Our regular Parent Alert! news updates help parents stay ahead of the trends affecting kids in our hypersexualized culture.
This month we’re covering headlines from around the world: a twisted erotic fiction series popular with teens is coming to a theatre near you; a global study compares how countries are combating the child sexual abuse epidemic; and, Microsoft Bing has been suggesting child sexual abuse images in search!
Here’s what’s Trending in February 2019
Movie Alert! Is After the New 50 Shades of Grey for Kids?
Have you heard about the new movie coming out this April called After?
It’s yet another toxic relationship series that is barrelling straight for your kids on the big screen this spring.
So, what’s the problem with After?
The movie is based on a book with this plot synopsis: “Tessa Young is an 18-year-old college student with a simple life, excellent grades, and a sweet boyfriend. She always has things planned out ahead of time, until she meets a rude boy named Harry, with too many tattoos and piercings, who shatters her plans.”
That’s the mild version.
The author’s own warning on her Wattpad page should alarm parents with tweens or teenagers:
“This series contains mature content, including explicit and suggestive language, sexual themes, drug use, addiction, and overall mature themes throughout the entire series … Before you read – again, this story is not your typical romance and is suited for readers who prefer darker themes in fiction.”
I read through half of the first book in the series on the Wattpad site. Here’s my scoop:
Both main characters – Tessa and Harry [changed to Hardin in the movie] – are on a roller coaster ride of lust, pride, deception, betrayal, and cheating. The focus of their relationship is sex and mind games – not love.
Some of the scenes are so explicit that they should be considered pornographic.
In the beginning, Tessa is mocked by her college friends for her chaste relationship with her high school boyfriend and her overall “prudishness.” She quickly sheds that image by making repeated foolish and dangerous choices that endanger her physical, mental, and emotional health.
Parents, if you have tween/teen girls, please don’t ignore this book/movie trend.
- The first three books in the series have garnered over 1.5 billion reads on Wattpad. This popular digital publishing platform allows first-time authors to share their work with readers online for free. After has since been published by Simon & Schuster.
- The series is fan fiction based on Harry Styles, the musician who got started as a teen heartthrob in the boy band One Direction.
- The author has been called “the biggest literary phenomenon of her generation” by Cosmopolitan. The series is getting viral-level traffic on YouTube, Twitter, and other social media.
- The movie is set to be released on April 12, 2019.
- The MPAA rating has not yet been officially released.
To young people who have read the books, the movie is a big deal. And to those who haven’t read the books, the movie may pique their interest.
Many people are concerned about the real message
Comments on the movie trailer on YouTube:
- “From the looks of it this seems to be some teenage version of 50 Shades of Grey”
- “It’s a really good story if you like feeling mentally and emotionally drained every 3 – 4 chapters … the relationship is really, really toxic.”
Review of the book on Amazon:
- “This book portrays nothing but a toxic and abusive relationship that the author will have you wanting to believe is love but is sick obsession.”
Unfortunately, judging by the comments online, many of the fans are younger teens.
Our strongest suggestion is to keep your kids away from this one.
Want more interesting, healthier role models? Try some classics like Pride and Prejudice or Little Women.
Tips for parents:
- Talk to your tweens and teens about this movie. They will hear about it, as it has become a huge teen trend (even though it’s called a “young adult romance.”) Help your teen understand the different forms of abuse that can occur in a relationship and how they can know what a healthy relationship is. Face the lies head-on, and your teen will be better armed to recognize and reject the corruption that is being pushed through the media.
- Boys also need to learn about healthy relationships from us. They are unfairly stereotyped in movies like 50 Shades of Grey and After as brooding, angry, and “misunderstood”. These movies make it seem like abusing girls is attractive and manly. Let’s do better for our boys and get talking.
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Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine Found to be Suggesting Child Sexual Abuse Keywords and Images!
This is disappointing, especially coming from a company that has helped to fight online child sexual exploitation!
How did this happen?
The report from AntiToxin found that certain keywords brought up illegal child sexual abuse images. Not all keywords were necessarily porn-related. When researchers used search terms related to Omegle Kids (a video app chat popular with teens), Bing’s auto-complete suggestions brought up illegal child sexual abuse content!
What’s worse is that even after the report was published and Microsoft claimed to have fixed the problem, TechCrunch was still finding pornographic images on Bing.
A word of warning to parents: AntiToxin worked closely with legal counsel and law enforcement to perform the keyword searches. Do not search for the terms yourself, as you could be committing a crime.
- Use internet filters and parental controls to help screen out and monitor dangerous and exploitive content. Browsers and apps can’t be trusted to do that for you.
