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Parents and guardians must open a compassionate and frank dialogue with their children about healthy online behavior — and how it relates to the important topic of healthy sexuality.

Last week, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography held its annual anti-pornography conference — a reminder that in an era of interconnectivity, having frank conversations with children about the dangers of pornography is essential.

UCAP’s 16th annual conference promoted a “proactive” approach to combating pornography. This included workshops that sought to destigmatize and compassionately address the pervasive problem of pornography addiction. The conference enabled scholars to offer their findings on the litany of issues presented by the consumption of violent pornographic images. It also enabled participants to consider best-practice recommendations for ensuring children stay safe online and have the space to develop healthy conceptions of sexuality with a trusted parent or guardian.

Pornographic images today are more accessible than ever, with a majority of youths reporting to have seen explicit content online before age 14. With everything from social connectivity to basic services such as online banking, participating fully in society now requires internet access. As a result, it is unrealistic to expect to be able to shield children from the ubiquitous nature of graphic content online, no matter how many firewalls and parental controls are used to screen against this kind of material. Instead, experts like Dr. John Foubert and Candice Christiansen, two presenters at the conference, recommend starting frank and honest conversations with children about healthy sexuality before they are allowed online without supervision.

Using “scare tactics” to discuss the dangers of pornography only shrouds a youth’s inevitable encounter with graphic images, even if only briefly, in a sense of shame. In doing so, parents leave their children ill-equipped to avoid the pitfalls of pornography, including addiction, internalized misogyny and warped understandings of human sexuality.

In a study conducted by Middlesex University, researchers found that a majority of youths surveyed “felt pornography failed to help them understand consent,” yet a majority of boys surveyed saw it “as a realistic depiction of sex.” One 11-year-old girl said she was confused and scared by the images she saw but was afraid to tell her parents. Additionally, a 13-year-old boy said he knew one of his male friends had begun treating girls the way he saw them treated in pornography.

In light of these alarming results, parents and guardians must open a compassionate and frank dialogue with their children about healthy online behavior — and how it relates to the important topic of healthy sexuality.

3 comments on this story

Adults should explain what pornography is and what dangers it poses. Then, parents should take the opportunity to assure their children they are there to talk if they ever see something unsettling online — and regularly check in to give children the opportunity to share their encounters with explicit content. By opening a conversation where children feel safe sharing their experiences, parents have the opportunity to reshape any misguided perceptions of consent and sexual behavior that, sadly, have become the trademark of broken hearts and bruised relationships.