Book covers in this column are Amazon-linked (off-site). Unless otherwise stated, all text links are to on-site AYCNP pages.
Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane), by Gavin de Becker
Safety skills for children outside the home
Warning signs of sexual abuse
How to screen baby-sitters and choose schools
Strategies for keeping teenagers safe from violence
The Trap: A Story to Help Protect Families from Pornography
, by Karmel Newell, Dan Burr
If children are old enough to know how to turn on the computer, it's not too early to teach them about the dangers of pornography. This illustrated book, for families with children ages 7-9, is a valuable resource to help parents teach their young children about the destructive nature of pornography, the sacredness of our bodies.
Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame George Collins, MA; Andrew Adleman, MA
Self help is a good place to begin when considering breaking free from pornography addiction.
Nontechnical Strategies to Reduce Children's Exposure to Inappropriate Material on the Internet
Summary of a workshop from the Committee to study tools and strategies for protecting kids from pornography and their applicability to other inappropriate internet content.
Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
|Page updated: December 5, 2015
|How Exposure to Pornography Effects Children
"Children and young people are routinely exposed to pornography. They encounter sexually explicit images while on the Internet, some watch X-rated videos and, like adults, they live in a culture increasingly saturated in sexualised representations."
So begins Michael Flood of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, in the report, "The Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People", as published in Child Abuse Review
Pornographic materials, including photographs, videos, and movies, are becoming increasingly available to children and teenagers, primarily online. Whether or not adults choose to view erotica is a personal preference, however, we must be aware of the fact that explicit images have different effects on sexually and emotionally mature adults, compared to children.
Those who view pornography, often start with softer varieties, and gradually progresses to harder types. Pornography addiction may develop, leaving its victims with a sense of being trapped. It is important to remember that, for those prone to it, pornography addiction may often start at a young age.
A survey by the University of New Hampshire in 2005 indicated that 42% of Internet users ages 10 to 17 said they had seen online pornography within a one-year time-span (Sabina, C., et al).
As much as we would like to think otherwise, a large number of children are exposed to pornography in their pre-teen years. This involves more than involuntary pornographic pop-ups or email, and includes viewing films of explicit content, regularly looking through pornographic magazines, or viewing pornographic television and Internet websites.
Although it is completely within the norm for children and adolescents to experience a natural curiosity, when it comes to sex, certain kinds of pornographic content may prove harmful. Still, a study published in the Journal of Aggression and Violent Behavior in 2001, found that only those predisposed to violent behavior would seek out aggressive pornography, and would later commit sexually-related acts of violence.
How Children are Exposed to Pornography
Exposure to pornography can be through peers, the pornography of parents or parents of friends, unsupervised and unfiltered Internet use at home or at the home of friends. It can also be through late night TV, cable TV in the bedroom of the child, or through older siblings.
One child was exhibiting sexual behavior toward other children in a Kindergarten class. The mother disclosed that he watched sexually explicit films with older siblings; the older siblings were 9 and 11 years old. One third-grader is representative of many, with pornographic pictures on one of his electronic devices, showing it to his friends in the public school after-school program (Newark, NJ).
The lines of pornography are not so clear anymore, as a 12-year-old girl talks about sexual pictures she has seen of pop stars while researching a report. Sexy photos of Miley Cyrus dominate the imagination and conversation of a group of 5th grade boys in a Newark, NJ school (2011).
The amount of sexual imagery in the media, including media marketed to children, is overwhelming. Psychologist Sharna Olfman, in the the book The Sexualization of Childhood
, explains how the lines of soft-porn have in fact become blurred.
Psychological Distress in Children
Pornography, as well as exposure to sexual innuendo, in movies for pre-teens, can evoke emotions of worry and confusion. More often than not, children have no one, with the exception of equally confused peers, with whom to discuss what they've seen. By the time a child reaches teen years, they may have already absorbed a world of misinformation and propaganda about sex into their emerging libidos. Young teens in class discuss the importance of finding a girl's g-spot, looking at sex as a purely physical act, while being unaware of the emotions, such as love and commitment, which should accompany all healthy sexual relationships.
In one special education class of eight children, at least five pre-teens had already been exposed to and had serious questions about pornography, including specific questions related to things they had seen in pornography.
A study entitled The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth surveyed New England university students, and concluded that 93% of boys and 62.1% of girls who participated in this survey, 18 years old and under, had been exposed to pornography. Reactions varied significantly, from the extreme end of addiction and progression to harder forms of pornography, to disgust. Pornography exposure began as young as eight years old in this survey.
ABC Nightline relates the stories of two teens who became addicted to pornography, one boy and one girl. Saldiva began looking at pornography at 12 years old. She says, "I had no idea it was addictive". "I knew tons of students who were in my grade, my peers, who were struggling with the same thing."
Creating art can help a child develop a love for beautiful images as well as contribute to his or her self-esteem. It fills the need for visual beauty and can help a child or teen resist temptations to indulge in pornography, or to become addicted to it. Photo: David Shankbone - The Pueblo, Colorado Children's Museum
Pornography, as something that children and teens do not necessarily understand, becomes overwhelming and confusing for most children and teens. This can surface in ways difficult for parents or teachers to decode, such as oppositional behavior, preoccupation with sex, and inability to concentrate.
