The Internet has revolutionized communication, especially among teen girls. But, the very media platform that helps us connect also has allowed the pornography industry to explode. Thanks to the Internet, tweens and teens have an infinite catalog of pornographic images available with just the click of a mouse.
Only Boys Look at Porn, Right?
Although stereotypes typically pin porn addiction on boys, a surprising number of young girls are also exposed and find themselves pulled into the dark world of pornography.
In the earlier days of widespread Internet use by young girls, exposure to porn most often occurred through a pop-up ad that was innocently clicked or some curiosity that was carried out through a search engine. This conclusion is supported by a 2008 study titled, The Nature and Dynamics of Pornography Use Among Children, which surveyed more than 500 college students and explored pornography exposure before age 18. In this study, almost half of all surveyed girls (42.3 percent) said that they were not actively seeking out the images when they were exposed.
Consider this story from a 17-year old girl who anonymously shared this story with the Over 18 Project, a movie about pornography addiction in children and teens:
“One day at school we were talking about women’s issues and how women are portrayed in the media. The topic of pornography came up so I decided that since it was discussed in class that there was nothing wrong with researching more about it at home.
What I didn’t expect was that by “doing research,” [about what I heard at school] falling into the dark world of porn was not hard. I had no idea how quickly porn could consume my life. Just weeks before I had never really thought about porn and now it was always on my mind.”
For this young girl, simple research on what was perceived to be a harmless topic turned into a dark, all-consuming habit.
A New, Scary Trend is Emerging with Teen Girls
But, in a recent Barna study, The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age, 33% of females ages 13-24 and 12% ages 25+ admit to seeking out porn daily, weekly or monthly. Entire ministries are now dedicated to helping women break free from porn addiction (Dirty Girls Ministry is one of the best). Conversations with some of these younger girls are pointing towards a shocking trend.
Teen girls are seeking out porn due to the influence of porn-saturated teen boys, who’s only sex education comes from a screen. Courtship is old-fashioned. Nude selfies and oral sex is the new flirting.
Chris McKenna, Founder of Protect Young Eyes, stated this in a recent blog post written for Covenant Eyes:
“The statistics from Barna point towards a startling trend. Younger and younger girls are using the convenience of the Internet to obtain sex education through online pornography. These same girls are growing up surrounded by teen boys who are often avid porn consumers, and so they watch porn in order to “measure up” with what the boys want.
In Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, she offered this stark quote from a teen girl:
“I’ll be hooking up with some guy who’s really hot,” confided a high school senior in Northern California, “then things get heavier and all of a sudden my mind shifts and I’m not a real person: it’s like, this is me performing. This is me acting … And I don’t even know who it is I’m playing, who that ‘she’ actually is. It’s some fantasy girl, I guess, maybe the girl from porn.”
In the same way that young, porn-addicted boys can deceive their brains into believing that pixels are better than people, young girls are warping their brains into believing that what they see on the screen is how it is in real life.”
Early exposures to pornography can leave a lasting impression on young girls. Viewing pornography that depicts acts of violence, rape or other degrading acts towards women has repercussions on an impressionable teenage mind. The same 2008 study The Nature and Dynamics of Pornography Use Among Children revealed that 19 percent of girls felt “unattractive or inadequate” after seeing pornography online and 25 percent “had unwanted thoughts about the experience.”
Look for These Red Flags
While parents cannot filter everything from a teen’s view, they can look for red flags. Here are five red flags that may suggest your teen daughter is looking at inappropriate content:
- Closing web browsers quickly. A parent entering a room to find a teen quickly closing out or minimizing the web browser might be viewing unsavory content.
- Deleting web history. A cleaned-out web history likely indicates Internet behaviors that a teen is attempting hide. Parents should set rules for saving all web history. Only a parent should be allowed to delete web histories. Many smartphones, include the iPhone, have built-in Restrictions that if enabled, can control the deletion of web history. Oh, and parents, do you know what “incognito” or private browsing is? Almost every browser has this functionality, which when enabled, does not track web history. Covenant Eyes is a software solution for devices that monitors incognito browsing.
- Sneaking around. Any teen girl spending significant time alone or late at night online is at greater risk or risky behavior. Are devices used behind closed doors? In bedrooms? In bathrooms? Parents, don’t forget that nude selfies, even of themselves, typically constitute creation of child porn. Parents should control the environments where the Internet is accessed in order to mitigate Internet temptations.
- Disabling parental controls or monitoring software. Teens are technologically savvy! If computers or devices suddenly have parental controls disabled or have monitoring software removed, a swift discussion should take place.
- Asking unusual questions about sexual activities. Exposure to graphic images might cause concern or confusion. As a result, a young teen may begin asking unusual questions. Parents must pay attention to their children. Listen to their words and for anything that might be simmering right below the surface. Don’t forget – consistent and persistent conversations are a parents’ best defense against Internet temptation.
Most parents hope to censor their children from seeing unsavory online content. But, it’s just not possible to control all Internet doorways. But, by staying vigilant and involved, parents can give their tween and teen girls the right tools for knowing what to do when they see something disturbing.
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Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.