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« BFTP: Guarding against the arbitrary when traveling | Main | Dangerous things school teaches »
Friday
May182012

Harmful to minors

But take away context and psychology for a moment and just consider the notion of risk. Based on EU Kids Online’s surveys of families in 25 countries, Sonia Livingstone offers two insights that I think would be helpful to parents as well as debaters in any public discussion about youth risk online:

  • “‘Risk’ is not the same as ‘harm’: Seeing pornography online may be harmful to children but it may not. It depends on the nature of the images and on the personal circumstances of the child. The minority of vulnerable children may be more at risk of harm from online pornography. Rather more may be more at risk of harm from pornography when it is abusive or degrading to women (or men). But conclusive evidence will always be lacking since we cannot ethically expose a random selection of children to pornography and monitor the outcomes for scientific purposes.
  • “Risk may have positive as well as negative outcomes. For many children, some exposure to some risk is necessary to build resilience. We cannot wrap our children in cotton wool and protect them from the world forever, and we must allow our teenagers to explore their sexuality away from our often-disapproving gaze. But for some children, the same exposure may be harmful – depending on lots of factors, and this contingency – where much depends on the child, the online content, and the circumstances – cannot be avoided.” from NetFamilyNews "Thoughts on the UK's debate about online porn."

Always level headed, Anne Collier's post on online pornography is worth a read. That children's exposure to pornography is harmful has so long been a given, most of us have simply stopped thinking about it. And coming to a permanent conclusion is always dangerous.

Again, CIPA reads: "The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors." Make no mistake, one of the filtering categories our school has selected to block is "sexual acts." And I am glad this barrier is in place. I would want my grandson's school to take the same precautions.

However, I was struck by Livingston's comment "For many children, some exposure to some risk is necessary to build resilience." I would put accidental or brief exposure to pornography in the category of a "safe mistake." In my own adolescence, accessing the hidden stash of Playboy magazines or reading Miller's steamy novels seem in retrospect a normal part of one's informal education. Did Hef or Henry teach us curious kids great values and respect for women? Of course not. But I really wonder if any of us were permanently damaged either? 

I'm not advocating that kids have access to adult sexual materials here, just that if it happens, it may wind up being a teachable moment, not the end of civilization.

Were I to define what makes a site "harmful to minors," i would say that it displays information that is both important and wrong. Bad health advice, misleading science, biased reporting, and, yes, unrealistic sexual views that go unchallenged and unquestioned are what are really harmful to minors - and to the rest of us as well.

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