When families are supported with services, resources, education and strategies, children gain tools to develop into thriving members of community. Modern parenting presents unique challenges, particularly with children’s easy accessibility to harmful online pornography. To counteract disconnection, families need more support than ever to provide positive alternatives and a safe haven for kids. - Liz Walker
National Families Week is held every year between 15 and 21 May, and is an opportune time to celebrate families in all their forms. As an invited ambassador for 2018 (Liz Walker, eChildhood Chair), this week also opens a platform to discuss how pornography impacts families, and the importance of building capacity within community to deal with its harms.
The biggest focus for eChildhood is the direct impact pornography has on kids, and there’s numerous ways in which pornography can create ‘big moments’ within families.
‘A big moment’ may happen when parents first discover their kids have been viewing pornography. They may react angrily, minimise or ignore it, panic, make up stories about what porn is, shame their kids for watching it, or be calm and factual. Obviously, the latter is better. Our friends at Culture Reframed offer some insight into how parents can calmly compose themselves and respond in an appropriate and thoughtful way. And Kids Helpline is an invaluable resource for kids and families alike.
A big moment may occur if one child within the family has been watching pornography and then proceeds to mimic the acts by sexually abuse another child within the home. Just recently I heard a heartbreaking story (yet again) of a situation where this occurred. Two brothers under the age of seven - the older boy had been accessing pornography and proceeded to abuse his younger brother. ‘A big moment’ hardly seems apt to describe the way in which this scenario can devastate a family. A huge amount of shame, blame, guilt and tension can result between partners (in partnered families) - there are safety factors to consider for the victim - and restorative processes for the child carrying out the abuse. Bravehearts and the Australian Childhood Foundation can offer support for families facing these situations.
Another big moment families may have to face is the sharing of minors sexual images online - consensually or otherwise (consensual is used as an inept term, given sharing sexual images of minors is illegal). Often sexting (or sending nudes as referred to by teens), is a separate discussion to pornography. However, we have to understand the ways in which pornography normalises harmful sexual behaviours. A 2015 journal article that explored peer-to-peer grooming and sexual offending amongst young people states that:
Access to and use of pornographic materials has increased over the past few decades, as sexting has become almost a way of life among young people using smartphones and social media applications. These social media applications appear now to be the method-of-choice for grooming and sexual engagement.
For those families faced with supporting young people whose sexual images have been shared online, seek help from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
Perhaps not as obvious but nevertheless a big (and often life-long impact) moment, is when pornography leads to family breakdown. Relationships Australia reported in 2015 that almost one quarter (23%) of women and one-sixth (14%) of men reported intimacy problems because of their partner’s use of internet pornography. The results from a 2016 longitudinal study suggest that viewing pornography, under certain social conditions, may have negative effects on marital stability. This same study found that the younger an adult was when he or she began watching pornography, the higher his or her probability of getting divorced. Relationships Australia is a leading provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities. Those experiencing relational difficulties can reach out for counselling support.
Pornography also normalises abuse within relationships - both teen dating and within families. When children are in the home, this can have a drastic negative impact on mothers, child safety, security, and family harmony. Whichever way it’s framed, relational and family instability has an impact on kids - this is something that pornography contributes to.
Dr. John Foubert has studied how to end sexual violence for 25 years and he states:
[The] ingredient, responsible for giving young men the permission-giving beliefs that make rape so much more likely and telling young women they should like it, is today’s high speed Internet pornography. Pornography itself is a recipe for rape that has rewritten the sexual script for the sexual behavior of the millennial generation and is currently rewiring the brains of the generation to follow.
Victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse within the family can contact 1800 Respect - the National sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service. Children can also contact Kids Helpline.
Yes, indeed. Modern parenting presents unique challenges, particularly with children’s easy accessibility to harmful online pornography. Again, our friends at Culture Reframed offer solid support to assist parents. Their free online Parents Program provides a complete best-practice toolkit to help you raise porn-resilient kids, and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner also provides information for parents.
Families concerned about the impacts of pornography can add their voice to the eChildhood pledge, calling on the Australian Government to take action to prevent children’s access to pornography through digital child protection buffers, and update legislation and education to address pornography as a public health crisis. Families can also report gratuitous, exploitative and offensive depictions of violence or sexual violence to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. To be clear, this includes the vast majority of the content that kids can access at the click of a button on mainstream porn sites.
This overview of how pornography impacts families is by no means exhaustive, and National Families Week marks a time where families need more support than ever to provide positive alternatives and a safe haven for kids. At eChildhood, we are working towards ensuring we have much more to celebrate in years to come, as we strive to see measures implemented that protect our children from pornography harms, thereby, strengthening families.
Full disclosure, eChildhood Chair, Liz Walker, is also Director of Health Education for Culture Reframed.