Make no mistake about it: the porn industry wants your kids. Unfortunately, this industry is both creative and tech savvy. How can parents keep kids safe when trends are changing so quickly?
Parents are most effective at protecting kids (and helping kids protect themselves) when they stay current on the ways pornography subtly and overtly targets children.
We could not possibly cover all the ways kids might be exposed to pornography, but here are some of the places pornography will be lurking in 2017:
50 Shades Movie
When 50 Shades of Grey became a movie in 2015, it made over 85 million dollars in its opening weekend and teens in Florida who had been denied entry “stampeded” their way into a theater. Social media was buzzing with controversy over the BDSM (bondage & discipline; sadism & masochism) and abuse themes within the film.
Fifty Shades Darker, sequel to 50 Shades of Grey, will be in theaters this February. Even if your kid doesn’t go see it (and we hope kids won’t), children may see messages about the movie in media and hear others talking about it. Or they might see the 50 Shades trailer when they go to the theater to see something else.
What parents can do to help keep kids safe: Read 3 Things Your Kids Need to Know about 50 Shades of Grey and start having conversations with them. Don’t let your kids first hear about the new movie from their friends or strangers–make sure you introduce it and inoculate them with your values.
Musical.ly, a popular lip syncing app, has exponentially grown its user base of mostly pre-teens and teens over the past year. Many users indicate it’s common to come across pornographic content.
The New Daily, an Australian newspaper concurs. This paper reports that it had “located dozens of videos depicting explicit sexual activity” within a half-hour of logging on to Musical.ly. Although Musical.ly insists that it removes all inappropriate content within 15 minutes of a user flagging it, content flagged by Daily News reporters remained visible 10 days later.
Even when an account is set up as private, kids are still in danger of being exposed to pornography. There is no way to control what content might appear on a user’s screen.
Though U.S. law says users should be at least 13, Musical.ly doesn’t ask for age when someone signs up.
What parents can do to help keep kids safe: Although this app can be REALLY fun for kids, we recommend that kids only use it through a parent’s device and with parent participation or monitoring. You can also sign this petition started by The Halcyon Movement. According to Joshua Tijerina, Halcyon CEO, the goal of the petition is to get Musical.ly “to maintain their app in a way that removes pornography; and/or to properly label their app as having pornographic material.
Amazon Website and App
Many parents have heard that children can be exposed to porn in public libraries, but not many think of Amazon.com being a dangerous place for kids. But there is lots of pornography on Amazon book covers, especially on e-books. According to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, “Amazon’s Kindle e-reader has already exposed children to sexually explicit images and content based on themes of incest, rape, and the abuse of minors.” Besides this, Amazon sells pornographic magazines, hardcore pornography on Amazon Instant Video, books depicting child nudity, sex dolls, and sexualized baby products.
What parents can do to help keep kids safe: Go to this site and take action. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has made it easy for you to email Amazon executives and ask them to stop facilitating the sales of products and services that are linked to sexual exploitation. You can also copy the meme below and use it on social media with #NotMyAmazon. Let’s all tell Amazon that we want them to enforce their own policy which prohibits pornography from being sold on their site.
Anonymous Live Streaming Sites
How exciting would it be to anonymously get online and meet strangers face to face using video live streaming? Apparently for millions of bored kids and lonely adults, it’s thrilling.
One of the most popular of these sites is Omegle. No “sign up” required. This site is 100% anonymous. It’s also available as an app.
Unfortunately there’s a lot of explicit pornographic content on Omegle. Worse, it’s a known place for child sexual predators. And anyone can use screen capture programs to record anything and anyone streamed via these sites.
“We’ve had kids as young as 8-years-old that are sending [explicit] videos,” said a sex crime investigator. And these increasingly sexualized videos from kids are being used by predators as a form of a vile “sextortion.” Kids who’ve made the mistake of sending one somewhat sexualized video are blackmailed into sending more and more explicit videos.
What parents can do to help keep kids safe: Just say no to anonymous live streaming. (Search for Omegle and you’ll see several other “Omegle alternative” live streaming sites.) There is nothing redeeming here for kids. A general rule is that kids shouldn’t talk to people online that they haven’t met in real life, unless a parent or teacher gives them specific permission to do so.
Virtual Reality is a powerful force that will impact children in both positive and negative ways. As its availability and use becomes more widespread in 2017, parents need a VR reality check.
If you think your kids get lost in conventional 2D flat screens, wait until they experience the total visual immersion of VR in the privacy of their headset (where parents can’t see what their child is watching). VR is available on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, and Sony Playstation, and pornography is already available for each of these platforms. The jury is still out on whether heavy use of VR could negatively impact a child’s developing visual perception.
It may sound like we’re anti-VR, but we’re not. It will be used to vastly improve education, medical, science and military training as well as to increase empathy and motivation to solve social and humanitarian problems.
However, the flip side is VR’s increased power to addict its users. As reported in an article on VB, Dr. Andrew Doan, the head of resilience and addictions research for the U.S. Navy, has real concerns about VR and addiction:
Because virtual reality is more arousing to the brain and neuroendocrine system, we may see more problems with addiction and abuse as devices become accessible to more people.
What parents can do to help keep kids safe: We would encourage parents to do your research on this one! It’s a powerful technology and warrants a deliberate approach. At the very least, develop strict time limits and content agreements with your child beforehand. And consider whether your children under age 13 should use it at all.
Is it possible to keep kids safe?
It will be a challenge to keep kids safe in 2017. There are more ways kids might be exposed to pornography than any parent could possibly control. Movies. Apps. Websites. VR. Of course, it’s also possible to be exposed to pornography via television, podcasts, gaming systems, magazines, on cartoon games, or even on filtered websites at school!
Do you feel overwhelmed thinking about this?
Try this simple formula:
- First, filter and monitor the areas under your control.
- Second, help your kid install an internal filter so they can protect themselves in the areas you can’t control. Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-proofing Today’s Young Kids includes a proven 5-point action plan, teaching kids what they need to do protect their brain from harmful images. Plus, this read-a-loud book is comfortable for parents!
In other words, you may not be able to prevent all pornography exposure, but you can help your child minimize the negative impacts of being exposed. You can keep kids safe from the harmful consequences of pornography on their developing brain.
Yes, we live in challenging times, but parents can educate ourselves and others as we empower our children to face this challenge head-on.
Update: Thanks Snapchat!
The #NoThanksSnapchat media campaign and a petition launched by former Miss Utah, Malissa Richardson, was a success. It got over 25,000 signatures and led to Snapchat changing it’s policy. Since we published this article in early January, Snapchat has announced it “will be updating its policy on the content posted by publishers on the Discover feature” and also “creating a new tool that lets publishers prevent users who are under age 18 from seeing certain content.” Snapchat still isn’t completely risk free; however, we are ecstatic to see these positive changes. We say #ThanksSnapchat and thanks to all our fans who supported this effort!
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A big thank you to Kristen Jenson and her daughter, Sarah Jenson, who both helped to research and edit this article.