- At the same time, we can’t just rely on technology and internet filters to do all the work. There isn’t a foolproof safety net yet. And they can be circumvented – even by your own kids!
- The real power comes when kids are prepared to recognize and turn away from sexualized content right away. Develop strategies to talk to your kids about pornography – and why it’s harmful to them. As part of your family’s internet safety plan, discuss with your kids what to do if they encounter unwanted images.
“Speaking as a parent, we should expect responsible technology companies to double, and even triple-down to ensure they are not adding toxicity to an already perilous online environment for children.” Zohar Levkovitz, CEO AntiToxin
Prepare your child to reject pornography right away by reading these kid-friendly books together – Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids for ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds for ages 3-7.
How Does the United States Measure Up Against Other Countries on Child Sexual Abuse?
It seems that we’re at a major crossroads when it comes to tackling child sexual abuse.
On one hand, the advanced technology that is used to find, track, and remove child sexual abuse images is encouraging.
On the other hand, the prevalence of child sexual abuse seems to be rising. So much so, that countries like Canada, for example, are having a hard time keeping up.
The universal threat of our time
Child sexual abuse has aptly been named the “universal threat.” It knows no bounds, either by gender or by socioeconomics. This abuse takes place mostly in the shadows and is enabled by our digital connectivity and mobility.
What does the benchmark tell us?
The report compares child sexual abuse against a variety of indicators in 40 different countries to show how child sexual abuse is being addressed. The benchmark represents every socioeconomic level around the world on every continent (e.g., Mongolia, Rwanda, Brazil, Australia).
How significant are the findings? These 40 countries represent 70% of the global population of children.
A weighted average score was assigned to each country in these four categories:
- Environment: How stable and open a country is to tackling child sexual abuse. (29.2% of final score.)
- Legal framework: Considers legal protections for kids. (16.7% of final score.)
- Government commitment and capacity: How prepared a government is through programs, data collection and qualified people. (33.3% of final score.)
- Engagement of industry, civil society and media: How well the private sector is working together to address child sexual abuse. (20.8% of final score.)
Key findings from the report
Here are just some of the highlights from the study:
Child sexual abuse is truly a global problem.
- Both rich and poor countries have gaps in providing protection and safeguards to children against sexual abuse and exploitation.
- Only three out of the top ten highest-scoring countries (see below) received a score above 75 (100 is a perfect score and indicates the safest environment for kids). Some lower-income countries performed better than higher-income ones.
Consistent laws protecting children from sexual abuse are lacking.
- Only 21 countries have laws that explicitly ban the sexual touching of minors.
- Less than half have laws that explicitly ban people from engaging in sexual activity in front of children.
Consistent data on online child sexual abuse is lacking.
- Only 20 countries collect data on child sexual abuse and only five collect data on child sexual exploitation. (For this study, child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation are each separately defined and divided into touch and non-touch abuse.)
- Only 5 countries collect data on the sexual abuse of boys.
The top ten best-scoring of the 40 countries are shown below. These countries scored highest in their ability to tackle child sexual abuse. Notice that there is still quite a bit of room for improvement in the scores (100 is a perfect score for the safest environment for kids).
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the United States?
The overall score for the U.S. was 73.7% (100 = best environment for kids).
Let’s take a closer look at areas of strengths and weaknesses:
|Strengths||Room for Improvement|
|Comprehensive laws prohibiting sexual offenses against children, which are enforced at both the federal and state level.||A comprehensive survey on the prevalence of child sexual exploitation does not exist.|
|Variety of civil support services for child victims of sexual offenses.||No federal system of support for victims of child sexual violence.|
|National strategy launched (2016) involving various federal agencies.||State-by-state variations on child sexual abuse laws. Nothing in federal constitution.|
|Private technology, news media, and travel and tourism industries working together against child sexual abuse.|
“We can, and we must, protect children from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation in all settings. Children deserve nothing less.” Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, United Nations
What can parents take away from the global trends we see in the study?
- Strengthen the protective factors in your family to build resilient kids.
- Family connectedness and adult supervision of online activities are key.
- Build your child’s relational skills and boundaries – both online and offline.
- The community also plays a protective role by implementing safety protocols in sports and volunteer organizations.
- Continue to educate yourself about the changing world of digital media.
- As technology continues to develop and include children in its sphere, our motto is “Be Prepared, Not Scared.”
- Share relevant tips and news with other like-minded parents on your social media. You can help spread societal awareness of the issues, which is a key area for improvement recommended by this study.
“Family connectedness and adult supervision are important lines of defence, and are protective for youth.” Greta Massetti, senior scientist in the Division of Violence Prevention at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention