We had another interesting conversation today in our Parent Technology Coffee Morning! The theme, as requested by parents at our last meeting, was strategies for dealing with explicit  images online.  One of the most challenging aspects of the constant access and availability of information is that our children can find and explore images and media that is well beyond their developmental readiness level, particularly explicit imagery.

Although we make every effort to filter out this type of material from our school network, this may not be the case at home, or at a friend’s house, or the local coffee shop, or through 4G access. Today’s session focused on understanding the impact of what children can see, how we might best talk to our children about these experiences, and how they may impact future relationships are all areas for discussion. We did not have one-size-fits all easy answers, but we did have a lively and informative discussion.

We started our conversation thinking about the times in our lives when we’ve seen something that made us uncomfortable – the suggested videos after you watch something on YouTube, ads in the sidebar, graphic (really graphic) novels on the subway in Japan, certain people (or objects) you might see on the street in Bangkok. In all of our examples, we weren’t searching for something explicit, but we found it, in a very innocuous way, totally by accident. This kind of experience will eventually (or may have already) happen to your children as well. The important part is how they deal with what they see.

Many of us have heard statistics about how much explicit imagery is online, which can make us feel like this accidental viewing might happen every time we open a web browser. However, we read an interesting article from the BBC which puts a more balanced perspective on the topic. Another article based on the same research is available from Forbes if you’d like a longer description. Reading and discussing these articles helped give a more research-based and factual viewpoint to the amount of explicit material available online.

This prompted a conversation about infrequent, random or short-term exposure to explicit images. Adam shared a number of resources that confirms that this type of exposure does not have long term impact on a child’s development or perception of relationships. The challenge comes with long term, repeated exposure, which can result in addiction.

We then watched this TED talk, which describes the “worst-case” scenario:

While this is a very specific example, and describes addiction at a very high level, we talked about the importance of how adults, and most importantly, parents react to discovering this kind of information.

Adam shared Diana Baumrind’s matrix of parenting styles to give us a framework to discuss:

Parenting Matrix

Adam created this graphic based on Baumrind’s research to reflect both the parenting style and the child’s reaction or behavior in response to that style. Using this graphic, we intended to discuss different parenting strategies using the Visible Thinking Routine, Circle of Viewpoints, but ran out of time. If you’re interested, give it a try at home or with some friends. This is a great way to understand the different parenting style and how that might impact future communication and interactions.

Finally, we wrapped up with a few key points:

Seeing explicit images or video will happen eventually. What is most important is how we react. Striving towards a more balanced approach will help children understand that it’s OK to ask questions, the adults around them are here to help, and that exploration is a natural thing, but it’s important to note that many things we see online are not emotionally or physically accurate. This is an industry designed to make money, focused on what works best on camera and who’s watching, rather than the reality of intimacy.

We have many conversations with students about these kinds of images, starting in a special session with the counsellors in grade 8 and continuing in PSHE in high school. Our Digital Citizenship curriculum also addresses these big themes at age appropriate levels.

Open and honest communication with your children will help them develop a network of supportive adults to ensure that they have a realistic understanding of intimacy and real relationships. These conversations also support the building of strong decision making skills based on family values and shared ethics. The goal is to help children make good choices when they are on their own.

We recommend that families make the choice that feels best to them (based on the amount of supervision that children have at home). There is blocking software available, and we recommend that it’s your last resort because blocking means that children can’t learn the skill to self-monitor, and can encourage them to seek alternate ways to access material.

If, at any point, you are concerned about this behavior at home, please feel free to come in and talk to us. We can help and support you in many ways. If you’re interested in more reading on this topic, Adam curates a regularly updated list here.

Follow-Up Session

We hope this was a productive conversation! Huge thank you to the parents that were able to join us this morning. We know that there were a number of parents who wanted to come, but were unable to make it. If you’d like us to run this session again, please let Clint, Adam or Kim know and we’ll schedule a follow-up.

Our next Parent Tech Coffee Morning will be: Wednesday 12 March in M101 from 9:15 – 10:15 on the topic of Creativity. Although technology is great for being productive, we also highlight the use of technology tools to promote creativity, collaboration and communication. This session will feature new creative uses of technology along with ideas for how to support your child’s creativity at home.