TECHNOLOGY has become an integral part of young people’s education, communication and relationships. This is particularly true in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lifestyle changes that have come with it.
Over the past number of months, we have all had to adapt our living, working and socialising norms. Communication now regularly requires technology, as we spend more time indoors and online. This has brought certain issues to the fore, such as online relationships, consent and pornography.
Considering how difficult it is to effectively regulate online content, it is imperative that young people are provided with unbiased, accurate and up to date information regarding the relationships and behaviours that they encounter while online.
The Sexual Health Centre in Cork city has developed a timely response to this emerging need with a campaign entitled ‘Screen-age Kicks’, that addresses the relationship problems that people come up against online, while also incorporating Covid-19 messaging such as device hygiene.
The ‘Screen-age Kicks’ guide was inspired by a 2016 National Youth Council of Ireland report alongside information gathered by the Sexual Health Centre through their youth workshops and drop-in services.
While young people today experience the very same curiosity and self-exploration as their parents did as teens, this period of discovery has now been moved to the online world. The rate at which technology has grown in recent years has also meant that parents and guardians are often left to play catch-up when it comes to their teenagers’ development.
The ‘Screen-age Kicks’ guide is aimed at a wide audience, including adults who find themselves in need of information, such as parents, guardians, grandparents and workers involved with young people.
The guide is also targeting the young people themselves, offering clear, concise information and resources. It was produced with a view to encouraging young peoples’ critical thinking and to ultimately give them autonomy over the decisions they make regarding their sexual health. Ideally the Sexual Health Centre would like the guide to spark conversations that could help bridge the generational gap on topics such as ‘trolling’, consent, ‘sexting’, and porn.
Guidance around teen health and relationships has been sorely needed in light of social distancing measures. For example, in the world of remote working and schooling, where an entire household may be at home around the clock, masturbation and porn are causing concern for many people. While we all acknowledge that porn is unsuitable for young viewers, the reality is that it is here to stay, and whether children seek it out or not, they will continue to be exposed to it in some format. What is most important is that these discussions are started with children in an informed, calm and non-judgemental manner. Pornography is as harmful as we allow it to be, and its impact is dependent on whether we educate young people about it in an appropriate way.
In the absence of open, honest conversations about sexuality and relationships, young people seek that information elsewhere. This has led to the porn industry becoming an unqualified, subjective and highly influential substitute educator where healthy sexual relationships are concerned.
Young people need to be given unbiased, up-to-date information so that when they do encounter pornography, they can clearly recognise fact from fiction and have developed the skill to analyse the content that they view. Many experts in the field, including NUIG researcher Dr. Kate Dawson, would refer to this ability as having “porn literacy”. A key aspect of porn literacy is that it should provide alternative points of view and allow for discussion in a safe and non-judgemental environment. Furnishing young people with porn literacy skills can empower them to reframe the narrative around pornography and foster healthier relationships.
While parents play an important role in ensuring that their children are informed, many are not yet equipped to facilitate that conversation. A significant proportion of Irish parents received an inadequate level of sex education themselves and were also not exposed to pornography in the same way as their children. The Sexual Health Centre’s Health Promotion team can offer guidance to you, whether you are a parent/guardian who is unsure how to open up the conversation on sexual relationships, or a young person seeking context to the content that you’re viewing online.
The Sexual Health Centre has adapted all of its services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – for example, workshops and counselling services are now taking place online and over the phone, a free condom mail-out system is in operation, and you can contact us with any queries on our helpline at 021-4276676.
For more, see https://www.sexualhealthcentre.com/