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Children 'are accessing porn at sleepovers' and viewing explicit content on phones

Exposure to sexual imagery and language at a young age can lead to mental health problems.

Image: Shutterstock/Dima Sidelnikov

CHILDREN ARE BEING exposed to inappropriate material, such as pornography, at an earlier age say experts and parent groups.

Rita O’Reilly, CEO of parents’ helpline Parentline, tells TheJournal.ie that parents are worried about their children’s access to such material.

“We get many parents that ring us to say they’re aware their child has had access to pornography… Parents are very concerned,” she said.

The ISPCC’s 2015 Annual Report, released last week, notes that children as young as six are viewing pornography, leaving them confused and scared. Others are using sexualised language and engaging in sexual activity at a young age, including texting or sharing nude images of themselves.

The ISPCC says that young people’s access to inappropriate content that they are not mature enough to deal with is affecting their ability to have a childhood.

Access to sexual material

Children who view inappropriate material are ringing the ISPCC’s Childline more more frequently, sometimes stating they are watching pornography and describing what is happening while watching.

Children may come across porn when it is being watched by someone older in the house.

“The ISPCC is aware of situations and cases where children have had access to porn within their own homes while parents were watching this content,” says Caroline O’Sullivan, director of services for the ISPCC.

In some of these cases, this was due to other familial issues, such as drug and alcohol issues where the parents were under the influence of drugs and alcohol and weren’t aware a child was in the room.

“The ISPCC is also aware from the calls that Childline receives that young people are accessing porn sites at sleepovers where WIFI is available with no parental controls,” says O’Sullivan.

Children as young as 10 are experiencing peer pressure to engage in sexual activity, and some have been encouraged to share explicit images of themselves.

O’Reilly says that many young people put pressure on each other to be sexually active, and may lie to their friends about having sex. “They’re viewing quite explicit sex on the phone, and they think that’s ok.”

There is also an increased use of sexualised language. According to O’Sullivan:

Childline has received contacts from children who discuss masturbation, rape and sexual fantasies in detail. Occasionally, when explored further, they state that they came into contact with this graphic sexual content online, in a film or on TV.

Effects

“Children are being thrust into the adult ideals of physical attractiveness, being portrayed as ‘mini-adults’ and being denied the innocence of childhood,” says O’Sullivan.

According to the Papadopoulos report on Sexualisation of Young Children, sexualisation is the imposition of adult sexuality onto children and young people before they are capable of dealing with it.

As a result, children face unrealistic expectations about how they should look and behave.

The American Psychological Association has said there are links between sexualisation and low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Advice for parents

“This is about good parenting,” O’Sullivan says.

It’s about parents making decisions about how long children can be online etc. The parent will decide what’s in the best interest of their child and they should be aware of what their child is doing with their devices.

O’Sullivan notes that while pornographic material has always been available, a lot of children now have 24-hour access to the internet.

The ISPCC has voiced its concern about the recent increase in the number of children using their communion money to buy smartphones.

Parentline advises parents to put limits on when their children can access their phone.

“We would suggest you don’t give young children a smartphone too young. We’ve had parents of 8 year olds looking for them and they’re far too young,” said O’Reilly.

One thing we would suggest is never to bring the phone upstairs, or never at the dinner table. It’s up to the parent.

O’Reilly says many parents don’t seem to be aware of what they can do.

Put parental controls on websites. Be aware that there’s the tablet, the computer, the phone, the TV… Parents need to be aware and they need to inform themselves about the technology.

Need to talk about sex

The ISPCC and Parentline believe that Ireland needs a more open and proactive approach when it comes to talking to children about sex and sexuality.

O’Sullivan says: “Young people must not be left to try to interpret this alone. As parents, there is a central role to play in this by keeping communication open with our young people.”

Parents have a very important role in ensuring that their children understand that what is being depicted in these images/videos is not what a normal healthy consenting, sexual relationship is all about.

O’Reilly added:

“You have to talk with kids, they should be able to come to their parents. You have to handle it quite carefully, not to be ‘down with the kids’, but being informative. Things like explaining that sometimes people exaggerate.”

What about you? Would you allow your eight year old to have a smartphone?


Poll Results:

No (5435)
Yes with limits on use (1045)
Yes (235)



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About the author:

Elizabeth O'Malley

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