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Bergen-area mom encourages parents to educate their kids about the perils of porn

Concerned resident who lives south of Sundre recognizes benefits of internet but urges caution about the web’s dark potential
MVT-Naomi Holland
Naomi Holland, who lives in the Bergen area, recognizes the value of high speed internet such as the new fibre optic network being deployed in Sundre, but feels that missing from the larger conversation about broadband's benefits is a discussion about the proliferation of porn; and perhaps more importantly, educating young people about its potential health impacts. Simon Ducatel/MVP Staff

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — The internet might among many other benefits offer access to the sum of all human knowledge, but there’s also a profoundly troubling aspect to the web that a concerned Bergen-area parent worries society has to a large extent turned a blind eye to.

Equipped with a keenly active curiosity that barely sleeps coupled with unsupervised access to an internet connection, it’s not a matter of if a child discovers pornographic material, but rather when, says Naomi Holland.

“The chances of kids finding porn is highly probable,” she said, later adding that depending on the statistical analysis, youths on average discover adult content between the ages of 9 to 11.

So, parents and guardians must be prepared to have difficult conversations with their kids; not only to prepare them for the inevitable encounter that could prove shocking considering a trend toward increasingly-extreme content, but also to empower them to make responsible decisions they won’t later come to regret, said Holland, who previously worked for about 18 years with an organization that helped victims of human trafficking.

Speaking “as a mom with kids who are drawn to the internet,” Holland told the Albertan on Tuesday, Aug. 30 during an in-person interview that unfettered access to the internet opens the flood gates to an all-but-infinite digital red light district that children are ill-equipped to understand or process from a lack of adequate awareness.

That stands in rather stark contrast to all of the existing campaigns that seek to educate youth about the negative health impacts of consuming drugs, vaping, smoking, or driving impaired, she said.

“Yet we give little children access to the worst red light district in the world through their devices,” she said. “Even worse, it’s going right into those brothels, into the darkest rooms in the back.”

Despite however much parents and guardians already have on their plates, Holland encourages them to find and make some time to play a more active role in educating their children about the importance of respecting themselves in online interactions.

“Kids are curious, which is not their fault – that is how they’re designed,” she said. “But they’re not being set up for success, and they’re not being given at least the warning signals.”

And in an information vacuum where children do not learn from their parents or guardians what a healthy intimate relationship built upon self-respect and consent looks like, they’ll inevitably turn to the internet where the proliferation of adult content runs the risk of distorting their impression of sex as material becomes more extreme, she said.

“Kids Google everything,” she said. “If kids don’t learn about sex and healthy intimate relationship from their parents, they’ll learn from the internet.”

And regardless of whether a youth is a toddler or a teen, their brains are not yet fully developed and will respond to that kind of visual stimulation through a potentially addiction-inducing dopamine release that rivals drug use, she said, adding the key is to prepare them for that inevitable first encounter.

“They have to be warned before they see it, what to do when they see a naked body,” she said. “Otherwise, their first curiosity will be to watch longer – to watch more, to share it with a friend – because it’s such a stimulus and their body is responding, but they don’t understand what it is or why it might be potentially harmful.”

Even if a child does not deliberately search the internet specifically for sex, chances remain very high that otherwise innocent search terms might inadvertently pull up links to adult webpages, she said, adding many porn sites feature Disney characters, which in her estimation seems as though some manufacturers of pornographic content are deliberately targeting children.   

“There’s no specific study that can tie them to that, but it seems like the porn world is after kids,” she said. “I mean, using Disney characters? Using often misspelled URLs of sites that kids go to?”

With more than 370 million porn sites that generate more web traffic than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined, odds are a child will sooner or later find one, she said.

“The numbers are astronomical,” she said, adding some experts who track the trend have called it a “silent public health crisis.”

However, the sheer volume of adult material inundating the web is just one aspect; the increasingly-disconcerting content itself – which she said has evolved to become more and more extreme to the point it can no longer be categorized as sex – is what especially troubles Holland, who worries that desensitization will build tolerance and lead to increasing demand for ever-more extreme content.

She cited as an example the recent heavy scrutiny faced by Pornhub, which last year pulled down millions of videos exposed as being abusive and even illegal in nature.

“Porn isn’t even sex anymore,” she said. “It’s domination.”

By extension, she also worries that abusive and demeaning behaviour will become normalized.

Another matter of concern that preoccupies Holland’s thoughts is the growing trend of child sexual abuse material created and posted online by kids themselves, often leading to situations known as “sextortion” that in some cases has caused a victim so much distress they end up taking their own life. Nearly 30 per cent of minors think sharing or posting such pictures is normal, she said.

Social media and online video gaming potentially opens the door for predators to find and exploit vulnerable youth, eventually asking them to take explicit photos as a favour once a level of trust has been established, she said, adding children starved for validation at home will often seek to find affirmation wherever they can find it.  

“More and more kids, because they spend so much time on social media, have been groomed to think that posting their own (pictures), sending, sharing, even sending to strangers, is OK,” she said.

Statistics have also shown that a sharp increase on rates of depression, anxiety and suicide coincided with the release of smartphones, she said, adding parents and guardians might consider waiting until their children are well into their teen years before agreeing to get them a portable digital device.

After all, the internet is a tool, not a toy, she said.  

“Children do need to know the minute they’re given access to a device, there’s some things on here that are not good and they’re not meant for kids to see,” she said.

“Look how careful we are before we give kids their learners’ license. And yet we’re giving them these machines that have more power than any vehicle in terms of its capability, and with very few guidelines.”

So, she said it’s imperative that parents speak with their kids about healthy intimacy, healthy bodies, healthy relationships, and how to respectfully interact with one another.

But beyond providing information and guidance, she said a parent’s job is also to be aware of the potential risk and doing their due diligence by establishing some ground rules about spending time online. That might include setting filters on a router and web browser, ensuring online activities at home are conducted openly in an easily monitored room, and simply showing an active interest in what their children are up to, she said.

“Parents need to be so much more involved in their children’s lives,” she sad. “Because predators prey where children play.”

They should also become better versed in the world of applications – or apps – that their kids might be using, she said.  

“Before you give your nine-year-old (access to) SnapChat, you better go read what else is on there,” she said, adding children who are most at risk are those whose parents have not had those conversations with them.

Her recommendation is for people to encourage children under the age of 12 who find such content to either close the screen or window and approach a parent or trusted adult.

Of course setting such rules will be tougher with adolescents who crave independence, she said.

However, parents need to remind themselves that adolescents’ brains have not yet fully matured.

“Your kids don’t have to like it. That’s OK – that’s your job, is not to be their best friend. Your job is to parent them,” she said, adding parents should also ask what their children have been up to online.  

“Any secrecy is a red flag,” she said.

So, while many residents in for example Sundre enthusiastically look forward to finally being able to connect to a brand new high-speed fibre optic internet network, Holland has her reservations.

“We’re so concerned with high speed – it’s such an important thing to us and I get it, all of our lives are heavily connected to the internet without a doubt – but I don’t want this part to remain quiet in our discussions as parents and as a community,” she said.

But there seems to be a general societal reluctance to even discuss the issue, she said.

“Not talking about it, is doing our kids a disservice.”  

Anyone interested in connecting with Holland is invited to visit Redeemed With Purpose on social media.



Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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