One of the biggest concerns voiced by parents of young Internet users is the easy access to pornography that the Web provides. There are millions of porn sites online, making hardcore sexual images that were once very difficult to obtain now just a click away.
Teens and preteens are at the heart of the social Internet interacting with others through chat, instant messaging, social networking sites, in virtual worlds and online multi-player games. It is inevitable that at an age where young people are starting to explore their sexuality offline, they will do so online in these interactive environments as well.
When most people think about sexual risk and harm on the Internet, sexual predators come to mind. Because of its sensational nature, the spectre of unscrupulous adults preying upon and sexually exploiting kids online gets a lot of media attention. Although this does happen, sensational headlines do not help us understand the nature and true extent of the problem or how to deal with it effectively.
As adults, we want to foster resilience in young people, starting when they’re young. This can be done by teaching them how to handle harassing messages or requests that make them feel uncomfortable – on the Internet or in the schoolyard – and, as they get older, by teaching them how to spot and respond to emotional manipulation. The good news is that most teens are effectively handling online requests from strangers – the bigger challenge is helping them handle sexual advances from people they know.
Given the high likelihood that youth are going to come across or seek out online pornography at one point or another, not to mention the many messages they receive about sex through other media, it is important that parents take an active role in their kids’ Internet use and start talking to them about healthy relationships and sexuality at early ages to help them contextualize and make decisions about what they’re seeing online.
Young Canadians today are growing up in a culture where gambling is legal, easily accessible – especially online – and generally presented as harmless entertainment.
Research shows that less than 20 per cent of parents discuss gambling with their children; this issue is seen as minor, mainly because parents are generally unaware of their kids’ participation in these sorts of activities.
Sexting is most likely to have negative consequences when the person sending the sext has been pressured into doing it.
It is natural for adolescents to be curious about sex: MediaSmarts’ research suggests that one in ten grades 7- 11 students use the Internet to look for information about sexuality. Forty percent of boys look for pornography online, with 28% looking for it daily or weekly. The problem with pornography is that it is an unhealthy response to a healthy concern.