Kids and Online Nudity: How Much is Too Much?

**Editors Warning**: several of the pictures in this article contain adult content.
Reader discretion is advised.

One of the biggest complaints from parents about technology is the amount of nudity that is available online. This is particularly true when it comes to many popular social media apps used by teens and even pre-teens. If there was ever a case for pushing things to the edge, but not over the edge, this issue might be the best example for them. Or is it the worst example? I guess it depends on your point of view.

How Kids See It

Part of the problem is that many kids don’t see it as a big deal anymore. Nudity is something that many minors are exposed to, in one form or another, far more often that in the past. It’s not seen as any kind of taboo or threat, by many of them.

Sure, many of today’s parents remember looking at adult magazines when they were children. But it wasn’t as readily available, often limited to finding someone else’s hidden stash. The availability has made it seem acceptable.

Just recently, rapper Cardi B released a new song which can be seen as opening endorsing hard core pornography as acceptable. The lyrics make frequent use of language that most parents would find objectionable. When this is considered mainstream, there is little doubt why children will be influenced by it.

Why Parents Should be Concerned

Technology, mainly cellphones, have given minors the ability to send/receive such pictures whenever they choose. Even worse, they could be pictures of themselves! How would you react to finding pictures of your own child on their phone, as this mom did? Children see more risqué content exposed to them on a daily basis than their parents ever did at that age. Sexting is now, by many, considered getting to “first base” with someone. It’s become the new norm, for better or worse. I say worse, no doubt.

Why This Matters

You may have seen some nudity when you were a child. So, why is it such a big deal if our kids see some now? Because the overwhelming volume of it and society’s acceptance of it is having a negative impact on them. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), about 40% of teens and preteens visit sexually explicit sites. Here’s some of what various studies have determined about children viewing sexually explicit content online:

  • Boys are more likely to seek the content out and that increase with their age.
  • It led to a more casual attitude towards sex, putting it on par with, “eating or drinking”.
  • Teens tended to see women as sexual playthings.

In a study conducted by Drexel University, they determined that, “more than 50 percent of those surveyed reported that they had exchanged sexually explicit text messages, with or without photographic images, as minors.”

The Technical Reality

As for social media sites, the sheer volume of content on most popular social media sites makes it almost impossible for the companies to monitor it effectively. While they may have content moderators who can remove adult content, most sites rely heavily on users reporting content to them. How often do you expect that happens?

Search algorithms can be fairly effective at finding text that may be offensive, but images are another matter entirely. Image recognition software is not nearly as advanced as television shows would have us believe. Plus, artificial intelligence and software designed to scan for images are hard-pressed to keep up with the enormous volume of what’s posted online.

Most social media sites have at least some rules/guidelines when it comes to nudity and what is acceptable on their sites. Here are a few links to some of the more popular social media sites’ guidelines:

For the most part, this means no nudity of anyone below the waist from the front. A bare rear is often acceptable, however, depending on just how much is visible.

For women, bare breasts are allowed to be shown, so long as the nipple is not visible. “Bare” is the key word in that sentence, as even the sheerest covering is often considered acceptable by most platforms. Some sites have disclaimers in their guidelines that allow for nudity if it is used for educational or historical use.

Like most other people who are trying to improve their careers, people in the adult entertainment field have taken to using social media. Many of them have accounts on apps like Twitter and Instagram, posting very racy images. While some of them have set their privacy settings to private to keep people out, many more don’t, posting images that can include hardcore pornography. In some cases, they use those posts to lure people to pay-sites to see even more graphic images.

Bear in mind that if someone who can see what’s on a private/blocked account decides to share an image, who can see the image is no longer based on the original poster’s privacy settings, but by the person who decided to share it. That’s a good thing to keep in mind for everyone who posts things online.

Some apps, like Facebook, have settings that prevent people from being able to share their posts without getting the permission of the person who posted it, but that is hardly foolproof. Anyone can take a screenshot, crop the image and save it to their device. Then it’s “theirs” to do with as they choose.

Let’s be honest with what we’re facing here when it comes to online nudity. According to author and sex therapist, Jo Robertson, Playboy magazine was at its peak around 1972 and it had around seven million subscribers a year. Meanwhile, Pornhub receives 92 million views per day!

This is extremely important, as Pornhub does not require any kind of age validation or even the creation of an account to view hard core pornography on the site. Imagine how a parent of a teen or even pre-teen would feel if they found out that their child had seen the videos posted on Pornhub. They are hardly the only such site out there, just the most popular.

Social media sites aren’t much better, when you get down to it. All you need is an email address to open up most accounts. Some don’t even require that. Some apps simply require that the app be downloaded. Even those that do require an email address to create an account don’t do any kind of vetting process, which is why catfishing, the act of pretending to be someone else online, is so common.

A related topic is that of Hentai. A variation of Japanese anime and magna, it’s a genre of animation that is erotic in nature. It is not a new genre, going back centuries. More modern examples though, tend to be less erotic and more hardcore in nature. There is a complete sub-culture online of Hentai images, even graphic novels that exist for people to see.

While adults should be able to see whatever they wish, parents may not want their children exposed to such graphic images at young ages. What originally got me involved in cybersafety years ago was when our daughter, who was only in first grade, came across some inappropriate content online. It wasn’t nudity, but vulgarity, but it affected her all the same in a way that most parents wouldn’t want to experience.

What Can Parents Do about This?

This is a tough position to be in as a parent. Taking a hard stance and simply forbidding kids from viewing nudity online can often backfire. And it’s virtually impossible to enforce. Taking away a child’s device may not help, as Zombie Phones (or any device, really), can get someone back online without much trouble.

The APA also mentioned that the likelihood of a child looking at online content of this nature is strongly influence by parenting styles. As they report, “When teenagers are old enough to be interested in sex, they are competent enough to find ways to access Internet porn.” As a result, they focus on educating minors rather that preventing them from seeing it.

Like most problems with our kids, the key is education and letting them know the serious risks that are involved with nudity online – especially sending intimate pictures of themselves to anyone! One option which can help, assuming that they don’t have a zombie phone, is installing parental control apps onto their devices. PC Magazine recently reviewed many of them and you can check out what they have to say by clicking here.

My article for Pediatric Safety last year offers parents other options on being able to see if their kids are doing online via apps. And of course, while you have their device in your hand, you can always view their browser history if they haven’t cleared it recently.

To help prevent them from accidentally seeing nudity on devices, have the “Safe Search” feature on all search engines set to their most restrictive settings.

This link will explain it when using Google, but others have similar features, even going so far as to call it Safe Search. While Google is the most popular search engine around, be sure to make the change on any/all search engines, since children may use a different search engine that their parents.

As a parent of a teenager myself, I can certainly relate to most parent’s worries about this topic so if you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask them here in the comments and I’ll do what I can to help. If anyone here wishes to share some resources to other parents, please do so as well in the comments. I wish you the best!

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for more than 10 years. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that he became involved in helping others in the area. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention. Joe is the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


2 Responses to “Kids and Online Nudity: How Much is Too Much?”

  1. Joe Yeager Joe Yeager says:

    The writer of the article here.

    Despite being outlawed in India, this new article clearly shows that kids in that country are seeing more porn at much higher rates. Be sure to have “the talk” with your kids and make sure that it includes what happens online as well as offliine!

  2. Joe Yeager says:

    The author of the piece here. Here’s a new story from India, where such sites are banned, but it hasn’t stopped the kids from seeing the content. In fact, they’re seeing a spike in such views by kids.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!