Children’s exposure to pornography is one of the top online safety concerns for Australian parents, according to ground-breaking new research from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
The large-scale survey of parental attitudes revealed 69% believe educating their children about pornography is essential, as their potential exposure is highly likely, and 77% see themselves as responsible for providing this education in the home. Yet less than half reported having actually spoken to their children about pornography.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’, your child will be exposed to inappropriate content online, and it can happen at a surprisingly early age. For this reason, parents need to be actively engaging with their children about these issues before they are exposed to this content, reinforcing key values of respect and critical reasoning,” says Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner.
However, parents have differing views on the appropriate age to bring up online pornography with their child—around 1 in 4 parents indicated they would only raise the issue when their child was a teenager or older, while 39% reported the ideal time was between the ages of 10 and 12.
“These conversations can be difficult—25% of parents report feeling embarrassed talking to their child about online pornography—so we’ve worked with experts to develop practical guidance in our Parents section, including age-appropriate conversation-starters, for children under 8 through to teens,” says Inman Grant.
The report also indicates 24% of parents were aware their child had been exposed to online pornography. Of that group, many had been exposed accidently (40%), while others had been exposed to the material by someone they know (21%), because they deliberately sought it out online (15%), or were sent it by someone they didn’t know (8%).
“From other research we know parents tend to underestimate how often their children are at risk of exposure to online pornography, so the real figure may be significantly higher,” says Inman Grant.
Parents took a range of actions when they knew their child had been exposed to pornography online, including speaking frankly to them about the material, increasing monitoring of their child’s online activities, or removing their access to the internet and devices.
“In today’s connected world there is no catch-all solution to preventing children from accessing harmful online content. However, a multi-pronged approach consisting of technology tools, like parental controls and device-level filtering, can be an effective way to tackle the issue—as long as we don’t just set and forget,” adds Inman Grant.
Recently, three certified filter products were independently tested and added to the Family Friendly Filters program, giving parents further validated options to protect their children online.
“Above all, there is no substitute for parental engagement in our children’s online lives. We encourage parents to speak to their children about potential online risks and help them to develop the 4 Rs of the digital age: resilience, respect, responsibility and reasoning online,” says Inman Grant
This research forms part of a comparative study with NZ and the UK, available at: Research. Further findings from the Australian study of 3,520 parents will be available in the following months.
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