9 Ways Adult Content Can Damage a Child's Mind

9 Ways Adult Content Can Damage a Child's Mind

As parents, we tend to be natural worriers. Do our kids eat enough vegetables? Are they making friends in school? Are their grades up to par? For recent generations of parents, we've added another concern: what content are our kids being exposed to online, and how do we protect children from inappropriate material? Additionally, what are the effects of inappropriate content to minors, and what should we be doing about it?

If you're experiencing these concerns, you're not alone. A recent study of 1,300 U.S. parents found that exposure to explicit content was their top concern for their kids. Additionally, 77% of those parents feel today's teens are faced with a unique set of challenges than generations past, thanks to the virtually unlimited access to technology.

What Counts as Inappropriate Content?

Depending on your child's age and maturity level, as well as your personal views on what is considered appropriate for your child to view, there are different types of inappropriate content your child may come across.

  • Suggestive dialogue or coarse language: any dialogue or written content that implies sexual content or uses explicit language.
  • Sexually explicit material: images, videos, and text that depict sexual activity.
  • Pornographic content: a more extreme form of sexually explicit material that shows sexual acts
  • Sexual violence: any depiction of sexual assault, harassment, or any non-consensual sexual activity
  • Graphic violence: vivid portrayals of physical assault, murder, injury, or any form of violent content that is detailed and realistic
  • Fantasy violence: aggressive behaviors in contexts or worlds that are clearly fictional, such as animated shows or video games

Where are young people exposed to harmful content?

With access to many forms of technology at our fingertips, it seems there are endless opportunities for a young person to inadvertently stumble across mature content.

  • Streaming services: Unsupervised access on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or even music streaming channels like Spotify can lead to exposure to movies, TV shows, and music that may not be suitable for their age group due to the presence of explicit imagery or language.
  • Social media platforms: Perhaps one of the most significant sources of concern, social media platforms can expose younger children to all sorts of harmful content, including cyberbullying, explicit imagery, and unrealistic life portrayals.
  • Internet: Without proper supervision and the use of appropriate web filters, young people can inadvertently encounter sexual content, violent content, and other forms of explicit imagery through seemingly innocent searches or even pop-up ads.
  • Peers: Sharing of explicit or inappropriate materials among friends can occur at school or in social settings, especially if other kids have unsupervised access to the internet or streaming services and then share this content with their peer group.
  • Older children: Older siblings and teens may have more freedom and possibly less supervision, and may knowingly or unknowingly introduce inappropriate material to younger ones.

What are the Effects of Inappropriate Content to Minors?

Research shows that early exposure to adult content can have a wide range of adverse effects, from low self-esteem to prematurely engaging in sexual activity.

1. Distorted Views of Relationships and Intimacy

When children are exposed to inappropriate content, it can skew their understanding of healthy relationships and intimacy. This can present an unrealistic and unhealthy view of how individuals interact, causing misconceptions and skewed expectations in young minds.

This misrepresentation can hinder their ability to form genuine, respectful connections and understand the value of emotional intimacy, compassion, and the overall nature of healthy relationships.

2. Influence on Body Image and Self-Esteem at a Young Age

Adult content often portrays unrealistic body standards, leading to issues with body image and self-esteem among young viewers. The constant comparison to these unattainable ideals can cause serious mental health issues like depression and even eating disorders.

3. Desensitization to Violence and Inappropriate Behavior

Repeated exposure to violent or inappropriate behavior in adult content can desensitize children, making them perceive acts of violence as normal or acceptable. This desensitization can lead to sensation seeking and aggressive behaviors or a lack of wellbeing of others.

Children who experience repeated exposure to violent or inappropriate behavior may develop a skewed sense of reality, believing that these types of actions are common and don't need to be taken seriously. This can make it difficult for them to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate responses to conflict.

4. Unhealthy Attitudes Toward Sexuality

Adult content such as online pornography can instill unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality in children, associating it with objectification or aggression rather than affection, respect, and consent. This skewed perspective can deeply influence how children view sexual relationships and can lead to unrealistic expectations and behaviors, potentially affecting their ability to form healthy, respectful romantic relationships as they get older.

5. Negative Implications on Emotional and Mental Wellbeing

When children are exposed to adult content too early, it can induce feelings of guilt, shame, and confusion, impacting their overall happiness and ability to engage positively with peers and adults. This can stifle their natural curiosity and development, leaving them less open to seeking guidance or sharing their feelings.

