Is my child influenced by negative sexual messages online?

Clinical psychologist Dr Elly Hanson offers some useful tips and guidance on what to look out for and what you can do if you’re worried that your child may be influenced by harmful sexual messages online. 

Pornography, violent video games, derogatory comments on social media and sexualised music videos and lyrics can all spread negative messages about sex for both girls and boys. These messages can harm young people, making it harder for them to develop and enjoy good relationships with one another. 

What sort of messages does this include?

  • Sexiness is only about how someone looks, rather than their character or the personal connection
  • It’s cool or normal for boys to be sexually pushy or manipulative (e.g. pretending they have feelings for a girl)
  • Girls shouldn’t be too sexual (for example, girls getting called names if they’re suspected of having sex)
  • Sexual activity is mainly about satisfying male sexual desire
  • Being gay, bisexual or transgender is not normal or OK

Young people who are influenced by these ideas might not state them outright, but they are passed on through things like jokes and people being given kudos if they act in line with them – or put down if they don’t. Research suggests that when peer groups take on these views, harassment and abuse are more likely, and it makes it harder for both girls and boys to enjoy equal relationships with each other.

What should you look out for? 

  • If your child is sharing jokes or comments online about sex that’s not clearly consensual or mutually enjoyable
  • If they are taking part in online chats discussing people as sex objects, with no apparent respect for their thoughts or feelings
  • Frequently rating and comparing people on their sex appeal or sexual behaviour
  • Glamorising things like pornography and sex that’s the result of persuasion or coercion.

What can you do?

  • Explore how your child might be able to ‘call out’, or step out of, sexist or negative peer-talk online. 
  • Challenge the attitude or behaviour without shaming them. You could mention how easy it is to be influenced by the things we see online. 
  • Talk to your child about how pornography can get in the way of people having good relationships by promoting a version of sex that is often unequal and sexist. 
  • Research shows that boys are more likely to share sexist jokes if they feel insecure about their own masculinity. Think about how you might build their identity and confidence around more positive things (like sport, friendship, creativity, etc.). 

For more about how to talk to your child about sexual messages and relationships, read this Parent Info article


This article is by Parent Zone, the experts in digital life.