Monday, 15 May 2017

The porn epidemic (2017 Term 2 Week 4)

There are some pretty confronting questions that can be asked of a parent. For example: What age do you think your child first did (or first will) encounter pornography? What age do you think your child first sought (or first will seek) pornography? How often do you think your child views pornography? Can you answer them? What would you want the answers to be?

At a principals' network meeting this week, we were asked these questions by James Grady, who has been studying the topic of porn and young people. Grady makes a compelling case that there is a world of difference between pornography as encountered by previous generations, and the experience of young people today - and that the difference presents profound challenges to our children and the adults that they will become.

In contrast to previous generations, through high-speed internet, porn has become free, anonymous, and perpetually available. There are very few limits on a young person's ability to access porn, given the ubiquity of internet-connected screens in a household, and the usual pattern of tech-savvy children and naive parents.

The statistics are sobering. According to the Burnet Institute's submission to the Senate's Committee inquiry into the harm being done to Australian Children through access to pornography on the internet, which can be found as submission 61 on this page, 37% of Australian males between 15 and 29 view pornography daily, and another 44% view weekly. The average age at which these people first intentionally sought pornography was 13. Grady has assembled some other statistics here.

The reality is that the speed by which pornography has become ubiquitous has outstripped our understanding of the effects of pornography on young people. They are living through a giant social/sexual/developmental experiment on their malleable brains, and we don't have a clear understanding of what the effects will be.

However, many outcomes are self-evident, and they are concerning. Our children are learning about sex from pornography - and the education being offered is not one that will equip our young people well for their relationships, now or in the future. 

I encourage you to take the time to explore the resources that Grady has assembled at his website The Frank Chat. In particular, a page on the website is specifically addressed to parents. For all the awkwardness that is inevitable in conversations between parents and children about pornography, this is one of those areas where our love for our children should compel us to speak with them, and listen to them.

I don't know that we can hold back the tide in this area, but that doesn't mean nothing can be done - or that we ought not try. Why not ask some of the questions above, and listen - really listen - to the answers.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Support for children and parents with cybersafety (2017 Term 2 Week 2)

We live in an age where cynicism about government is pervasive. Fuelled by media coverage of the messiness of politics, and the apparent inability of governments to solve many of the intractable problems that pressure our daily lives, it is unsurprising that we develop a low-level sense of weariness and disdain towards the public sector more generally. This filter can prevent us from giving credit where credit is due. This week I want to acknowledge the excellent work that the Federal Government has been doing with reference to cybersafety for young people, particularly in providing resources for parents and educators. If the topic of cybersafety for your children is important to you, there is help available!

The Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner is the Federal Government's principal agency in this space. The Office was formed with a number of briefs: to provide a national lead in the promotion of online safety for children; to handle complaints about serious cyberbullying material and illegal online content; to fill an education role through research, and the curation of resources; and to establish a national online complaints mechanism to support those affected by image-based abuse.

The Office understands that online safety for children is a shared responsibility, in which government, schools, police, social media services, and parents/carers all have vital roles to play. At a recent conference I was greatly encouraged by the ways that government, police and social media services are working together, not least through providing resources and channels to report abusive online behaviours.

The reality is that cyberbullying emerges out of the same murk as any other sort of bullying. Lack of empathy, lack of kindness, and disrespect have always led to bullying behaviours; the online world differs only in it broadens and extends the scope in which this nastiness can take place. 

The Office has established an excellent site called iParent, which has an exhaustive suite of resources, tools and links. I cannot commend it highly enough for families who are concerned about this issue generally, or who may be experiencing something of a crisis. 

Four themes for parents stand out to me in this area, both through the input I have received from the Office and from my experience in schools. First, there is no substitute for communicating and learning with your children regarding the online world. Second, the wider task of building your child's resilience and empathy is invaluable. Third, it is foolish in the extreme not to monitor a child's engagement and use of the online world. Fourth, each family must have explicit rules, expectations and boundaries associated with technology.

It is not easy to be a parent in this day and age. It can be hard work. I humbly suggest that setting aside some time to explore the sites linked above will be a worthwhile investment of a parents' time. As I once heard in a sermon: Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Digging is hard, but that is where you get diamonds.