6. Increased Risk of Engaging in Risky Behaviors

Exposure to adult content can hinder the development of critical thinking skills in young kids, leading them to make impulsive decisions and engage in risky behaviors, such as substance experimentation or initiating sexual activity prematurely. Adult content can cloud their judgment, making it difficult for them to understand the difference between healthy and harmful interactions and behaviors.

7. Development of Unrealistic Expectations

Adult content can create unrealistic expectations regarding body image, relationships, intimacy, and sexual interactions, leading to dissatisfaction and challenges in future romantic partnerships. They may also experience difficulty forming and maintaining friendships due to altered perceptions of social norms and interactions.

Current Measures to Help Mitigate Exposure to Inappropriate Content

Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

The Children's Internet Protection Act was enacted by congress in 2000 to address concerns regarding children's exposure to harmful content on the internet. It applies specifically to schools and libraries that benefit from the E-rate program, which subsidizes internet access.

Under CIPA, schools and libraries must certify that they have implemented an Internet safety policy, incorporating technology protection measures that block or filter access to images that are obscene, constitute child pornography, or are harmful to minors. This helps ensure that minors are shielded from content that could negatively impact their development and wellbeing.

TV Parental Guidelines

The TV Parental Guidelines are a tool to help parents make informed decisions about what content is suitable for their children to watch. The guidelines consist of a series of ratings that include content descriptors and offer a snapshot of the program's suitability for different age groups.

  • TV-Y: This rating signifies that the program is suitable for all children, including very young children ages 2-6.
  • TV-Y7: Appropriate for children age 7 and above. Programs with this rating may be more appropriate for children who can distinguish between make-believe and reality.
  • TV-G: General audience—most parents would find this program suitable for all ages. It contains little or no violence, no strong language, and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
  • TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested. This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children. Programs rated TV-PG may contain some suggestive dialogue (D), infrequent coarse language (L), some sexual situations (S), or moderate violence (V).
  • TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned. This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Programs rated TV-14 may include strong language (L), strong sexual situations (S), intense violence (V), or suggestive dialogue (D).
  • TV-MA: Mature audience only. This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and may be unsuitable for children under 17. Programs with this rating may contain crude indecent language (L), explicit sexual activity (S), or graphic violence (V).

Other Ways to Safeguard Your Children From Inappropriate Content Online

  • Open Communication: Start with an open conversation about online safety and the presence of inappropriate content online. Discuss the importance of coming to you if they encounter anything uncomfortable or confusing.
  • Use Parental Controls: There are technology tools available on most devices, browsers, and internet service providers that allow you to set parental controls. These tools can help filter out inappropriate content, restrict access to certain sites, and monitor your child's online activity.
  • Implement Screen Time Rules: Establish clear rules about when and how long your children can spend time online. Encourage breaks, offline activities, and limit screen time, especially before bedtime, to ensure a healthy balance between digital and real-world experiences.
  • Teach sex education at home: Proactively discuss topics related to sex education, including healthy relationships, consent, and the differences between real-life interactions and what they might see online so your children feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.
  • Utilize Safe Search Engines: Use kid-friendly search engines that automatically filter out explicit content, providing a safer online search experience. Many of these search engines are designed specifically for children, offering a curated environment that parents can trust.
  • Monitor and Review: Regularly review the apps and websites your children use and the content they're accessing. Familiarize yourself with the platforms' safety features and privacy settings to ensure they align with your family's values and safety standards.
  • Embrace Educational Resources: Direct your children towards websites and apps that offer high-quality, educational content. Many platforms are designed to make learning fun and engaging, covering a wide range of topics from science to history.
  • Delay Smartphone Use: Consider investing in technology designed with children's safety in mind as a slow, safe onramp to the digital world. Starting early and introducing kids to technology in steps and delaying social media and smartphone usage is critical. One effective approach is to start simple with a device like a kids smart watch These devices offer features like GPS tracking and safe-zone setting, plus and the ability to call & message only parent-approved contacts - all without providing access to the internet or social media platforms.
  • Stay Informed and Involved: Make sure you're staying informed about the latest online trends, popular apps among kids, and potential online risks to help you better protect your children. Your involvement in their digital lives is crucial for their safety and well-being.

In a world where children are increasingly exposed to a wide range of content online, safeguarding them from inappropriate material has never been more important. By utilizing the tips and resources provided above, parents can create a safer online environment for their children. Remember, the goal isn't just to shield children from harmful content but also to educate and empower them to make smart, safe choices online.