, we need to know how to talk to our kids about the dangers of pornography," Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said.
So she approached Fight The New Drug, a non-profit group to do five assemblies in the Taylorsville schools.
Its mission is to "provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using science, facts, and personal accounts."
"We educate youth on the harmful effects on the brain, on relationships and on society, and that's kind of what we stick to," Clay Olsen, executive director and co-founder of Fight the New Drug said. "We educate with science, facts and personal accounts."
For Olsen, the motivation to start the program was personal.
"I had a cousin that struggled with an addiction to pornography that started when he was 8 years old, and it was a big deal in our family," he said. "He eventually actually served a prison sentence due to that addiction, so it made me very aware of what this can lead to."
Beth said the presenters at her school were enthusiastic and got the student's attention.
"It wasn't like an elementary school assembly and they just tell you it's bad," she said. "They give you reasons."
Some of the reasons she said were that pornography damages relationships, kills love, and changes views and thoughts.
"I always knew what pornography was but that gave me more reasons to understand why it's bad and what it does."
"They don't shame them," Winder Newton said. "They talk about appropriate intimacy and healthy behaviors and what the impacts (of pornography) are."
Ben Horsley, Granite School District communications director, said state curriculum introduces the topic of internet safety as early as fourth grade. He said the content increases to more age-appropriate material, like pornography, in Junior High.
But as pornography has become so accessible — an issue Horsley said is the "largest safety issue facing our children today," — he thought the students needed something to highlight and enhance what they are already taught in the classroom.
"This is what they (Fight The New Drug) do," Horsley said. "They have a lot of resources that kind of are a little more compelling to kids than just the standard overlook of the topic as given in the health class."
The response from both parents and students he said was overwhelmingly positive. If other schools are interested in the program, he said it would be up to local schools and administrations to pay for and bring in the group.
The program was piloted at the Taylorsville schools through a private donor, Winder Newton said. According to Horsley the program costs between $400-500 each assembly.
Other schools have already begun to ask about getting the group to present to their students.
"Sandy City has expressed an interest in actually splitting the cost with us and they've said you know come to Sandy, we are very supportive of this program," Winder Newton said.
Right now, she said there is no official request for public money to fund the assemblies, but there is potential for existing funds that could be used.
Winder Newton hopes to see the program in more schools, but she also said she wants to make sure the program is successful and is wanted in the community.
Fight The New Drug has conducted more than 300 assemblies around the country and Olsen said they have had a great response.
"It's pretty cool to see young people rallying behind this quote-unquote taboo and difficult topic," he said. "They want to know the truth, they're ready for it, and we want to give it to them so they have an opportunity to make an educated decision."
Olsen said he wants children to know that pornography is harmful.
"Not only to themselves, but to their relationships and to society," he said. "We go in there and we bring that up, we talk about the impacts on the brain, on relationships and on society."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @EmileeBench