By: Marilyn Evans
In less than a month the first report cards of the year will be sent home. Traditionally, teacher interviews ensue. That’s where parents have the opportunity to learn exactly how well their child is doing in the classroom and what areas of concern could be addressed at home.
A few years back I realized I could flip the process around. I wanted to evaluate how well my kids’ elementary school performed with regards to online safety and pornography awareness as a public health concern. I made an appointment with the principal to find out what policies and practices were being used to educate teachers and students on this important social concern. Here’s what I found out:
According to a letter that comes home on the first day of class, I already knew our school had a Safe Use Policy for computers and technology. Students and parents are required to sign a form stating they agree to abide by certain rules when using devices in the classroom and interacting with students online.
At our interview, I also learned that our school’s filtering software was top of the line. But when I pressed for information specific to pornography awareness, I was disappointed to find the school made no effort to address this concern directly.
The principal considered online safety a priority for the classroom. However, she felt that students would be able to come up with their own definition of pornography. She also thought they would easily recognize inappropriate images as something to be reported. In her opinion, discussion about pornography should rest mainly with parents.
School barely passes
I left the interview frustrated. If I were filling out a rubric, these current efforts for online safety would land my school a solid (C-), level 1 mark. Yes, it’s a passing grade—but just barely! Having a written policy, plus an adequate filtering system, is the absolute minimum we should expect from our schools. Why wasn’t my school striving for an A+, Level 4, ‘meet and exceed all expectations’ kind of report?
Before I explain what a school should do to be awarded such a high level of achievement, let me share why this is worth the effort. The following is just one example of what happens when schools fail to acknowledge pornography as a health issue impacting young students.
Teacher promotes pornography in the classroom
Over lunch a friend asked me a common question: “Won’t talking to my kids about the harms of pornography make them more curious to seek it out”. I assured her that if she paired her loving heart with good information, all would be fine. Nonetheless, I decided to seek out expert opinion—I asked my kids!
My 17-year-old didn’t hesitate, “Parents should definitely talk to their kids about porn”. But it’s what he said next that made me realize knowing how to talk to kids about pornography is crucial.
“No offense, Mom, it would have been a lot easier on me if you had given me some idea of what was out there.
“The first time I found porn on our computer was because of something I overheard kids talking about. I was curious, so I looked it up when I got home from school. I was only eleven and I had no idea what I was getting into.
“Plus, that same year my teacher brought up porn in Health. He said we’d come across it soon, if we hadn’t already. He also said that a lot of people use porn to masturbate and we shouldn’t feel bad if we did…
“That was pretty much the end of the discussion. But it kind of made me feel pressure to experiment. You know, like it wasn’t normal if I didn’t use porn that way.”
My son might have discovered porn on his own, but it’s his sixth grade teacher I can thank for pressuring him to return to it again and again.
Cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drugs are discussed with great care in the classroom. We always attach warning labels to the conversation. So how is it possible that the use of pornography (illegal to distribute to minors) was normalized by an authority figure to a room full of impressionable 10- and 11 year-olds at my kids’ school?!
Whose responsibility is it anyhow?
Research confirms that porn tops the list of highly addictive substances. It has the ability to rewire the brain and deteriorate growth in the prefrontal cortex. Due to specific developmental patterns, children and teens have a higher degree of vulnerability. This information alone should be enough to urge school boards to come up with policies and procedures to address this concern with greater care.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree that parents have the primary responsibility to teach their kids about the harms of pornography. But having no clear policy in place means that almost anything can slip through. I know all too well the last thing students need is uninformed teachers leading a misguided classroom discussion.
Schools partnering with parents
Instead, schools should take an active and vital role in the effort to protect kids from online dangers, including pornography. Consider this groundbreaking report from the National Decency Coalition (USA):
Earlier this year, Louisiana passed a bill, SB250, requiring all schools to notify parents of the ‘public health risks and harms of pornography’. Information to distribute must include
- The dangers of sexually charged cyberbullying
- The addictive and destructive nature of pornographic and illicit materials
- The dangers of internet interaction with strangers, and
- Resources available to parents who are seeking information regarding child safeguards and free internet filters for home computers.
If I could rewind the clock, the first change to make would be to warn my kids earlier about the harms of pornography. Lack of information lulled our family into a false sense of security. Apart from pornography itself, public ignorance puts kids most at risk.
Imagine a handout from school (like this from Louisiana’s Department of Education)—in an easy to read format—warning you about the risks of early exposure to pornography. And what if it explained how easily kids find dangerous content in their favourite video games, through chat features and on social media apps? A community resource like this would build much needed awareness and give parents the tools to respond in confidence.
Meets and exceeds all expectations
It only takes a few small steps to have a huge, positive impact throughout the community. When we see the untapped potential for schools to take a leading role in our children’s online safety, it becomes extremely difficult to accept our current efforts as satisfactory.
If you want to see your community’s school partner with parents to provide students with a safer online experience, the following action items are a great place to start:
- Talk to your kids. Ask if pornography is ever mentioned in the classroom, and if so, in what context?
- Book an appointment to speak with the Principal. Go in with a plan to discuss specific concerns with recommended solutions.
- Ask your Parent/Teacher Council to insist educators at your school receive training on how to address pornography as a health issue.
- Organized an information night for your school. Invite Strength to Fight and Parents Aware come and speak.
Yes, it will take effort to change school policy. Many will argue that parents alone have the responsibility for this conversation. Others will try to take authority away from families. But the truth is, when pornography affects an entire generation of students, the whole community hurts. We need to work together for our kids’ future.
The Strength to Fight is within us. Let’s use it.
Marilyn Evans is founder of ParentsAware.info an organization dedicated to helping families have solution focused discussions about pornography. Marilyn has an educational background in family communications and believes that even the most difficult conversations can be made easy. She loves to share her own experience and fascinating conversations with other parents via her blog, and live speaking presentations. Marilyn lives east of Toronto with her husband and five sons. You can follow Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram