Digital Literacy: What Are We Avoiding?

How do we build a school environment where all teens are respected, safe and thriving?


The original blog post begins below the solid line. I have added a number of updates here at the top of the page. You will need to read the original post first to understand the significance of the updates.

Thank you for taking the time to engage in this post.


Update November 2015: Here is the link to the July 14 CBC Ontario Today podcast: Is Porn Messing with the Teenaged Brian?

MediaSmarts Resource: Talking to your kids about pornography

Update December 2015: Here is the latest video from the #DearDaddy campaign.  Please protect our girls!



This is a blog post I have been trying to write for over a month.

It is a sensitive subject, but it is a subject we need to talk about.  By avoiding finishing and publishing this post, I am modelling the very behaviour that I want to draw attention to: avoiding this topic.

Over the last few years as a school leader, I have been appalled at some of the examples of how young men treat the young women at school.  It puzzled me, because I really thought that equality for women had really become the norm.  But more and more, incidents involving the public disrespecting of young women came to my attention.

It wasn’t until I listened to this podcast that I began to have a better understanding of what I might be witnessing:

keyboard in the dark faungg’s photo via Compfight

Generation Porn (caution: explicit material)

“Thirty years ago, a peek at a Playboy centrefold was a rite of passage for teenage boys. Today kids as young as ten can view pornography on smart phones. Hassan Ghedi Santur explores the long-term consequences of this burgeoning exposure to pornography.”


Porn is more accessible than it has ever been before.

Porn is no longer just the images from Penthouse and Playboy.  It is violent, degrading, and geared (by the industry) to “tap into the core, basic engines of male sexual arousal”.

cell phone in dark

cc radiant guy via Compfight cc

What do we know?

1) We know that young boys are accessing it.  Anyone with a cell phone can watch porn.

2) There is some research to suggest that porn is dopamine producing and therefore addictive.  Thousands of young men claim to be suffering from or recovering from “porn addiction“, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and sexual disfunction.

3) According to sociologist Gail Dines:  “If you are 11 or 12, you have no repertoire of sexual behaviour to draw on.  So when you go into You Porn or Porn Hub and you see this violent dehumanizing debasing pornography, you can’t say, “You know what, I’ve been with women and they don’t like this, and this isn’t what I want to do.”  You’ve got nothing to draw upon.  This becomes the only thing you have ever seen to define who you are sexually.  That, is great business practice because the earlier you shape the sexual template of a boy, the longer you’ve got him for life”

We do good work in Ontario schools, teaching students to be critical thinkers and to look at how our thinking is influenced by media.

Are we doing a good job of teaching our young people about the real concerns around accessing violent, degrading pornography on a regular basis?



The reading slides from my IGNITE presentation on how pornography impacts the lives of young people.





Teaching Consent

7 thoughts on “Digital Literacy: What Are We Avoiding?

  1. Thanks for writing this post it is a difficult topic to discuss. I am concerned about the sexualisation of woman in society generally and how self-worth seems tied to looks. I wrote a blog called Am I Good Enough Self-Image and Art that discusses how difficult this is on young girls as they grow-up in a society that increasingly models sex as power.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I was thinking this morning that this is one of my least controversial blog posts, which just re-emphasizes the point that almost nobody wants to engage in this conversation. The link to “Sext Up Kids” has changed to this: Thank you for sharing it. I recall watching in last spring, but I will watch it again today.

    As well, I thought it was interesting that the tragic story of what happened to Amanda Todd became a “bullying” story rather than a look at what is really happening with sexual predators and young women and men online. I was very pleased to see the Fifth Estate tell the story behind the story here: The Sextortion of Amanda Todd –

    Thank you for sharing your blog post here ( As I explore the ideas around Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy, I am making several of the same connections (yes, it has taken me awhile!). The internet can be such a powerful tool for social justice. Even just the inequities of access to connectivity need to be a big part of what we talk about under this “heading”.

    I look forward to continuing to hear your thoughts on this topic.

  3. I agree that youth have become desensitized to sexuality, likely as a result of pornography. I’d like to point out that the issue does not solely lie with boys sexually objectifying girls, though. In the classroom, I witness girls calling one another ‘slut’, ‘whore’, and ‘bitch’ as terms of endearment on an almost daily basis and the girls have no idea of the negative effects of their language. In addition, the issue of girls taking and sending naked ‘selfies’ – and the rise in popularity of apps like SnapChat – combined with the idea that porn and sexuality is okay at any age – is a problem. Donna, you raised the issue with reference to Amanda Todd. I think educators would be shocked at how common and frequent sexploitation occurs in our own schools.

    I think we have a vital role to educate students about these issues. But there are several problems: discomfort with the subject matter, unfamiliarity with the technology, lack of curricular support… But I think we agree it’s a problem so I appreciate those who bring it to the forefront.

  4. Thanks, Stephen, for taking the time to comment on this important issue.

    As a school leader, I was beyond shocked at how common the sharing of “naked selfies” is. I know many were shocked by the story behind the “sexploitation of Amanda Todd”, and don’t realize how common the practice is.

    You raise an interesting point about language and you paint a very real picture of the environment in many Ontario schools.

    Ophea has tried to launch a campaign to help deal with this issue in Ontario schools. Their appeal can be viewed on vimeo here:

    We know that learning is linked to kids “feeling okay” (, and I feel very strongly that they are not feeling okay with all of the pressures in the environment described in “sext up kids”. We can’t ignore it any more.

    Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *