Monday 17 December 2018

'Children as young as nine exposed to porn on sleepovers' - Irish psychotherapist

Concerns over online safety continue to grow. Stock Image
Concerns over online safety continue to grow. Stock Image
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Parents need to be alert that Irish children as young as nine are being exposed to pornographic images on sleepovers with their friends, a leading child psychotherapist has warned.

Anne McCormack, who works with both children and adults, moved to highlight the issue after a number of concerned parents contacted her about the issue.

Parents who have filters on their children’s devices at home, are often surprised to find that their children are exposed to pornographic images when they enter houses where internet use is not vetted.

"To me that’s absolutely shocking. I think it’s absolutely vital that parents have conversations with children way before they go on social media,” she said.

“Because they put filters on devices, that doesn’t cover when they go to another child’s house and devices are unfiltered and unsupervised,” Ms McCormack told independent.ie.

“Sometimes it can happen by accident. But in my experience it can often be when a child has an older sibling and they’re told something by the older sibling, and then they go and look online.”

“It’s a really difficult thing for parents to know how to manage.”

A recent study in Britain by the NSPCC showed that 28pc of 11-12 year-olds have already viewed online porn. The report found that youngsters were more likely to come across porn accidentally, for example via a pop-up ad, than to seek it out.

One 11-year-old girl told the NSPCC researchers about her experience of porn: "I didn't like it because it came on by accident and I don't want my parents to find out and the man looked like he was hurting her. He was holding her down and she was screaming and swearing."

A 13-year-old girl said: "It can make a boy not look for love, just look for sex, and it can pressure us girls to act and look and behave in a certain way before we might be ready for it."

In Ireland last May, in a move to address issue of children's cyber safety, the Fine Gael TD Jim Daly tried to introduce legislation banning the sale of mobile phones to under-14s, and even fining parents for giving their kids unrestricted access. Bullying, gambling and pornography were the key concerns that motivated this proposal.

Research from CyberSafeIreland published this week showed that a third of children had never spoken to parents about online safety.

The research also showed that almost a fifth of children were spending over four hours a day online and that the same number again were found to be in contact with a stranger.

Ms McCormack advises that parents need to have conversations about online safety with their children ahead of time, before they get their smart phone, or before they'll enter an area with unrestricted access.

“Parents are ringing me and saying they know they’re viewing porn in that house and what can they do.”

“Sleepovers are quite common so there’s a huge amount of opportunity for young people to be accessing inappropriate content online and it’s a real struggle for parents to know what to do when they haven’t had a conversation with children about porn and the dangers of it.”

McCormack, who published a book “Keeping your child safe on social media – five easy steps” in March, said there are resources available if parents need help to tackle the issue.

“The information is out there. I just don’t know if parents think it’s particularly relevant for them until the issue lands in their lap.”

“One of the things with accessing porn at a young age is that sometimes children can be quite frightened because they don’t know what they’re looking at. It can be quite violent and children might not be sure about what they’re looking at.”

She added: “There is a lot of talk currently about consent and the impact of consent and asking for consent. With pornography there are absolutely no good messages being given out. Children are getting a very confusing message about consent, and that consent isn’t all that relevant. The giving of consent isn’t something you witness with porn.”

“That’s the conversation that needs to be had, that there is no consent in porn.”

“Conversations around sex and what sex is like… all of that can be extremely dangerous for young people if they’re getting that message from pornography. It’s putting young people under a lot of pressure.”

“The content is way too explicit for them to handle and it’s really important that filters are put on devices.”

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