Exposure or over-exposure can also lead to some symptoms associated with depression and ADHD, symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, or suicidal ideation; if a parent, caregiver, or mental health professional, is unaware of how pornography might affect a child or teen's mental health, it can result in misguided or inadequate interventions. Pornography can be part of the source of the child or teen's difficulties.
ProtectKids.com notes numerous possible ways that exposure to pornography can affect children. Some of the issues, outlined by the website, for children who have been exposed to pornography and are under age 14, include sexual violence, unplanned parenthood, addiction, emotional difficulties.
While not all children or teens will react the same way to pornography, explicit content can be harmful, and so it is important for parents, caregivers, and teachers, to be aware of the child’s viewing habits. More significantly, it is the responsibility of adults to restrain from shaming children, since this type of behavior can only infuse psychological disorders. Instead, it is advised that adults talk openly with children, address their concerns, and explain sexual relationships in an open, yet appropriate manner.
Moreover, numerous studies, including one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2000, state that when parents and guardians take the time to have age-appropriate and open conversations about sex and safety with their children the influences of peers and pornography decrease significantly.
Damage caused by pornography includes:
exposing children to pornography can contribute to sexual abuse of children
pornography contributes to rape and sexual violence
exposure to pornography frequently results in addiction
children exposed to pornography may act out sexually with other children
pornography shapes attitudes and values
exposure to pornography interferes with a child's development and identity
Parents - Educate Your Children on the Dangers of Pornography--Protect Them
Parents, then, need to educate their children on the dangers associated with pornography. Be careful not to have pornography accessible to children in the house, and to tighten up Internet use. Do not assume that children will not be exposed, no matter how good your measures might be. If however, your child becomes exposed to pornography, make sure you don’t overreact, as that can have vastly negative effects.
Parents, take note, children and teens can and do get addicted to porn. It is an addiction that can start as a child or teen, and last through adult years, or even a lifetime. Protect and educate your children on the dangers of pornography and pornography addiction, by talking to them openly and honestly.
Children and adolescents require appropriate sexual education programs, and when such are lacking, they may turn to erotica, which is often inappropriate for their age group, mental and emotional functioning. As per the research published by Child Abuse Review4, if children are over-exposed to pornography, and have no adult who they could calmly and openly talk to, the consequences may be severe, and include social withdrawal, depression, and sexual deviance.
Pornography is a subject not often touched upon in school. It is up to parents to teach their children about this aspect of life. Keep the lines of communication open with your boys and girls, teens and pre-teens. Don't yell or berate a teen who "messes up", but patiently help them through life's many difficulties.
The Value of Internet Filtering for Children and Teens
One 13-year-old who was addicted to Internet pornography says he talked to his parents about it; his parents worked and he viewed pornography on the home computer when he came home from school. He attended a magnet school, was honest, got good grades and was well behaved. He says that he wishes his parents put parental Internet controls on the computer so that it would block the pornography, and felt that Internet controls would be enough of a deterrent to help him break what he felt was a damaging addiction.
Parental Internet Controls are not a complete solution to protecting children and teens from early exposure to pornography, but can be one effective element in protecting children.
1. Barbaree, H., Maric, A., Seto, M. The role of pornography in the etiology of sexual aggression. (2001). Aggression and Violent Behavior. Volume 6, Issue 1
2. Donvan, J., Abraham, M. Is the Internet Driving Pornography Addiction Among School-Aged Kids? (2012, May 8). NIGHTLINE-ABC News.
3. How Pornography Harms Children. (2001). Protect Kids.com
. Retrieved April 26, 2015 from
4. Finkelhorn, D., Sabina, C., Wolak, J. The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth. 2008. Cyberpsychology & Behavior. Volume 11, Issue 6.
5. Flood, M. The harms of pornography exposure among children and young people. 2009. Child Abuse Review
. Volume 18, Issue 6.
6. Miller, K., Whitaker, D. Parent-Adolescent Discussions about Sex and Condoms. Impact on Peer Influences of Sexual Risk Behavior. 2000. Journal of Adolescent Research
. Volume 15, Issue 2.
7. Sabina, C., Wolak, W., Finkelhor, D. (2008). The Nature and Dynamics of Internet
Pornography Exposure for Youth. Cyberpsychology & Behavior.
Volume 11, Number 6, 2008.
Helpful Resources on Pornography and Teens and Children:
DROPPING KNOWLEDGE ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF PORN. Fight the New Drug.
Pages Related to How Exposure to Pornography Can Effect Children
Sexuality for Children - Media Influence
The Sexualization of Childhood by Sharna Olfman
Child Abuse Information
K9 - Free Parental Internet Filtering Software
and Tips - 24 Steps in Positive Parenting
Pages Related to Pornography, Mental Health and Pornography Addiction
The Effects of Pornography
on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community
Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Effects of Pornography.
Robert A. Baron, Ph.D. Sociology summary.
Analysis of Pornography and Pornography Addiction
- Adapted from Sean Covey's book, The 6 Most Important Decisions You Will Ever Make.
, Mental Health and Pornography Addiction
Other Resources for How Exposure to Pornography Harms Children
Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children
: A National Survey, (2005). MICHELE L. YBARRA, M.P.H., Ph.D., and KIMBERLY J. MITCHELL, Ph.D. University of New Hampshire.
How Pornography Harms Children
Books on Overcoming Pornography Addiction
No Excuses: televised pornography harms children
. Benedek EP, Brown CF. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. PubMed.