Talking with adolescents can influence self-esteem and curtail pornography viewing in the future.
As the internet expands, so do the opportunities for viewing pornography. No longer is it limited to the dirty magazine under the mattress or the secret VHS tape.
Nude pictures circulate with ease through email and text messages on smartphones. Videos are easily attainable from an array of websites, and attitudes on pornography's moral implications are as varied as ever.
Nowadays, it has never been more important for parents to discuss pornography with their middle school- and high school-aged children, and Texas Tech University researchers discovered delivering this message during teenage years can help curtail how much pornography is viewed during college years.
College of Media & Communication assistant professors Eric Rasmussen and Rebecca Ortiz and doctoral student Shawna White recently completed research published online and soon to be included in the Journal of Children and Media. They discovered the more parents talked with kids about pornography as teenagers, the less those kids viewed pornography after leaving home for college.
“What we're finding is that parents aren't necessarily talking with their kids about pornography a lot,” Rasmussen said. “But when parents do talk to their kids about it in middle school and high school, their kids tend to view pornography less. It's not necessarily a direct effect, but talking to them changes attitudes about pornography and encourages them not to look at pornography.”
For purposes of the study, pornography was defined as pictures, video, written and audio material, both in print and online, of naked people portrayed sexually.
Research showed not only do students who discuss pornography with their parents view pornography less, but the self-esteem of those whose sexual partners regularly viewed pornography differs greatly than those who did not discuss it with their parents.
Rasmussen said research has shown women whose sexual partners view pornography have lower self-esteem than those whose partners view pornography less. In this study, Rasmussen found early and consistent parent-child conversations regarding the negative effects of viewing pornography – also known as negative active mediation – during adolescence can actually prevent lower self-esteem of college students whose sexual partner regularly looks at pornography.
“We suspect those conversations are instilling some kind of value in boys and girls that their worth is not based on what their sexual partner does,” Rasmussen said. “Viewing pornography is related to the degradation of women, to the devaluation of women and to risky sexual behavior like not using condoms, having multiple partners or engaging in recreational sex. So, not only are there health risks with it, it can alter attitudes about women.”
Rasmussen's study speculates that early and consistent negative active mediation regarding pornography may help college students believe those negative effects are a result of viewing pornography and not due to the undesirability of the non-viewing partner, and therefore will limit the amount of pornography viewed.
The key in all this is the parent's willingness to discuss pornography with children. There are several factors involved in whether parents discuss the topic with their children and the extent to which discussions are held.
The predominance of pornography has some effect, Rasmussen said. Because pornography is readily accessible, parents may be unaware just how much their children are viewing it or the extent to which they view it online. He also said there's no research to show discussions have different effects on boys and girls.
“If parents want to prevent their kids from looking at pornography and if they want to prevent them from having self-esteem issues, the recommendation is to start talking with them early and often,” Rasmussen said. “Whether or not you want your kids to watch it or be more educated when they do watch it, talking to them helps.”
Rasmussen is hopeful this research will help parents understand the need to be more involved in what their kids are viewing online and in the media. He hopes it encourages parents to talk with their kids more about pornography and other things in the media.
“We want to understand why parents aren't talking to their kids about this,” Rasmussen said. “We don't know why. Are they uncomfortable approaching the topic? Do parents not feel like kids will listen to them because everyone looks at pornography? This will help us better create messages to help convince them to talk with their kids about it.”