On Thursday 16 December, Dame Rachel de Souza issued a new guide warning parents not to be judgmental or react harshly if they discover that their child has seen, sent or received explicit images online.
The guide, titled “Talking to your child about online sexual harassment” was created with the help of a panel of teenagers, who shared which conversations they wish they had with their parents growing up.
The “overriding message” that had come from talks with young people was to “talk early, talk often”.
“My advice to parents and carers is to create the culture before the crisis. Children have told us they want their mums and dads to create a safe, judgment‑free space for them to talk about these issues,” De Souza wrote in the guide.
Young people urged parents to not let pornography become a “taboo subject”, and instead calmly explain why watching adult content at a young age can be harmful.
They felt that watching porn at a young age had affected their real-life behaviours and attitudes around gender roles, sex and consent.
Young girls said they had been sent porn by older boys at school, which was “scary and distressing” and that they would like to be able to talk to their parents about it.
In an interview with Times Radio on Thursday, the commissioner said young boys, in particular, felt conversations were needed early on.
“I’ve worked with 16 to 21-year-olds, and they told me that we need to be having these conversations as young as eight or nine – particularly for boys,” she said.
“We need to talk young, we need to talk often, we need to make those conversations relaxed. Don’t just wait for the crisis – talk and have conversations before the crisis. They also said: ‘Please don’t overreact, parents’.”
As many parents might be buying their children their first smartphones and tablets this Christmas, de Souza said it was important that conversations about the dangers of the online world take place beforehand.
“Our group of young people want parents to be better informed about the risks of the online world and how to prevent early exposure to harmful content,” she said.
“They also warn that parents should know how to provide support and seek help if their child needs it, including knowing where to report incidents of online sexual abuse.”
Earlier this week, Billie Eilish opened up about how watching porn at a young age negatively impacted her, and that she believes it “destroyed her brain”.
In an interview with SiriusXM’s The Howard Stern Show, the Happier Than Ever singer – who was 11 when she first began watching porn – says she now feels “devastated” that she was exposed to explicit content at such a young age.
“As a woman, I think porn is a disgrace. I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest,” she said.
“I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.”
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