A quarter of 9-16 year-olds have told researchers they’d seen sexual images in the past year – more so on television and in film than on the internet.1
So the good news is that children don’t all feel that they’re being bombarded by unwanted images.
Of those children who had seen unwanted content, more had found it on television and in film than on the internet. So unwanted content isn't restricted to the internet - and parents probably have to accept that we can’t always control what children see. These images may not necessarily have a lasting effect, though, according to Dr Heather Wood, a psychotherapist and psychologist who specializes in treating compulsive sexual behaviour.
Many young people, says Dr Wood, will have some exposure to internet pornography and find it amusing or boring or exciting, but then get on with the business of making real-life relationships with people their own age.
In a survey carried out by the Tavistock Clinic and BBC Radio 1 of young people’s attitudes to internet pornography:
- 71% of 18 to 24-year-olds thought it was too easy to access pornography on the internet
- 50% thought looking at too much pornography can make you feel bad about yourself
- 63% thought that pornography can have a harmful effect on people’s ideas about sex and sexuality.
This suggests that young adults are capable of being discriminating about porn. The big question is whether children, especially when exposed to porn before they are ready, are capable of making the same judgements.
Children know how to work their devices and how to use software - and in some cases, they know how to create it, too - but we shouldn’t assume that means they are equally sophisticated about content.
Many schools are doing a very good job of teaching children to critique the media they consume. Parents can help by encouraging children to discuss the images they see on television and film, which will help young people to become more sophisticated in the way they understand the messages behind porn (realising, for example, that porn stars do what they do because they are paid and that relationships between men and women may be quite different between people who aren't performing to make money for commercial pornographers).