Author: Katherina Toews
If a picture tells a thousand words, then a video must tell tens of thousands of words. We are living in a hyper-visual world, and the images that we see every day can build us up, or they can demoralize and tear us down. The media that we weave into our lives can be a catalyst for our freedom or the chains that keep us in bondage. This is true not just for us as adults, but also for the children in our lives who are introduced to visually explicit images and videos at younger and younger ages.
In the latest episode of the Exodus Cry podcast, Liz Walker, an accredited sexuality educator, speaker and author, dedicated to culture shifting initiatives that respond to pornography harms on children and young people, provides invaluable insight and resources for every adult with children in their lives, not just parents. Our children are being raised in a digital world, where they spend an average of nine hours a day on visual media. That’s nine hours a day where they can be exposed to sexually explicit and violent images such as pornography at the click of a button.
Facing the inevitable truth that at one point our children will be exposed to pornography is a hard pill to swallow, but Walker reminds us that we don’t have to be solely reactive, we have the amazing opportunity to foster proactive actions and conversations with the children in our lives. The average age that a child will see pornography is eight years old, so having conversations about sexuality can never happen early enough. It may be uncomfortable to talk about, especially if you’ve grown up in a family that never really addressed sex, but creating a space for your child to talk and ask questions about sex will lay the foundation for continued conversations as they grow up. Walker challenges parents and guardians to push through the fear of the subject and to talk about it because, without these conversations, kids will turn to their peers and the internet for the answers to their questions. When porn becomes the primary avenue for sex education in our children’s lives, it causes them to create a sexual narrative that is moulded to look like what they’ve watched on their screens.
The conversations that we have with our kids about sexual health are not a onetime thing; they need to be reinforced regularly and consistently. Otherwise, the foundation of trust that you worked hard to build will begin to crumble. Walker cited that studies in Australia have found that before the age of thirteen, 100% of boys and 82% of girls are exposed to pornography in some form. If we don’t reach them early on, the porn industry will. These aren’t just explicit pictures found in magazines anymore, there are millions of auto-playing videos online, and they have devastating effects on the brains and lives of children. Some kids will watch porn and get so traumatized that they never want to have sex, while others get addicted to watching and they feel betrayed by their bodies when they get aroused by images that disturb them.
Talking to our kids at such a young age about sex can seem like a daunting task, but thankfully there are many resources out there that are aimed at educating kids about sexual health as well as what to do in sexually compromising situations. Exodus Cry’s director of intervention, Helen Taylor, shared a story of how a picture book that her parents read to her as a child helped her to navigate an early childhood encounter with a pedophile safely. Walker has written a similar book called Not for Kids! which informs kids about the dangers of pornography in an age-appropriate way. The steps that we take to talk with our kids about these topics may seem silly and trivial at the time, but they will have an incredible impact on their lives. Creating spaces of intentional conversations about sex and pornography empowers our kids to be strong and brave in situations at home, school, or on the playground, where sexual violence or explicit videos crop up. We are saving their lives and their innocence by having these conversations early and often.
Walker also provides online and in-class educational resources for both parents and kids through the Project IQ Umbrella Program; which teaches kids about having their own intimate umbrella and how to protect that space when it comes to sexually explicit content by looking away, telling someone, and training their brain to replace those images with positive ones. These resources are meant to not only educate you so that you can have informed answers when your children ask you the tough questions, but they are also meant to empower you to keep having those conversations.
You are not in this alone, there are thousands of parents around you who are struggling and fighting the same battle as you, so lean into that community and together you can be proactive in your approach to pornography. The burden of education and protection doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders as parents. Our kids are growing up in a world polluted by hyper-sexualisation and at one point they will see porn; when that happens it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent, it simply means that now you get to continue to have those conversations with your kids as you work through and process together. We need to engage as a community and as a society to protect our kids from the harms of pornography, and we can only do that when we come together and talk about sex in a healthy way rather than shaming it away. We get to decide who will educate our kids about sex, us or the world. Let’s choose to foster healthy, meaningful conversations around sex so that our kids will become well-balanced adults, not just well-behaved children.