What Parents Need to Know About Teens and Porn

As technology continues to explode, so does the potential for its misuse and abuse. The same tech that allows us to share photos and videos with friends, livestream concerts and shop for pet supplies has been a boon to the pornography industry. Well beyond the simple transmission of still photos, online porn has grown to include “cam girls,” “sexting,” and the illicit use of mainstream social media sites. Pornography of all types is now more affordable, accessible, violent and anonymous than ever before. For a generation of children raised in a digital world, exploitation may be just a click away.

Negative Consequences

Life in a porn-saturated world can have negative consequences, especially for kids. Whether it’s consuming or producing, pornography has adverse social, emotional and cognitive effects on teens. Studies show that the earlier boys view porn, the more likely they are to experience anxiety, depression, poor academic performance, addictive behavior and unhealthy relationships. In addition, they also exhibit lower empathy for rape victims and a higher likelihood of committing sexual assault.

Girls who use social media for sexualized selfies leave themselves vulnerable to bullying, extortion, harassment, and even suicide. Studies also suggest that exposure to sexualized images online can lead to body shame, anxiety about appearance, eating disorders and low self-esteem.

On top of all of these deleterious effects, underage porn, as broadly defined, can also leave teens on the wrong side of the law.

Legal Consequences

In addition to pornography’s potential for emotional and developmental harm, child pornography is illegal under state and federal law. Child pornography laws are broad in both scope and definition. In Oklahoma, it’s illegal to have, produce, download, or distribute any nude or sexual images, videos or depictions of anyone under the age of 18. It’s also illegal to encourage a minor to participate in its production.

In other words, anyone who possesses a sexually explicit image of a person under 18 could be guilty of possession of child pornography, even if the subject of the image willingly sent the picture, and even if the recipient is a minor, too. For example, an underage girl who sends a nude photo to her boyfriend, the boyfriend who received the photo, or a teen who asks another teen for a nude photo are all in violation of this law.

According to Lieutenant Jeremy Nolan of the Tulsa Police Cyber Crimes Unit, although technically violating child pornography laws, cases involving two minors sending explicit images to each other are normally handled by the school system or by the juvenile division. Similarly, minors who produce sexually explicit or nude photos of themselves are rarely charged with a crime.

“We don’t typically charge someone who’s produced because a lot of the time, the kid has been coerced, or isn’t capable of making an informed or good decision about that,” he notes.

Technology & Porn

The days of a Playboy magazine hidden under the mattress seem quaint by comparison to what is readily available with a few electronic swipes today. While most social media platforms prohibit “adult content,” numerous online businesses have developed to facilitate, manage and monetize the production of porn, linking an innocuous “teaser” account on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to pornographic accounts or redirecting them to Pornhub, the major pornography site. On Instagram, porn is easily hidden behind hashtags and emojis, enabling searches leading directly to pornographic accounts.

The difficulty of policing this ever-evolving technology leaves the gate open for the proliferation of child pornography, too, with all of the potential for abuse and exploitation. Although one can debate the definition of “voluntary,” in many instances, underage individuals are “choosing” to participate for reasons as diverse as money and Internet fame, with little thought for the long-term consequences. Sites like OnlyFans allow “adult entertainers” to provide paid content to their subscribers. Although these types of platforms are ostensibly restricted to adults, the reality is different, and it’s not difficult for minors to participate, as well. The Internet is prized for its anonymity.

“It changes every day,” Nolan says. “There are so many platforms and so many applications that keep popping up. There are so many dating sites where you can pretend to be whoever you want. Online, we’ve had kids pretending to be adults.”

What Can Parents Do?

It’s easy to feel helpless when faced with concerns about your child’s use of, or participation in, porn. However, there are some basic things parents can do to help. First and foremost, look at your own behaviors. Studies consistently show that parents’ use of pornography negatively impacts children, both directly and indirectly.

“I think so much of it stems from what we all see on TV, and what parents are doing,” Nolan says. “I think there are a lot of influences that aren’t helping. We focus a lot here on education. It’s important to talk to your kids about this stuff.”

Research suggests that the average age to first view porn is between 10 and 12 for boys and 11 to 12 for girls, so experts recommend starting the conversation early. Keep the conversation calm, using a neutral tone of voice and expression. The goal is to create and maintain open lines of communication. Reassure them that curiosity is natural. Shaming and secrets only shut down discussion. Help kids understand that porn is not reality and not a healthy way to learn about sex. It’s an industry for profit, not for spreading accurate information. Take the opportunity to remind them that they make choices about their own bodies.

Without a doubt, these conversations can be tough, awkward and even embarrassing for all parties involved, but they’re an important place to start. As technology continues to evolve, new avenues for the creation and distribution of porn will develop alongside. It’s not an issue that is going away soon. As parents, it’s essential to stay informed. For more information and resources, visit internetsafety101.org.


May 2021 Teens Pin

Categories: Tweens & Teens