SO I’m talking to Michael Carr-Gregg, Australia’s top-gun child psychologist, about some of the big issues facing kids today, and the discussion turns to pornography.
It’s not a problem in our house, I tell him; my 15 year old “isn’t into that sort of thing”.
Carr-Gregg pauses, a little too long, then says: “The average age kids are seeing porn today is 11, and by the time boys are 15, 100 per cent have seen violent porn.”
Much as parents might not want to believe the statistics, or fancy that they apply to “other people’s kids”, it’s folly to ignore them.
Searches for “teen porn” have tripled since 2005, according to Google Trends, and porn sites get more monthly hits than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.
So my insistence on computers coming out of bedrooms and into communal areas where they can be monitored is worth the push back?
“Absolutely! This is a non-negotiable,” says Carr-Gregg.
“The internet is the number one sex educator in the country but sadly, governments, schools and parents are asleep at the wheel.”
In June, it was revealed a Melbourne school had failed to install basic filtering software, exposing seven-year-olds to porn on classroom iPads.
Cyber-safety warrior and Susan McLean, a former police officer, says negligence is common as schools race towards technology-based learning.
While governments offer free software to block porn and other material deemed inappropriate, not all schools take advantage of it.
Kids aren’t only looking at Playboy bunnies, McLean says, but also at far more horrible imagery, giving them a skewed view of love and intimacy.
Skewed, all right.
Did you know that adolescent boys who view porn are six times more likely to think it’s OK to be sexually aggressive, and six times more likely to hold someone down when having sex with them?
Given the incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault in this country, and the links to prolonged exposure to porn, you’d think we’d be scrambling to do everything we can to teach kids to respect their bodies and others’.
Psychiatrist Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, says just like addictive substances such as alcohol and drugs, porn triggers the release of the brain chemical dopamine, providing the same high that comes from achieving something.
Porn is sex without effort.
It’s a cheap thrill and the rush becomes addictive.
As the desire for more increases, the brain becomes warped about what is real.
Doidge says this is hugely problematic for the teen brain, which is extremely elastic.
Inability to form positive relationships is just one effect.
He cites the Beeban Kidron film InRealLife, in which a 15-year-old boy explains how the images he and his mates watch have influenced him.
“You’d try out a girl and get a perfect image of what you’ve watched on the internet; you’d want her to be exactly like the one you saw on the internet.
“I’m highly thankful to whoever made these websites, and that they’re free, but in other senses it’s ruined the whole sense of love. ... it hurts me because I find now it’s so hard to find a connection to a girl.”
Kids come across porn in various ways — usually by accident or through curiosity — and the big mistake parents make is thinking it doesn’t happen.
Carr-Gregg says cyber savviness is higher than people think, “especially in little kids with immature brains, powerful peer pressure and all the latest technology”.
“Parents must be supervising kids online and I’m not at all sure they are.
“They need to embrace digital literacy — to have the skills, knowledge and strategy to [help children] use the internet in a safe, responsible way.
“Yahoo and Google have ‘safe searches’ so if kids come to porn accidentally parents aren’t doing their job.”
Schools must be vigilant too.
Install filters, yes, but also broaden sex education beyond biology to include the basics of affirming relationships — love and respect are the opposite of what porn promotes.
The Federal Government’s new e-safety website has great tips for educators and parents, as well as a complaints portal so kids can report sexually explicit content.
The March appointment of a children’s e-safety commissioner is also a good move.
Alastair MacGibbon has already introduced legislation forcing social media sites to remove offensive material or risk fines of up to $17,000.
It’s early days but, as Carr-Gregg says, “the responsibility can’t be outsourced — first and foremost, it is a parental responsibility.
“Teaching kids to be safe online is as vital as teaching them to cross the road or swim.”