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SALT LAKE CITY — Experts say it's an issue that may frighten parents, but it's not going away. Children are viewing and getting addicted to pornography on smartphones and other devices, sometimes as young as 7 years old.
By the time those kids graduate high school, experts say nearly 100 percent have seen pornography. At elementary school, counselors say the problem is ease-of-access.
“It’s just too simple to access it,” said Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of the Children’s Center.
According to a 2013 Common Sense Media study, 83 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds know how to use a smartphone or tablet. Add to that the $3 billion mobile porn industry, and experts say exposure is inevitable.
“If they have a phone, it’s likely that they’ll get exposed to pornography,” said Todd Olson, co-founder of Lifestar Network.
Or they will be shown it.
“Their friends have been exposed, and then they are going to tell their buddies, and so there’s some curiosity to that,” said Olson.
Olson said that a few years ago the average age of first exposure was 11 — now it’s 9.
“The curiosity starts pumping in, and there’s a little bit of rush with the brand new, the taboo, the exciting,” said Olson. "They'll do it long enough, and then it'll intrigue them and they're captivated by that and they are 'in the zone.' "
According to Olson, if a child is "in the zone" they may isolate themselves and act secretive, obsessive and irritable.
Goldsmith has treated children in first, second and third grades who have been exposed to pornography.
"We're seeing even with 4- and 5-year-olds a sophistication with sexuality that we've never seen before," Goldsmith said.
He said the problem is that studies show as many as 20 percent of children have suffered sexual abuse, or sexual assault. That then awakens feelings that cannot be turned off easily.
“That child will start to work through those feelings by going to peers and getting them excited about sexual contact,” said Goldsmith.
Peers share pornography on smartphones with other kids, or kids see it at home. Goldsmith said many adults in Utah are looking at pornography, and there’s a high chance a child will walk past an adult who is viewing pornography on a computer.
Some kids may be able to ignore it and move on. But others can't.
If they have a (smart)phone, it's likely that they'll get exposed to pornography.
“Once they’ve seen that, kids want more. There is an addictive quality that we know about seeing pornography,” said Goldsmith.
Olson explains further. “They’ll misuse it, and then they’ll abuse it. Then they become dependent on that. Then they become addicted,” he said.
But these therapists stress there is help, through recovery programs and counseling.
“We have a child that needs help, that needs to get their life back in balance,” said Goldsmith.
Olson said it's important to keep a tab on your child and "clamp everything down." Parents should set up filters and parental controls on computers and other devises, but it's also important to have open discussions with your child.
"Talk to your child about how 'I understand how curious you are, but it's not good for you and you're very young. And here's ways that we can use your free time that are much more productive,' " Goldsmith said.
"Don't panic," said Olson. "Be caring and loving, but firm and let's get some help and let's not take this lightly."
The issue of earlier and easier exposure to pornography is the subject of a bill approved by the House today.
If passed, House Bill 213 would require schools to ensure adequate filtering software is installed on all devices used by children. It would also encourage parents to teach their children about how to use technology safely.
Lawmakers say they have support of many families who say their young children were exposed to pornography at school.
Friday morning on KSL Newsradio in part two of this series, experts explain how important parental protection is in the age of mobile media.
Contributing: Mike Headrick and Linda Williams