IT Infrastructure & Management

Students Are Viewing Porn at School. How Educators Can Stop Them

By Alyson Klein — January 10, 2023 3 min read
Image of a phone and headphones sitting on a stack of books.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Nearly a quarter of teenagers said they have viewed pornography at school, according to a report released Jan. 10 by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that studies the impact of technology on youth.

Assistant principal Scott Wisniewski found that finding disturbing, but not particularly surprising. On the day of the report’s release, he had spent part of the morning talking to two students who were caught looking at inappropriate images online.

“Twenty years ago, it was more of a process to acquire that type of materials. And now it’s not hard at all,” said Wisniewski, who works at Wayne Valley High School in New Jersey. “This is really the first time a lot of us, even in education, are navigating these conversations.”

Many students look at pornographic images quite a bit at school. Sixty percent of the teens who said they had viewed pornography during the school day said they had done so several times a month. And 40 percent said they had done so at least weekly. About 24 percent of boys had looked at porn while physically in school, compared with about 20 percent of girls.

What’s more, 13 percent of the overall number of teens surveyed said they had viewed pornography on a school-issued device.

That has Wisniewski wondering: “If they’re doing this on their school device, what do you think they’re doing on a personal device?”

In fact, the figures on personal devices seem to be much higher, Common Sense found. Nearly three quarters of teens have seen online porn in some form, the report found, and more than half—54 percent—had seen it by age 13. While many teens look at pornography intentionally, 58 percent of those who reported seeing porn online said they saw it accidentally.

The survey, which was conducted in September, included more than 1,300 teenagers in the United States. This is the first time that Common Sense has examined this issue. As far as the organization is aware, the report is the first to consider online pornography use among a large, demographically representative sample of teens, a Common Sense spokeswoman said.

‘Get a step ahead of them’

Chris Smallen, the chief technology officer for Lenoir City Schools, near Knoxville, Tenn., suspects that if there were prior data, it would show the problem has worsened in recent years, due to the expansion in the number of district-issued laptops and tablets, spurred by the pandemic.

A survey of educators in the spring of 2021 by the EdWeek Research Center found that about two-thirds recalled there was one school-issued device for every middle and high school student before the pandemic. Another 42 percent said the same about elementary school kids.

Those numbers skyrocketed during the pandemic, when nearly every school engaged in some form of virtual learning, fueled in part by federal relief cash. By March of 2021, 90 percent of educators surveyed said their school or district had at least one device for every middle and high schooler, the EdWeek survey found. An additional 84 percent said the same about elementary school students.

Lenoir City’s 1-to-1 computing initiative was rolled out in 2016, several years before the pandemic. One early challenge: Working out the kinks in online filters to ensure students didn’t get access to inappropriate content.

Smallen remembers a barrage of questions from parents asking how they could strengthen the internet filters on devices at home. He wound up referring them to a short instructional video on parental controls.

Both Lenoir City and Wisniewski’s district, Wayne Valley Public Schools, use tech that doesn’t just block inappropriate sites, it also pings district officials when students try to access them.

That way, school leaders or teachers can “let [students] know they’re being watched,” Smallen said. “The big thing for us is just seeing what they’re trying to get to. Then we can get a step ahead of them.”

Wisniewski’s district also proactively tells students that their online activity is being tracked. He’s hoping that knowledge may clamp down on inappropriate browsing among kids who may not take the district’s messages on digital citizenship to heart.

Nothing in tech is full proof though. Case-in-point: When a teacher who had advised National Honor Society students retired from Lenoir City a few years ago, a foreign pornography site ended up taking over the webpage she had created for students using a free tool, evading the district’s internet filters.

“It was just unavoidable,” Smallen said.

Related Tags:

Events

Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

IT Infrastructure & Management It's Not Just About AI. Schools Are Facing 5 Other Tech Challenges, Too
In addition to the use of AI in education, schools must pay attention to several big tech challenges.
4 min read
A cybersecurity icon over a computer classroom seen through a screen of binary code.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
IT Infrastructure & Management Ed-Tech Companies Are Vulnerable to Cyberattacks. A New Federal Effort Wants to Help
The Education Department is teaming up with a top research university to stem a wave of cyberattacks on schools.
4 min read
Image of lock on binary code background.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
IT Infrastructure & Management Leader To Learn From Through Wars, Tornadoes, and Cyberattacks, He's a Guardian of Student Privacy
Jun Kim, the technology director in Moore, Okla., works to make the most of innovations—without endangering student data.
11 min read
Jun Kim, Director of Technology for Moore Public Schools, center, leads a data privacy review meeting on Dec. 13, 2023 in Moore, Okla.
Jun Kim, director of technology for the Moore public schools in Moore, Okla., leads a data privacy review for staff.
Brett Deering for Education Week
IT Infrastructure & Management One Solution to Maintaining 1-to-1 Devices? Pay Students to Repair Them
Hiring students to help with the repair process is one way school districts are ensuring the sustainability of their 1-to-1 programs.
4 min read
Sawyer Wendt, a student intern for the Altoona school district’s IT department, repairs a Chromebook.
Sawyer Wendt, who's been a student intern for the Altoona district's tech department since junior year, is now studying IT software development in college.
Courtesy of Jevin Stangel, IT technician for the Altoona school district