Online Resource Helps Parents Talk to Kids about Digital Safety

Thorn, a technology non-profit dedicated to defending children from online sexual exploitation, launched Thorn for Parents to help parents have earlier, more frequent and judgment-free conversations with kids about digital safety.

The need for these conversations is more critical than ever as kids grow up online, which impacts how they experience transformational phases like puberty and what normative sexual exploration looks like. Thorn’s research shows that digital safety conversations need to start much younger than parents might think, between the ages of seven and nine. Thorn for Parents includes resources, discussion guides, and recommended timelines to help parents address these serious issues in an approachable, digestible, and supportive way.

“Kids are growing up online and digital safety is a huge issue. Thorn for Parents will guide parents through these essential conversations by offering topics, conversation starters, timelines and more,” said Thorn Co-Founder Ashton Kutcher. “Developmental behaviours coupled with constant connectivity can be dangerous. We have to educate our kids to keep them safe.”

Thorn spent the past three years understanding how kids themselves feel about these issues and what motivates their online behaviors. Thorn developed Thorn for Parents after surveying thousands of youth and parents, and identifying several important findings that all caregivers need to know:

  • Kids report being asked for nudes by strangers online as young as nine years old. Many kids are having online sexual interactions with peers and adults at almost the same rates, and 40% of kids ages 13-17 agreed that “it’s normal for people my age to share nudes with each other.” As many as 1 in 5 nine-to-12-year-olds (26% of girls and 27% of boys) report having had an online sexual interaction where they were asked to send nudes of themselves, “go on cam,” sent sexual messages, or had nudes of an adult or other children shared with them.
  • Online interactions have different boundaries for kids. Children are regularly connecting with people they know only online through mutual friends, shared interests and games — and they don’t consider them strangers. Among kids that had shared nudes, research shows that nearly 40% had shared them with someone they had never met offline. Additionally, 25% of kids report they had experienced a sexual interaction online with someone they believed to be an adult, and these numbers are even higher among vulnerable groups like LGBTQ+ at 32%.
  • Shame is the biggest obstacle to seeking help. Kids are hesitant to disclose online sexual interactions with parents or other trusted adults, especially when the experience was someone they thought was an adult. According to Thorn’s research, while nearly 1 in 3 kids believe they would tell their parents or caregiver if someone they believed to be an adult sent them nude content of themselves, only 6% of kids who had the experience actually did so. It’s common for kids to try to handle risky interactions online alone, which can lead to feelings of shame and unfortunately more harmful situations.
  • Parents don’t feel prepared to have these conversations with childrenMost parents (58%) say they aren’t prepared to talk with their children about the non-consensual sharing of nudes and generally are unsure of where to turn for help.

“As a mom, I know firsthand how awkward and uncomfortable these conversations can be, but the reality is that kids are engaging in these behaviors earlier than we ever thought and these conversations need to happen now,” said Thorn CEO Julie Cordua. “Thorn has spent the past three years researching what motivates kids’ behaviours online and how they feel about these sticky situations. These findings inspired Thorn for Parents so that together with parents, we can greatly reduce the potential harm and risk of sexual exploitation kids face online.”

Thorn for Parents was developed using the latest data to inform the most effective approaches and in consultation with external experts, such as child psychologists, NGO partners, and social workers, to move the needle on this critical and urgent need. Content will be optimized by age range, so parents and caregivers have access to content that is age-appropriate. Initially, Thorn for Parents will offer content for parents with children ages seven to 12. Additional content for expanded age ranges, additional topics and supplemental guides will also be released at a later date.

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