If you think filtering systems protect kids from seeing pornography at elementary school, I have really bad news for you. They don’t. Last year, I began researching news reports and talking to parents. I have been shocked to discover how often kids are exposed to pornography at school and on school devices. I have no hesitation in saying that we are looking at an epidemic of childhood pornography exposure connected to schools. So, where do we begin solving this problem? We must start by creating pathways for safe reporting.

Many schools have safe reporting procedures in place for bullying. These procedures, such as “anonymous tip lines or texting programs” are established so that kids will feel more comfortable speaking out against a bully’s abuse. In other words, kids have a way to report bullying incidents without the fear they will have to confront a bully directly. Similarly, kids need a way to report pornography exposure at school without the fear of being disciplined or feeling shame.

Implementing safe reporting practices is a basic first step in bullying prevention. Likewise, implementing safe reporting practices is a basic first step to address the rampant problem of early childhood pornography exposure on school grounds.

Don’t miss your FREE 10-Point Checklist for Online Safety at School at the bottom of this post!

Safe Reporting Procedures

Let’s look at these facts:

Fact #1: Pornography exposure is harmful to children. If you have any doubt, read these articles:

Fact #2: School filters regularly fail to protect children. Here are numerous examples of filtering systems failing on school devices and at elementary schools around the country and around the world. Here’s a story from a mom whose three daughters all encountered pornography in 3rd and 4th grades.

Fact #3: Most schools do not give kids clear instructions regarding what kids should do if they see pornography.   

My son saw pornography in elementary school

Many years ago, when my oldest son was in elementary school, he was exposed to pornography on a library computer while working on a history assignment with three other boys. He did not tell me about the incident for several days. When he finally told me, I asked him if he had told the librarian or his teacher. He hadn’t. Neither had the other boys. They were terrified they would get in trouble for two reasons.

  1. When pornography appeared on his screen, my son shut the computer off like I had taught him to do, but there was a school rule that kids were not allowed to turn computers off without teacher permission. The boys were worried they would be punished for shutting down the computer!
  2. The boys were also worried that no one would believe that they had not been purposely looking for pornography. They were aware of kids who (earlier in the school year) had tried to find inappropriate content and had been punished. My son and the other boys were sure the librarian would automatically assume they were seeking these images.

My son had anxiety for days because his school had not taught him a safe way for him to report inadvertent exposure. Fortunately, he told me what he had experienced. I was able to reassure him that no one would be punished and I notified the school so technicians could address the problem.

I am aware of many kids, like my son, who have been willing to tell their parents what they saw at school, but were far too afraid to tell their teacher. These kids all had something in common: parents who gave them a plan for what to do when they see pornography and teachers who had not taught them clear instructions.

Safe reporting procedures can eliminate fear and anxiety in students

When kids see pornography at school, they generally know it’s something “bad” and they are often afraid of getting in trouble. Time and time again, kids don’t tell their teacher what happened. This creates a situation where administrators don’t know a problem exists, leaving more kids at risk for future exposure.

Besides failing to report pornography exposure, some kids naively harm their classmates by exposing them to illicit images. It is not uncommon for a child who is caught off guard to reach out to other kids saying, “Look what’s on my screen!” An unfortunate situation where one child is exposed to pornography can quickly turn into a disaster where many children are exposed.

Giving kids a safe way to report exposure –letting them know they will be praised, not punished– is the best way to encourage kids to speak up when they see inappropriate content.

What should be included in safe reporting procedures?

  1. Whether the word pornography or a phrase like inappropriate content is used, schools must clearly define what types of materials kids need to report. For a FREE pdf of how to define pornography in an age-appropriate way for kids, click here.
  2. Schools should help students understand why it is so important for them to report exposure. Kids should be taught that pediatricians and other child experts make it clear that pornography is harmful for a child’s growing brain. For an adult to deliberately show pornography to a child is considered child abuse and is most likely illegal. (Every state has slightly different laws regarding child sexual abuse.)
  3. Clearly explain what actions kids should take if they inadvertently see (or anyone shows them) this type of material. These actions should include looking away as quickly as possible and immediately notifying a trusted adult. Kids should practice what they have been taught to do when inappropriate content comes on their screen or is shown to them by another person.
  4. Children need to be told that no one should ever show them pornography and that they should never show it to another child.

Everyone benefits when kids are taught safe reporting

Here are three HUGE benefits of implementing safe reporting procedures for pornography exposure:

  1. Safe reporting eliminates the fear and confusion children face when they are exposed. When expectations are clear, children know what actions to take and kids’ fears of getting in trouble are eliminated.
  2. Safe reporting helps school officials become aware of deficiencies within the school filtering system so they can address them promptly. If school filters are failing in some capacity, solving the problem early can prevent additional children from being exposed.
  3. Safe reporting provides children a clear way to report child abuse or child-to-child pornography exposure. 

With safe reporting procedures in place, teachers and students are working together against childhood pornography exposure, confronting this problem early and head-on. This is a win-win-win situation for victims of exposure, for the school administration, and for all students.

Of course, we all hope kids won’t be exposed to pornography at school. We also hope schools don’t catch on fire. While pornography exposure is much more likely to occur than a fire, kids should be taught what to do in either event. Teaching children how to act in a potentially dangerous situation has always been an important component of child safety.

Parents and schools must work together

We can continue to ignore the problem of children being exposed to pornography at school, but ignoring this problem only creates a bigger problem: even more children exposed. Parents, teachers, and administrators must work together in teaching kids how to recognize and react to pornography. Parents must educate schools and schools must educate parents on the importance of helping kids learn these important internet safety skills.

Kids CAN learn how to reject pornography!

How safe are kids online at your local school? You can evaluate how well your school protects kids from pornography with our FREE 10-Point Checklist. Click on the image below:

Let’s all work together to keep kids safe from the dangers of pornography!

Claudine Gallacher
Claudine Gallacher, MA, is the Social Media Guru at Protect Young Minds and was the writing coach for Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. Claudine is enthusiastic about teaching parents how to empower kids with the skills they need to reject pornography. To reach parents, she writes, researches, edits, speaks, and markets. Claudine is married and has three great kids who support her work. Contact Claudine on Twitter @ProtectYM or email claudine@protectyoungminds.org.