Education Solutions form one component of four within our eChildhood Public Health Approach. When people hear ‘education’, naturally, first thoughts are towards schools. However, education from a public health perspective involves drawing in key stakeholders from a wide range of government, non-government, health professions, ‘people helping’ services and community organisations. Every child in Australia (and globally) under the age of 18 is at risk of being harmed by pornography—because of this, prevention of harms needs to be addressed within individual sectors and collectively. A collaborative response means that we work towards a common goal of breaking down the ‘silo’ situation that currently exists, and together, prevent harm and support every child. If the principal aim is to provide children with a safe online environment in which to thrive, all those involved with children and young people—either directly or indirectly— have a role to play in ensuring this outcome.
Creating solutions involves educating and involving the digital, therapeutic, legislation and policy sectors; and framing education with public health to three targeted tiers: primary, secondary and tertiary. Children don’t separate their offline world from the online. Previously, the ways that children engaged in offline activities were simpler for parents to monitor. Now, however, children under 12 are often unaccountable for their online activities. Harm is at their fingertips and accidental or deliberate exposure to pornography can cause confusion or trauma. In addition to direct exposure on porn websites, kids can also access this content via other online spaces, including social media, messaging and gaming platforms, and video/photo sharing sites such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.
Another layer of complexity is the ways that children and youth communicate through messaging on any of these platforms and file sharing via technologies such as Apple Airdrop. Peer-to-peer communication amplifies how pornography can be shared and accessed. This includes circumstances whereby children and youth can share, make or possess (have) illegal sexting images (child sexual exploitation material), often sending them to other people via these messaging systems. Grooming (by older teens or adult offenders) also often occurs via messaging. These activities are normalised by images they see in pornography—their access to online spaces jeopardises children's mental and emotional safety and wellbeing.
Current educational approaches often focus on putting out fires (dealing with the fallout), rather than implementing education to prevent harm. One barrier is a lack of awareness of how pornography access links to a wide range of activities. This includes activities such as sexual harassment and objectification (online and offline); inability to focus in class, anxiety, depression, addictive behaviours, sexting, child-on-child or peer-on-peer sexual abuse, coercive and manipulating behaviours (including offering status or gifts in exchange for sexual “favours”—a form of sex trafficking), and the broader impact of normalised sexual violence. Pornography disrupts and harms the social, sexual, emotional, mental, physical and relational development of children and young people. Responding through education looks different for younger children than it does for teens. Education (particularly for younger children) that focuses on “early warning signs”, “protective behaviours” and “body safety” to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation, is well-positioned to encompass online activities, including pornography and its consequences.
For teens, protective behaviours needs to extend to include a Critical Porn Analysis. This is where young people are educated to consider how porn’s proliferation and ease of access impacts the health & wellbeing of individuals (including potential outcomes of distorted attitudes, behaviours and mental health/compulsive sexual behaviours), relationships, families, communities and cultures.
Framing a robust educational response requires knowledge of the harms of pornography; a positive, inclusive, and comprehensive approach to sex and relationships; underpinned by a Critical Porn Analysis and protective behaviours education. The rhetoric of just saying “porn is bad, don’t watch it,'' without an alternative positive viewpoint, has been seen to only drive parents, carers and youth apart. Sexuality and relationships are a part of everyone's lives in varying degrees. Therefore, ensuring our children and youth have age-appropriate health-enhancing education is vital for the safety and wellbeing of their development, and a key buffer in ensuring pornography does not become their primary educator. Incorporating a Critical Porn Analysis discourse extends beyond secondary school-aged students to college, university and all professional and community bodies supporting children and young people.
Education then creates a buffer for when a child is exposed to or is consuming pornography, enabling them to know how to respond if they feel negatively impacted and to reflect on accurate information and discredit what is viewed. It also sets pornography education in the correct space for encouraging critical thinking and provides alternatives to children and young people to lay the foundation for healthy relationships and development.
Effectively, this means educational strategies are directed towards three main prevention areas:
Primary prevention efforts address the whole population. This starts by changing the public discourse around pornography through widespread marketing campaigns that highlight the harms to children and young people; the links between pornography and attitudes and behaviours that support violence against women; and the impacts on mental health, wellbeing and relationships. This initiative provides the platform to establish support for widespread social change, including through legislation and policies that inform the response of other sectors and stakeholders
Secondary prevention efforts focus on supporting a specific sub-group with risk factors. The five areas within education solutions that are best positioned to support families, children and young people:
- Parents & Carers
- Industry & Decision-makers
- People who serve Children & Young People
- Educator Training
- Children & Young People
Tertiary prevention efforts focus on identified groups already significantly harmed from exposure to pornography. Tertiary prevention overlaps with Therapeutic Solutions.
