A New Zealand filmmaking couple has just released the product of 18 months’ filming and production to help parents keep their children safe online.
Our Kids Online; Porn, Predators and How to Keep Them Safe is a family-savings-funded film project that came about when Rob Cope and Zareen Sheikh-Cope’s children started asking for hand-held devices. Instead of going shopping for phones, the recently married parents of four threw their money into a heart-breaking mission to film in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
The goal of this ‘show me, don’t tell me’ approach to educating parents is two-fold. Firstly, the couple aim to bring parents round to the fact that their primary school children are being harmed by exposure to pornography and child sex predators online. Most parents are in denial.
Secondly, they show parents how to deal with it – from having ‘that talk’ right through to buying, plugging in or downloading filters.
“These issues have caught us all off-guard” explains Cope. “It was only because we started researching the pros and cons of handheld devices for our own kids that we discovered the horrifying pitfalls. I think our natural film-making curiosity pushed us to research it thoroughly – that’s when we discovered things were worse than we could have imagined.”
In the ask-Google age, children are first being exposed to this when they’re not even looking for it: violent genres of online porn, men posing as other children online. Some of them then want to learn more, and it is having a very real impact on their safety and wellbeing, says Sheikh-Cope. She references the words of Kristen Jenson, a US author and co-founder of Project Young Minds.
“So, some parents believe the myth, that because their kids are good, and they are good parents… their children will be just naturally immune to pornography. And this is not true. Pornography is an equal opportunity offender. Children are biologically wired to be interested in nudity – they’re wired to learn how to be adults.”
This behaviour is supported by New Zealand school statistics, where over 300,000 porn-related searches are blocked each month; figures from Pornhub, the megalith of online porn, show a 3-5pm rise in viewings on Pornhub every weekday.
Parents need to get to grips with what the frightening allure of free, online pornography could mean for children of all ages. Where ‘light petting’ was once a 14-18-year-old’s first sexual experience, it is now strangulation of a sexual partner or ejaculating on someone’s face.
“The alarming thing about these acts is that kids are not learning boundaries, expectations or consent. They’re going from no sexual experience to an often violent extreme,” says Cope.
The second part of the Cope’s mission is to provide parents with a road map out of this dilemma. That entails opening the door for children to talk about what they might be experiencing: isolation and shame around their own natural sexual curiosity; arousal and exploration; being harmed or inadvertently harming others.
“At this stage in the film, parents will naturally feel a bit awkward” says Sheikh-Cope. “But we were honest about our own awkwardness and we’re told this is invaluable.”
This is helped along by Cope’s ‘it’s time for that talk’ animations that pepper the film with enough comically uncomfortable moments to break the ice for any parent.
This road map also includes a clean sweep on filtering devices and how to use them: “We found so much confusion around all the different filtering software out there, when we just wanted fast, practical solutions. We’ve done that so parents don’t have to be that tech-savvy to implement them quickly and easily” says Sheikh-Cope.
With interest from government, educators and therapists alike, the Cope’s dream is to have every parent watch the film, on either television networks or a platform like Netflix.
Right now, the life-saving 90-minute film and trailer are available for NZ $7.99 on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/ourkidsonline