COMMENT:

The news in the Herald that the Government is going to have a "serious conversation" about online porn and its impact on young people is welcome.

If you come from a generation like mine when pornography was consigned to those top-rack magazines that you caught just a glimpse of at the local newsagent's, then the shocking truth is that nowadays online porn is a different and far more sinister prospect. The comparatively innocent nude centrefolds have been replaced with graphic and often violent depictions of sex.

Essentially, the problem lies in what online pornography portrays as being "normal" behaviour and it's the treatment of women that is especially toxic. Dangerous, violent and downright degrading acts as well as physical and verbal aggression are perpetrated on women and are portrayed as normal - pleasurable even. And this is mainstream porn we're talking about, not some perverse version found only in the murkiest recesses of the dark web. Every child can potentially access it on their smartphones and tablets. It's effortless and easy. And it can be done anonymously.

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The average age to get a smartphone is now 10 or 11. With the potential for such early exposure, it's not difficult to see how these vulnerable and impressionable young people are making warped connections about what's acceptable and normal. For today's generation of young men and women, online porn has blurred the distinction between fantasy and reality, and has normalised violence and aggression.

As a mother of three teenagers, I find that deeply troubling and worrying.

Now, online pornography as a conversation topic with our kids is at best uncomfortable and at worst is something to be avoided altogether. The chances are for most of us it warrants just a brief mention in the obligatory "stay safe online" conversation. But we can't stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best any longer. If the Roast Busters scandal from a few years back showed us anything it's that the issue is a real menace in our society. And given New Zealand's poor record in family and domestic violence involving females, this is an issue we can't afford to ignore.

So, whose responsibility is it to do something about it? Should schools be doing more? Certainly peer pressure and the sharing of unpleasant images and messages between classmates across social media is something schools should be tackling.

Should the Government be doing more? Well, thankfully, the Government does seem to at last be taking the issue more seriously. The news that the Chief Censor is conducting ground-breaking research into teenagers' online pornography habits is a big step in the right direction. Hopefully the research will result in informed decisions that mirror the progress taken by the UK government in bringing in age restrictions for online pornography sites.

But the ultimate responsibility to do something about this worrying issue has to be with us as parents. These are our children - our girls and our boys that we are talking about. We cannot abdicate responsibility and expect someone else to sort it out for us.

If you don't want your son growing up into a man thinking that women enjoy being abused and degraded, and if you don't want your daughter growing up thinking she has no choice, then it's time to stand up and be counted.

We as parents need to have those awkward but essential conversations with our kids about the realities of online pornography. So take advantage of every opportunity: bring up the subject when driving your teenagers to their sports on the weekend - there's nothing like a captive audience. And use news and media reports as well as posts on Instagram or Facebook as the basis for opening up the discussion. Don't let embarrassment or awkwardness get in the way. This issue is too important for that.

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You see, ultimately it's up to parents to make sure our young people understand what's real and what's in the twisted collective imagination of the porn industry.

So let's have those "serious conversations" that the Government want us to, but in the first instance let's have them with our own children.

Helen Borich is a director of Write Solutions, a copywriting, editing and proofreading service.