Informed education includes an understanding of Critical Porn Analysis, implemented via our Public Health Approach, with research commissioned to measure outcomes and change. There exists an opportunity to explore a comprehensive nationally mandated framework underpinned by education, prevention and restorative policies. Priority must be on supporting the provision of robust educational materials, skills and training for the five areas within education solutions.
Parents & Carers. Online pornography is a new risk that parents, carers and foster support need to include in their knowledge base to ensure children's safety and wellbeing. Accessible, age-appropriate, digestible information that enables self-reflection on values and sensitivity to cultures is the best way to support those at the coal face of pornography impacts. It is common for parents not to have an understanding of how pornography has evolved in recent years. As such, parents need to be equipped with the facts, supported to have regular conversations, and aware that creating connection, understanding and a safe space to talk forms one of the most robust buffers our children and youth will have against pornography. Informed education includes an understanding of Critical Porn Analysis, implemented via our Public Health Approach, with research commissioned to measure outcomes and change. There exists an opportunity to explore a comprehensive nationally mandated framework underpinned by education, prevention and restorative policies. Priority must be on supporting the provision of robust educational materials, skills and training for the five areas within education solutions.
Making offline and online, downloadable education available to parents via infographics, podcasts, community talks, webinars and programs, will enable them to be equipped with the facts to have meaningful age-appropriate conversations. This preventative measure needs to occur from the time their child first uses a device, right through to having regular and bite-sized discussions with youth.
Industry & Decision-makers. The online pornography business is a thriving global industry—one site alone had 33.5 billion visits in 2018 drastically increasing from previous years—therefore, the education of industry and key decision-makers about pornography harms to children is imperative. Stakeholders include government, technology firms, data industries and peak bodies, which at times, cross international borders. Education across these sectors ensure they are informed to support and contribute to changes in national and state legislation, regulation, and frameworks, keeping child safety at the core to ensure kids in Australia grow up with a porn free childhood.
People who serve Children & Young People. This sector encompasses mental health and allied professionals (including therapeutic support for those harmed), child and youth organisations, community centres, churches and mosques, and sporting groups. Those who work with children and young people in varying capacities within the community need to be equipped to support any child/young person that has been impacted by pornography, as children may disclose in a wide range of settings outside the home. Also, many of these community spaces where children and youth congregate have internet-enabled environments; as such, these may be places of exposure. Knowing how to effectively respond (just as we do with disclosures of sexual abuse) is imperative to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those affected.
Educator Training. Through data collection, research and anecdotal reports, we know that children in primary and secondary schools are viewing and showing other children pornography before, during and after school. Secondary schools are dealing with an increase of sexually abusive behaviours and illegal use of technologies. Primary school educators are struggling to cope with younger and younger children enacting problem sexual behaviours—many times, these behaviours are influenced by what children and youth have seen in pornography.
Educators need equipping to know how to respond, support, report and follow the correct process in addressing this as a child protection issue. A response underpinned by child protection policies, digital protection buffers and preventative education is essential.
Punitive measures that fail to respond to the needs of the harmed child and those involved only leaves children further vulnerable. Without preventative education, the issues that result from pornography harms remain unaddressed.
Children & Young People. Given the widespread access, there needs to be age-appropriate education as soon as a child can be exposed to pornography—as soon as they are in environments with unfettered internet access— whether that is in their home, other people's homes, community environment or at school. Parents are an important educator—however, widespread education responses have the potential to occur in schooling environments. We also need to ensure we have culturally appropriate and correctly framed education for those at higher risk of adverse outcomes, particularly indigenous communities, children on the spectrum or with disabilities, and same-sex attracted and gender diverse communities. Collaborating with experts in these fields to build education targeted for these stakeholders will ensure content and delivery meets their needs.
There is growing support for school-based pornography education as it aligns with existing school priorities of sexuality, cybersafety, and violence prevention, can reach broad audiences, can be high quality, and schools are a setting for pornography’s impacts. As outlined above, a robust educational response requires knowledge of the harms of pornography, a positive approach to sex and relationships and Critical Porn Analysis. Of high importance is a focus on protective behaviours, personal safety and developing critical thinking skills. Education needs to be accessible in multiple locations (online and offline), including schools and community settings, and ideally within the home.
Education Solutions form one component of four within our eChildhood Public Health Approach. Detailed in the 2019 eChildhood Report, KIDS AND PORNOGRAPHY IN AUSTRALIA: Mobilising a Public Health Response, the eChildhood Public Health Approach presents a positive framework to be enacted in consultation with key stakeholders and supporters.
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Every child in Australia deserves a porn free childhood