Young people, pornography and bullying
Young people, pornography and bullying
Today’s teenagers are the first generation of young people to grow up with ‘sexting’, sex tapes, making their own sex tapes, sharing pornography, recording orgies on phones – and all the bullying that goes with it. At some schools it is so out of control that teachers are on ‘blow job’ patrol every lunchtime.
A Changing World
Teenagers are living in a world where the availability of technology is exposing them to great harm and danger. They are growing up in an age where pornography has become mainstream, normalised and glamorised, warping and distorting their perceptions on sex and relationships. The influence of porn is evident through popular culture such as music, film, television, advertising, fashion and social media. Young people are not only dealing with the transition from childhood to adulthood, they are navigating this within an uncharted digital landscape. Engagement with these new forms of media has both short and long-term consequences that we, as a society, are now struggling to understand and deal with.
The technology of our times amplifies the availability of pornography, and the impact this is having on young people’s early relationships and sexual behaviour is profound and unprecedented. The ease with which imagery can be made and sent has brought a whole new set of risks. Once sent, a sexually explicit or suggestive image is potentially permanently available for public consumption.
Creating and sending sexual images, otherwise known as ‘sexting’, has now become an attractive way for young people to receive recognition, acceptance and attention from others, while never receiving the respect and love they deserve and crave.
A young person who gets involved in pornography, at any level, must understand they are going to have to deal with the consequences of their actions. It may seem like innocent fun at the time, but very quickly a ‘seemingly normal’, ‘fun’ act of so-called ‘self expression’ can spiral into a disaster that not many adults, let alone children, have the ability to cope with.
Communications Law Professor Michael Frazer states “if an image is truly porn and then sent online, it is not innocent and we need not normalise that type of behaviour” (cited in Lentini, 2013, p. 1).
One of the more serious consequences of ‘sexting’ amongst teenagers is the use of these images by others through pornographic bullying, where sexually explicit or suggestive images are used as a ‘weapon’ against another. This abusive and violent behaviour in children needs our urgent attention.
Who are the role models?
Young people look to adults and to those around them to find a reflection of themselves – they look to adults as their role models. With the alarming increase in the intensity and complexity of physical, emotional and mental ill-health, violence, corruption and self-abuse, it is clear as a society we have lost our way and our connection to ourselves. What sorts of role models does all this offer? On top of that, to cope with the pain or suffering that many adults experience day to day, many self-medicate through the use of alcohol, drugs, food, overeating, entertainment and other forms of distraction and numbness.
This is the way of living that we, as adults, are reflecting to our younger generations.
Children are known to imitate what they experience and see. Imitation is based on the idea that children, adolescents, and even adults observe the behaviour of real-life and media created role-models, potentially leading to the reproduction of this behaviour within themselves (Howard & Hollander, 1997). This we see, for example, through the music and sports industries where everyday people become elevated to ‘celebrity status’. These celebrities receive focus and public attention through the media, which can lead to the mimicking or copying of lifestyle choices by those who look to them as role models.
In many cases, those being emulated or held up as role models are very far from having their act together – all in all, what sort of messages do our young people receive, from every angle, about what is acceptable behaviour, and what life is really all about?
Education is not just what happens in school.
- The Media is ‘educating’ all of us every day, and our children are the most vulnerable.
- Celebrities are ‘educating’ our children through the words in their songs, their behaviour on and off the sports field, and the constant publicity about their lifestyles.
- Society is educating our children by not speaking up loudly or clearly about what is going on.
All of us are complicit in the ‘education’ our children are receiving.
Educationist John Holt (1974), writes, “we fool ourselves if we think ways can be found to give children what all the rest of us so sorely lack” (p.10). While young people look to us, they are also a reflection for us, modelling our behaviour and way of living. They provide us with a living example of what is clearly not working within our systems, ways of relating, and our current way of living life. The fact that young people are now producing pornography and using it to bully and hurt others is a clear indication that children are lost and struggling.
What kind of world and way of being and living are we teaching our children?
Music videos are one of the most popular and widely consumed forms of entertainment for young people. According to Turner (2005), “the mass media serve as agents of social control shaping public tastes, preferences, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours” and “communicate the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is deviant” (p. 5). Teenagers take these images and incorporate them into their own lifestyle.
While the sexual content of music videos is often more implicit than explicit in their depictions of sexual behaviour, they are still very powerful in influencing the sexual education of today’s youth. This strong sexual innuendo is continuously in the face of young people. A further concern is that the sexual content is associated with the use of drugs and alcohol.
If our young people base their version of ‘normal’ on what they are seeing in movies, ads, billboards, texts, sexting, and music videos – is that the type of behaviour we want them to grow up thinking is ‘normal’?
Do we really want young people’s education to come from the porn, music and alcohol industries? Or do we begin to provide true education to young people so that they learn about and understand the difference between love and sex, self-respect and self-abuse, and abusive versus loving relationships?
We cannot allow ourselves, either as adults or young people, to become desensitised to behaviour that is disrespecting and self-abusive. Nor can we understate the harm caused by sexting, pornography and the like – it is never going to be a truth to call that natural sexual exploration. Sexting has been used as a blackmail threat – have sex or this picture goes viral. This is in no way sexual exploration. It is rape, bullying, oppression, threatening and frightening for a young girl or boy caught up in something they feel they cannot control. This behaviour cannot be ignored or justified any longer.
Our current education system is not providing the education young people need to know and understand that these relationships are abusive and unacceptable.
If young people are not taught that there is indeed another way, implicitly we are educating them to accept and ‘learn to live with’ this level of harm and abuse. Clearly our education systems are not preparing young people to become the responsible, caring, loving people that they are.
Our children need education based on building respectful, caring and loving relationships for them to know the true potential of who they are and their relationships and connection with others.
Healey, J. (2005). Peer abuse as a legislated child protection issue for schools. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Law and Education, 10(1), 59-71.
Holt, J. (1974). Escape from childhood: The needs and rights of children. USA: Pelican Books. Howard, J. A., & Hollander, J. A. (1997). Gendered situations, gendered selves: A gender lens on social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lentini, R. (2013). The secrets of teenage sexting. Retrieved from http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/the-secrets-of-teenage-sexting/story-e6freuy9- 1226031016221
Turner, J. (2005). An examination of sexual content in music videos. (PhD Thesis). Retrieved from http://www.udel.edu/communication/web/thesisfiles/jaketurnerthesis.pdf