The Scottish Mail on Sunday
‘Pornography awareness’ lessons for kids as young as 10
PRIMARY pupils in Scotland are being given ‘porn awareness’ classes amid fears they are being damaged by exposure to graphic images online.
Children as young as ten are being warned that downloading sexual images and videos can lead to addiction, mental health problems, abuse and revenge porn.
The lessons have been created in response to fears that children are accessing porn more easily and at an ever-younger age – and that parents are failing to stop them.
Campaigning charity the Reward Foundation is piloting lessons at two schools – in Edinburgh and Lanarkshire – with talks over several more to follow.
Lessons discussing harmful aspects of pornography are given to primary seven pupils and various secondary school year groups.
The classes could soon be rolled out Scotland-wide, with backing from the Scottish Government.
Last month, the World Health Organisation included ‘compulsive sexual behaviour’ as a mental disorder for the first time.
But the Reward Foundation believes there is too much focus on sexual relationships, when 80 per cent of addictions are believed to be related to porn.
Chief executive Mary Sharpe said: ‘Children are being exposed to hardcore internet pornography at an increasingly younger age.
‘Many have unfiltered access to the internet through smartphones and tablets. It is the kind of exposure that has been linked to an increase in child-on-child sexual abuse and to mental health issues.’
She added: ‘Parents can use filters on home computers but often forget, or children find ways around them.’
Sex education is compulsory in England but not Scotland, where councils and headteachers are given greater freedom over that part of the curriculum.
However, even where schools cover sexual education, they ignore pornography, warned Ms Sharpe.
She said: ‘It’s the elephant in the room that everyone hopes will go away. It won’t and the kids are the ones suffering the most.’
The lessons will not involve children being shown anything approaching pornographic images, but will focus on the potential health and legal consequences.
They look at how sexual images affect the brain and lead to addiction – and how spreading explicit pictures without consent can lead to prosecution. The pilot is expected to run until the end of September.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The dangers of sexually explicit online content are well documented. We would encourage schools to look at ways of helping pupils to avoid harm.’
Eileen Prior, executive director of Connect, a charity representing parents in Scottish education, said: ‘There will be many parents who will support the approaches outlined by the Reward Foundation, but, equally, there will be parents concerned about the content.’
The lessons will be led by teachers, but using material provided by the Reward Foundation.
Porn has been viewed online by 65 per cent of 15 to 16-year-olds, 48 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds and 28 per cent of 11 to 12-year-olds, according to a 2016 NSPCC report.
Dr Ethel Quayle, lecturer in clinical and health psychology at Edinburgh University, said: ‘Very early exposure to pornography can be related to elevated use later in life.
‘We need to face up to any embarrassment we feel about this issue and must – especially with sexting – appreciate the pressures young people are under to conform.’