New programme to help parents talk to their children about pornography

(From left) Touch Parenting head Shem Yao, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, youth volunteer Anderea Ang and counsellor Charmaine Jalleh at a panel discussion on Sept 25, 2021. PHOTO: MCI/CED

SINGAPORE - As the father of a 10-year-old girl, Mr James Tan knows it is only a matter of time before he will need to talk to his daughter about the touchy subject of pornography.

The 52-year-old, who has been chief executive of Touch Community Services for six years, is well-prepared but says even he struggles to talk about such taboo topics.

To help parents broach this sensitive issue, Touch Cyber Wellness on Saturday (Sept 25) launched a new programme to provide tips and questions that can kick-start a conversation about this issue.

Called e-Conversations for the Family (Pornography), the programme comes with a toolkit, in this case, a deck of cards to help parents learn how to engage their children on the issue of pornography and shape their online habits.

Other modules focusing on trending issues such as cyber bullying and gaming addiction will be developed over the coming months, Touch said.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times the non-governmental organisation decided to start with the topic of pornography because it was so sensitive.

He said: "These days, children are exposed to a lot of content online and they would have a lot of questions, especially in the area of sexuality.

"If there is no one there to process it with them, it is not going to be very healthy. We want to tackle this issue early."

Research has shown that early exposure to pornography at impressionable ages may adversely shape sexual practices and attitudes, said Touch Cyber Wellness and the Media Literacy Council.

It may also potentially strengthen attitudes supportive of sexual aggression against women and may be a risk factor for sexual offending.

The Association of Women for Action and Research's head of research and advocacy, Ms Shailey Hingorani, said parents and children could explore websites and social media platforms together, agree to certain ground rules, and talk about how to report inappropriate content.

She said there has been a recent increase in the number of parenting programmes focusing on the issue of pornography, which suggests that pornography exposure among children has increased or that there is increased awareness about the potential harms that follow from pornography exposure.

Ms Hingorani highlighted a survey by Google released earlier this year, which found that Covid-19 stay-home measures last year led to more relaxed house rules on Internet access for educational, social and entertainment purposes.

She said: "This could easily have led to increased pornography exposure, especially given that in 2020, less than half of the parents surveyed used features such as YouTube's parental controls or Google's Safe Search."

A British study also found that more 16- and 17-year-olds had seen pornography on social media platforms than on pornographic websites.

However, Touch's Mr Tan said one silver lining of having more people working from home and more lessons being conducted online is that there is a greater level of interaction at home between parents and children.

This allows families to build trust and gives parents the chance to navigate sensitive topics such as pornography.

On Saturday, a free virtual symposium was held to commemorate Touch Cyber Wellness' 20th anniversary.

It was attended by about 1,000 people, including educators, parents, children, young people, and other community partners.

Speaking at the event, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said parents, schools, community organisations like Touch, and young people are key to ensuring that children can go online safely.

He said: "The work of strengthening digital literacy in Singapore is an ongoing effort - and it will be for a long time."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.