An accidental visit to ‘Pornland’: Parents, take note

  • TECH
  • Saturday, 02 Sep 2017

The internet can make it easy to find porn, and exposure is higher in the summer. (Dreamstime)

So how's your summer been? Road trips, beach time, your kids free to do what they want with plenty of time on their hands, and you happy to let them? 

Then they've probably seen some porn. 

Those iPhones and iPads you set them up with aren't just for games and Nick Jr. and calls from you at the office, asking what they want for dinner. 

They can be a portal to some pretty rough stuff. 

And while Amy Lang and I don't want to sound like old ladies in hair shirts, fanning ourselves with church hymnals, it's high time some parents start being, well, parents. The Internet demands it. 

"Google 'big boobs' or 'sex' and you'll see stuff," said Lang, who conducts sexual-health-education workshops for parents and kids under the name Birds & Bees & Kids. "But what's new now is the frequency and easy and instant access to porn, and the extremes. You can go from 'boobs' to 'BDSM' in two clicks? Five clicks? 

"Doesn't matter," she said. "They can get there. And they do." 

Exposure to porn is higher in the summer, she said, when the structure of the school year is dismantled and parents are more lax. Kids are home alone, or in the back seat on long road trips, online and earbudded. They're up late, or spending the night with friends whose parents don't see the potential in an iPad and a couple of curious minds. 

Lang knows of two-year-olds who have memorised porn-site URLs because they think the names are funny. She told me about a nine-year-old girl who recently Googled the term "horse breeding," and ended up in, well, you can imagine. ("Pornland," is how Lang put it.) 

When her mother came into the room, the girl pressed her iPad against her chest. But in minutes, the girl was spilling everything. And she was upset. 

"This mother happened to be in the right place at the right time," Lang said. "But how many kids are seeing this stuff, and the parents don't know?" 

A lot, according to researchers at the University of New Hampshire, who in 2008 estimated that the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is 11 years old. They found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18; and that 26.9% and 23% of them, respectively, had been exposed by the age of 13. 

"Boys were more likely to be exposed at an earlier age, to see more images, to see more extreme images (eg, rape, child pornography), and to view pornography more often," the study reads, "while girls reported more involuntary exposure." 

Like when they search for, say, horse breeding. 

It's developmentally typical for kids to explore adult things like liquor, cigarettes and, in my case, starting a car and backing it out of the driveway before I could see over the dash. 

The difference with online pornography is that it strongly influences what kids imagine real-life sex will be. 

"When you don't understand what healthy, typical sexuality is the first time you see it," Lang began. "If it's, say, a video of two women having sex with one guy, it's overwhelming, scary and damaging." 

Making matters worse, another study shows that exposure to sexually aggressive pornography makes it nearly six times more likely that young men will perpetrate that behaviour. 

So it's no wonder that Lang doesn't see much wrong with parents slipping their young boys a copy of Playboy, which started publishing nude photos again in March after a year of not featuring full-frontal nudity. 

And why did Playboy cover up in the first place? Because they couldn't compete with the fact that porn is so easily available to anyone – and at no charge. 

"You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free," Playboy chief executive Scott Flanders told The New York Times in 2015. "And so it's just passé at this juncture." 

Better that adolescent boys satisfy their curiosity by looking at still photos in an contained context like Playboy, Lang said, than get lost in sexual cyberspace. 

The real problem here, though, is that parents aren't doing their jobs. 

"They're in deep denial about their children's' curiosities and the risks of letting your children have free range on their devices," Lang said. "People say 'My son's just not interested,' but they're wrong. 

"And I do that!" Lang said. "I have a 16-year-old! I'm not immune." 

Instead, pause and consider: "Maybe my kid," Lang said. "'Now what? How do I keep them safe?' Because every single parent whose child has seen and pursued pornography has thought the same thing: 'My kid would never.'" 

Parents need to take advantage of the parental controls built into their kids' phones and tablets that can block some content and search terms. They can also get email alerts that contain every place a child has visited online. 

"None of this is foolproof," Lang said. "But not doing so is foolish." 

If you suspect your kid has happened upon – or sought out – pornography, there's no way they can unsee it. 

But parents can give it some context, Lang said. 

"Tell them that people have sex to make babies, but most of the time do so because it feels really good to their grown-up bodies," Lang said. "Tell them it's not for kids because their hearts, minds and bodies are not ready." 

But really, the best defence is a good offense. If you haven't already, talk to your kids openly about sex and baby-making and private parts. There are age-appropriate books like It's Not the Stork for little ones and It's So Amazing for elementary-aged children. 

"It's all protective because it lessens their curiosity," Lang said. 

Any other advice for parents? 

"Pull your heads out of the sand," Lang said. "Protect your kids." — The Seattle Times/Tribune News Service

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