Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

The day porn on the internet changed my son's life

Vile images: Just a click away
Vile images: Just a click away

Last week my son told me he had watched something horrible online. Something sexual where the young women involved seemed coerced into an act that was brutal and disgusting, not just to an uninitiated 11-year-old but to anyone with a shred of humanity.

He watched it because one of his new friends told him he should – because it was "funny". He is finding it hard to make friends at his new secondary school and wanted to fit in. He didn't know what he was going to see.

I know this because, from that particular day, I noticed my son becoming withdrawn. He seemed sullen and easily upset. I knew something was wrong and asked several times if he was OK. Clearly he wasn't.

During a family walk a few days later, we talked about school, how his life was changing and how he and his best friend had grown apart. Then, that evening, as I was bidding him and his brother goodnight, he said he needed to talk. So we went into my bedroom and he told me everything. He said he had been horrified watching a short video online but was unable to stop thinking about it. He told me he couldn't "unsee" it, and how he felt his childhood was effectively over.

So I'm left cuddling my son, who is strung between childhood and adolescence. He tells me that everything is moving too fast. We talk about his observation that you can't "unsee" stuff. We talk about how you can't go backwards.

Then we talk about the porn industry and how often it portrays women as passive beings. We talk about how women in the video he saw are real people, forced into unpleasant situations and we talk about how very far from "funny" videos like these really are.

We talk about why people might access porn. That being curious is completely natural. We talk about the difference between what he watched that was brutal and violent and something that the majority might find titillating.

I am looking at this through the eyes of my 11-year-old. He can see that there are gradations of porn. Some of it, though an unrealistic view of sex between two consenting adults, is bearable and allows you to retain a basic positive belief in the world. But then there is the degrading, shockingly violent porn that showed him a dark underbelly of an online world. Faced with this hideous new information, he simply doesn't know where to file it.

After watching the video, he changed his settings on his phone to strict.

As a freelance theatre director and writer, I work with more than 100 kids every week. I nurture their confidence and communication skills, I persuade some to speak louder and more clearly. And yet, while I'm working with these young people, my own son is dealing with the fallout alone.

I use the internet all the time. I am very active on social media. I've seen porn – most of us have. But I recognise that this time the internet has crept up and slapped me right in the face.

This week, one of this country's major teaching unions published research suggesting that 90% of eight to 16-year-olds had at some stage accessed pornography on the internet and asked for training in how to deliver lessons warning of its dangers.

Children have always found ways to discover the world on their own and that's essential and it's important that adults don't interfere with that discovery and self-education. But it's our adult world that is increasingly seeping into their childhood, at the touch of a button. And when the mark of fitting in becomes watching a "funny" video – essentially violent porn that changes your world in an instant – then I think we, as a society, need to reassess things.

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