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06 February 2007

Your child watching porn?

More than 40% of teens and preteens surveyed say they've recently come across nudity and pornography on the Internet, and most say they weren't looking for it.

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More than 40 percent of teens and preteens surveyed say they've recently come across nudity and pornography on the Internet, and most say they weren't looking for it, according to a new study.

Those numbers were highest among older boys: Nearly four in 10 males aged 16-17 said they'd gone to adult sites on purpose within the past year, compared to just eight percent of girls at the same age.

Still, filtering software seemed to lower the risk that kids would see something inappropriate, and only a small percentage of the children reported being disturbed by what they saw.

Give kids credit
"Sometimes it's possible for people to overreact" to children's exposure to pornography, said study lead author Janis Wolak, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire. "It's important to give youth credit. Most kids have a lot of common sense."

Wolak and colleagues launched a three-month telephone survey of 1 422 kids aged 10-17 in March 2005. All the children surveyed were Internet users, and all were interviewed with the consent of their parents.

The findings are published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Not looking for it
Forty-two percent of the kids surveyed said they'd encountered online pornography - defined broadly as pictures of naked people or sexual activity - over the past year. Of those, two-thirds - about 34 percent of all those interviewed - said their exposure to the material was unwanted.

By contrast, just 25 percent of all kids interviewed in a 1999-2000 survey said they'd had unwanted exposure to online pornography.

The kids most likely to have purposely looked for pornography were those who used file-sharing programs to download images, were harassed online, talked online with strangers about sex, or used the Internet at the homes of friends.

Boys more likely to look for porn
The children who sought adult material were 8.6 times more likely to be male as compared to kids not exposed to pornography. Kids who used computers with filtering software were 40 percent less likely to have sought and found adult material.

According to the researchers, the survey results are probably within 2.5 percentage points of the real numbers among American kids who use the Internet as a whole.

Wolak acknowledged that some of the kids surveyed could have been lying. "There's always some possibility that kids are not entirely candid," she said. "But we did focus groups with kids before we actually did the study, and the (survey) results were quite consistent with what the kids told us."

How did the children come across adult material if they didn't want to? Wolak said some reported accidentally downloading pictures while downloading games, while others reported mistyping Web site addresses and ending up on inappropriate sites.

Most kids not disturbed
"Most kids were not disturbed," she said. "About five percent said they very or extremely upset, but most of the kids were not particularly disturbed by what they saw."

According to Wolak, more research needs to be done to determine if viewing adult material has any lasting effects on kids. "It's premature to state that pornography is harmful in a broad sense," she said. "We really don't know."

For now, the new study shows that "unintentional exposure (to adult material) is a normal experience that is a consequence of most normal Internet use," said David S. Bickham, a staff scientist at the Centre on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston.

It's possible that even more kids are looking for adult material but weren't willing to admit it in a phone survey, he said.

Talk to your kids
What should parents do? "Talking to your kids about safe online use is important, but it won't necessarily help them avoid unintentional exposure to pornography," he said. "Make sure whatever e-mail service your child is using has a very good spam filter - this will keep most of the pornography spam at bay. Talk to kids about keeping e-mail addresses private. This means not giving out addresses to enter Web sites or having your address posted anywhere online."

Also, he said, consider filtering software. "While exposure to pornography online is beginning to be a normative experience, installing filtering software on your computer will help delay the initial exposure," he said.

Fred Zimmerman, associate professor of public health at the University of Washington and author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make TV Work for Your Kids, had more advice: "As with any media issue, the best strategy for parents is to keep open lines of communication with their children," he said. "As any parent knows, talking to your child can help prevent unpleasant experiences and provide a place for kids to turn when they do happen." – (HealthDayNews)

Read more:
What sexual scientists say about porn
Filters block health topics

February 2007

 
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