Children and Online Porn: Five Quick Stats

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kids_on_computer_bw copyIn our media world children will almost certainly be exposed to images and material that can have a negative impact on their moral and psychological development. Exposure to pornography is one such concern that should be on every parent’s radar.

First, some statistics about children and exposure to online pornography:

1. One study in the US found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during adolescence.(1)

2. A study in the UK found that nearly 57% of 9-19 year olds who use the Internet weekly have been exposed to pornography. (2)

3. The same study found that only 16% of parents think their children have seen pornography on the Internet.(3)

4. A Dutch study found that adolescents aged 13 to 20 with frequent exposure to sexually explicit Internet material were more likely to show greater sexual uncertainty and more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration (i.e., sexual relations with casual partners/friends or with sexual partners in one-night stands). (4)

5. Exposure to pornography among youth is often unintentional. One study in Australia found that 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds have been accidentally exposed to pornographic websites, while 38% of boys and 2% of girls have deliberately accessed them. (5)

So what to do?

Unfortunately, the reality that children will most likely be exposed to pornography online can lead to two extreme reactions which are counterproductive.

One approach well-meaning parents can take is to control the media their children consume to such a great extent that the child is led to believe that technology and the Internet are bad. This approach is actually contrary to Church teaching. In the encyclical Miranda Prorsus, Pope Pius XII wrote that technological advances are “gifts of God,” which like our own lives can be used for ill or for good. According to Communio et Progressio, a document of the Second Vatican Council, “the communications media can be seen as powerful instruments for progress.” The document goes on to say that “it is true they present difficulties but these must be faced and overcome.” In other words, media is a potential for great good. We are called to work with media to promote good in society and to teach our children to use it in accordance with Gospel values.

The Church, therefore, urges a balanced approach that requires much more from adults than either shutting down the Internet in their home altogether or having an anything goes policy. John Paul II, in his World Communications Day Message in 2004 advised parents “to regulate the use of media in the home” but “above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.” John Paul II also urges parents to “join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media.” (emphasis mine)

I highlight “opportunities” because when we speak to children about media and Gospel values it is important to be positive. It is necessary to have open dialogue with children about the dangers of the Internet, including, at an appropriate age, pornography. But often it is the dangers of the Internet that parents harp on while the seeds of the Gospel, and our role as Christians in planting them, are ignored.

Instead, parents can lead their children to the water of the Internet and teach them that while it is not all good for drinking; some of it is good. Children should be taught that they cannot drink everything in the media uncritically; the waters should be analyzed and strained before consuming. But it is equally imperative that children learn to identify the Gospel, even tiny seeds of it, when they see it in the media.

And most importantly, we can teach our children that as Christians, we are called to contribute clean, fresh Living Water for others to drink through our kind words and our thoughtful and patient presence  – online and offline!

Theresa Noble

Theresa Noble

Sr. Theresa Noble is a novice, aka nun in training, with a religious congregation of sisters in the US. She left her job in California with eBay to follow God four years ago. She currently lives in a convent in Boston where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread and blogs at Pursued by Truth (http://pursuedbytruth.blogspot.com/).

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6 thoughts on “Children and Online Porn: Five Quick Stats”

  1. Avatar

    You bring out some good points here but I think it is an overly simplistic description. Boys especially are very curious about these things and the dangers of addiction are very high. My own experience has been that open access to the internet is just not going to work with most young men until they get old enough to learn to control their curiousity. Yes, it is utmost importance that parents train their children to discipline their desires. Yet our sinful selves will do many things when we think nobody is watching. Perhaps the most important training is to help them realize that God is ALWAYS watching.

    1. Avatar

      Boys are curious AND visually stimulated. It’s just the way we guys are made. Simply banning the internet can create a forbidden fruit situation which can inspire the kind of curiosity that has killed many a cat. You’re right that open, unfiltered access to the internet is a bad situation as well. There are good filters out there such as safeeyes that can be tailored to many different situations. The solution lies in educating boys about sex in a way that doesn’t make it seem dark and dirty, rather that God designed their bodies intentionally and called it good. We can create a cycle of shame if we don’t carefully explain to young men and women that God created sex and wants us to enjoy it, but He also created the context in which it is meant to be enjoyed fully.

      1. Avatar

        Good points Chris. Balance is so important and yet hard to attain. There are so many nuances to take into consideration when dealing with this subject.

    2. Avatar

      You are absolutely right Gary. I hope that it is clear that I did not in any way suggest that parents should not use internet filters in their home. This is certainly a valid tactic for managing children’s media consumption, (although filters obviously cannot be relied on completely to solve the problem). Peace be with you!

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