Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science
image

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.

  1. Children are increasingly immersed in pervasive and damaging messages from the media (online, social and mainstream) that objectify women and legitimate sexual assault. The existence of such messages is not in doubt. But children’s immersion in them and their implied lack of critical media literacy is.

  2. Sexual assaults among school students are increasing. The increased reporting of such assaults is also not in doubt. However, it’s unclear whether this is a genuine increase in assaults or an increase in their reporting due to greater awareness.

  3. Exposure to pornography is causally responsible for the increase in sexual assaults among children. This is often the crucial missing link in such media accounts; there is simply no evidence cited to support this claim.

  4. Parents (and society) are unaware of and should be better prepared for the pervasive influence of sexualised media on their children. Again this is likely exaggerated, although not greatly in doubt. But whether it makes a difference to children’s vulnerability to damaging messages or to actual assault has not been established.

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:

  • Some adolescents – more often boys, “sensation seekers” and those with troubled family relations – tend to use pornography. This in turn is weakly linked to gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs that can be pejorative to women.

  • There is a link between exposure to pornography and sexually aggressive behaviours in boys. But, for girls, pornography use is related to experiences of sexual victimisation.

  • However, because of various “methodological and theoretical shortcomings”, the claim of causality cannot be considered conclusive.

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.

What, then, should be done?

The evidence in support of effective public interventions is as limited as evidence of the harm these are designed to alleviate.

Still, the precautionary principle provides some legitimation for intervention – and there are solutions to be tried. For example:

  • In a recent report, my colleagues and I proposed a series of possible legislative and industry strategies. Several have potential to reduce harm without unduly restricting either adults’ or children’s online freedoms.

  • In another report, we focused on the importance of better digital literacy and sexual education in schools, as well as constructive awareness-raising and support for parents.

  • In the 2017 report by the House of Lords, the focus was on improving the co-ordination of strategies across society, along with learning from the evaluation of what works and, more radically, introducing ethics-by-design into the processes of content and technological production to improve children’s online experiences in the first place.

But if a mix of thoughtful strategies is to be implemented, tested, refined and co-ordinated, we need an open environment in which policy is led by evidence rather than media panic. We must also become critical readers of popular claims about media harm.

In terms of identifying causes, we should ask why the finger of blame is always pointed at the media rather than other likely causes (including violence against women, or problems linked to growing inequality or precarity).

In terms of identifying outcomes, are we so sure that problems among the young are really rising? Or that the internet can engender addiction in the sense that drugs or gambling can?

While such doubts have validity, it would also seem implausible to claim that the unprecedented advent of internet and social media use on a mass scale in Western cultures has had no consequences for children, positive or negative. The challenge is to ensure these consequences benefit children and the wider society.

Authors: Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science

Read more http://theconversation.com/no-the-internet-is-not-actually-stealing-kids-innocence-80543


The Conversation

Politics

Keeping Australians safe at airports

The Morrison Government is increasing counter-terrorism measures across nine airports by boosting the Australian Federal Police’s capability to disrupt and deter high-risk-incidents.   Prime Min...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison on Medivac

PRIME MINISTER: The Australian public are in no doubt about our Government’s commitment to strong borders. Our Government has always been consistent. The Liberal and National parties have always b...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Government will protect religious freedoms by getting the law right

After further considering the hundreds of submissions that have been made to the Exposure Draft of the Religious Discrimination Act (RDA), the Government decided earlier this week to issue a revis...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Working at Heights: Why the Risks of Occupational Accidents Still Fall on Builders

In most cities and towns, the construction industry is booming, and all you have to do is look around you to figure out why. In addition to new homes going up all around you, businesses are needed a...

Alertforce - avatar Alertforce

Media and Capital Partners spins out new agency arm Mojo Media

Media and Capital Partners, one of Australia’s leading investor relations and media relations consultancies, has spun out a new, fully integrated consumer, finance and technology PR agency called ...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

How to make your small business survive and thrive in 2020

There’s a global downturn and Australian bricks and mortar retail is in a slump. 2020 is going to be a rough year. Everyone knows that, but a lot don’t know what to do about it. Australia still h...

Dorry Kordahi - avatar Dorry Kordahi

Travel

To sell travel packages partner with Holiday Centre - Advertisement

If you are a travel or accommodation provider allow the travel professionals at HolidayCentre.com market your products.. With a business name like Holiday Centre, you can be sure that they will delive...

Holiday Centre - avatar Holiday Centre

6 travel tips you need to know before visiting Melbourne

People have always held Melbourne in high regard with it's numerous coffee stops, it's glorious art galleries, the food scene that can floor any curious palate. There's a unique multiculturalism i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Hertz DriveU

Hertz and Air France launch Hertz DriveU, a new high-quality, hassle-free airport transfer service Hertz DriveU “When you don’t want to drive!” The service is available at more than 300 airports...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

ShowPo