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Study: More Children Exposed to Online Porn

A new study conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers and published in the current issue of Pediatrics finds that 42 percent of Internet users aged 10 to 17 years had seen online pornography in the previous 12 months—but that full two thirds of those kids stumbled onto the material by accident.

The study surveyed 1,500 Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 between March and June 2005, with the consent of the respondents’ parents. In the study, “pornography” was defined as pictures of naked people or pictures of people having sex. Most children who reported unwanted exposure to pornography were between the ages of 13 to 17, but significant numbers of 10 and 11 year-olds were exposed: 17 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls, respectively.

Although one has to consider whether there was any reporting bias in these numbers—how many kids will admit to an adult, even a researcher if their parents are out of earshot, whether they’ve downloaded porn?—more than one third of teenage boys aged 16 and 17 reported having sought out online pornography, compared to 8 percent of teenage girls the same age.

Use of peer-to-peer file sharing services was found to be the online activity which put children most at risk for unwanted exposure to pornography, but plenty of kids stumbled into adult material during everyday Internet use, including talking online with friends, visiting Web sites, playing games, and entering chat rooms. Many respondents said they were not particularly bothered by what they saw, but while most would agree sexual curiosity is normal in teenagers, some experts caution that exposing children to adult material they’re not able to cope with may create emotional trauma, developmental problems, skewed concepts of healthy sexual relationships, or even put the children at risk of victimization by sexual predators.

The study concluded that parents, teachers, and others should operate under the assumption that “that most boys of high school age who use the Internet have some degree of exposure to online pornography as do many girls.”

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