laptop teen

Back in high school, my parents used to lock me out of the internet after midnight every weekday in an attempt to curb my incessant, uh, gaming habit. Of course, I simply proceeded to keylog my parent’s desktop, figured out the password, and voila: endless online fun. I thought I was special, but a recent study suggests today’s teens are putting me to shame with their high-tech pursuit of self-shame.

Indeed, researchers from an institution no less revered than the University of Oxford in Britain have finally produced a study that backs up what we already knew: Parents and their pitiable parental controls are no match for porn-seeking teens. The study, published published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, found that while the use of parental control tools is widespread they simply aren’t working. And that comes down to just how many avenues one can take to access explicit material.

“It’s important to consider the efficacy of Internet filtering,” says Dr. Victoria Nash, a co-author on the study, in a statement. “Internet filtering tools are expensive to develop and maintain, and can easily ‘underblock’ due to the constant development of new ways of sharing content.”

parents using internet website tools
Parental control filters were much more frequently used in the 2018 U.K. data (Study 2; 48.8 percent) compared with the 2010 E.U. data (23.0 percent).

The study examined self-reported data from a large-scale study that asked European children and their caregivers whether or not the children have viewed porn online despite website-blocking software. They then conducted a second study and with teens from the United Kingdom.

This compounded study found parental control apps to be outright ineffective. Less than 0.5 percent of a teen’s likelihood of snooping out smut has to do with whether or not a parental control is installed. The other 99.5 percent is linked to other factors, like access to wireless data or group chats on popular messaging apps. You don’t even need a conventional web browser: Teens have Whatsapp, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and porn conduits even we haven’t heard of yet. Many of these apps simply can’t be filtered, and must be blocked out completely.

“While Internet filtering may seem to be an intuitively good solution, it’s disappointing that the evidence does not back that up,” Nash’s statement reads. “We hope this leads to a re-think in effectiveness targets for new technologies.”

This isn’t to say that parents are wrong to try. After all, pornography has a lot of objectively terrible things to say, particularly to men, about sexual entitlement, pleasure, and consent. Porn may be mostly harmless from a public health perspective, but there’s also undoubtedly better ways for young people to learn the ropes, so to speak.

Which is why it might be time to stop blocking and start talking. For many teens, the internet is just a fact of life, almost half of “Generation Z” says they’re online all day. Teaching responsibility instead of trying to denying access may be the only way to go.