Innocence and vulnerability of children on the internet
– the perceived need to protect the innocence and vulnerability of children on the internet
– The cumulative social and governmental reactions to perceived child abuse have created, in our societies, a whole new regime of suspicion, supervision, and control: Child abuse has created a world of difference. Children are subjected to education about it, by way of videos, from the earliest years of schooling
– Mention folk devils and examples of moral panic involving children and the internet e.g child pornography and pedophiles
The news is constantly awash with stories reporting on – and arguably amplifying – public anxieties over youth and media. The anxieties concern violence and video games, gaming addiction, internet and mental health, and teen suicide.
For example, child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg recently linked the sexualisation of children and their easy access to online pornography to an increase in sexual and indecent assault allegations at school.
His argument reprised some familiar problems that are common in media panic stories about the supposed loss of childhood innocence.
Problems with the evidence
There are four common steps that are neatly illustrated by Carr-Gregg’s argument: the claim of a media cause, an outcome harmful to youth, evidence that these are causally linked, and a mediating factor that can make or break the causal link.
But, for each step, the evidence for media harm is insufficient.
Research on children’s exposure to pornography
The conclusions of a recent detailed 20-year review of the research on children’s exposure to pornography were:
These findings echo those from a recent meta-analysis, which found that sexting behaviour was positively related to sexual activity, unprotected sex and one’s number of sexual partners. However, the relationship was weak to moderate.
In general, research is clearer that online pornography can be problematic as an experience for adolescents rather than as a cause of sexually violent behaviour.
For instance, a 2016 UK study found that children report a range of negative emotions after watching pornography. On first exposure, children express shock, upset and confusion. They seem to become desensitised to the content over time.
Also complicating matters is the importance of allowing for adolescents’ right to express and explore their sexuality both online and offline, as well as the finding that one reason they seek out pornography is that society provides little else in terms of needed materials for sexual education. But some have made a great start.