BYU communications professor continues her study on the effects of pornography on children with a new article exploring ways for parents to have healthy conversations with their children.
As parents attempt to navigate an increasingly digital world, children’s heightened exposure to pornography presents a difficult dilemma. Whether children go looking for pornography on their own or come across it accidentally, talking to kids about the topic is not only common but almost inevitable.
“There are children who are young, impressionable and may not even be searching for it who stumble across it,” Zurcher said. “When parents approach it in an extremely negative, authoritarian way it could have negative impacts on that child’s perception of not only pornography but other media related issues. It is important to move away from a shame-based culture and towards an open, warm and educated environment.”
After teaching secondary education for eight years while completing her masters degree and PhD, Zurcher gained firsthand experience with both negative and positive outcomes of children engaging with technology.
“I had experiences where children in my classroom were not wanting to come into contact with pornography, but had inappropriate advertisements pop up at them,” Zurcher said. “I wanted to figure out how I could use my research to educate and make a difference regarding children being exposed to pornography in situations where they are not searching for it.”
Zurcher’s article “The Interplay Between Peer and Authoritative Norms of Parents Discussing Pornography with Adolescents” was published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education in November of last year.
Derived from Zurcher’s dissertation, the article focuses on the messages and perceptions parents encounter which shape the way they talk to their children about pornography.
“We receive influential messages from peers, parents and all sorts of groups about what we should or shouldn’t do,” Zurcher said. “Those messages can influence our perception of what we think is normal as well as what we believe our own role is.”
Zurcher wanted to find out which messages parents get from authoritative sources such as their own parents, educators or health practitioners as well as their peers and friends.
The research revealed that the messages parents receive from their peers about having conversations with their children can be extremely impactful.
“Sometimes I think we overlook the impact our peers can have on us. In this research it was apparent that the peer group was the most influential group,” Zurcher said. “It is one thing for an anti-pornography organization to say ‘here are some suggestions and strategies for talking to kids about pornography.’ It’s another thing for a peer to say ‘this is what happened to me, this was my personal experience and here are some resources I found.”
Zurcher hopes that this research can be helpful for organizations in creating a peer-focused community that provides parents a place to discuss their experiences with each other.
“Organizations could develop a peer-oriented community to implement open, honest communication about having these conversations while also making sure the information is accurate,” Zurcher said.
One possible solution suggested by a participant in the study was a social media platform for parents to discuss potential resources and experiences.
“As opposed to having a list of resources online, what would it look like to allow peers and parents to engage in those conversations?” Zurcher said. “It’s all about developing a sense of community rather than ‘I’m the authority and this is what you need to do.’”
Zurcher’s research also focuses on reducing shame-based messaging surronding pornography and has helped her see the potential impacts her findings could have on families.
“You never think of yourself as someone who is going to dive into these controversial issues, but I have felt so much guidance and direction from the Spirit while conducting this research.” Zurcher said. “It is a sensitive topic, so having guidance regarding what questions would be appropriate and impactful was quite a blessing.”