Almost every week, I face the same, sad story: a teary-eyed mom or dad approaches me to let me know they discovered their son or daughter looking at pornography online, on a mobile device, or through a tablet. These parents are mortified, heartbroken and gravely concerned for what the discovery means for the future of their child’s sexual pursuits. More often than not, as they begin to dig, they will realize that the porn viewing has been going on for many months (if not years), and the content that their little son or daughter has been accessing is content that these parents never even knew existed: violent group sex; multiple penetrations; teen, fetish and abusive, inter-family situations abound in the online world of porn. And all of this pornography is literally just one click away for any child with unrestricted Internet access.
Most parents think their kids are just too young to be interested in sex. They tell me that their son or daughter is a “good kid” and that they never showed any signs that they might become porn addicts. I always nod my head and listen, and my heart truly does mourn with these parents, but I can’t help but also feel frustrated that parents aren’t getting the message. As Internet Safety 101, a parent-education curriculum I helped develop, points out, even good, smart kids can easily get caught up in bad stuff online. They key to keeping kids safe is to protect them from the evils they should never have to face online.
Many resources exist to help parents protect their kids from pornography (and cyberbullies, scammers and predators), but far too many parents wait until it’s too late. Like the stories I hear every week, they wait until AFTER their kids have been exposed to pornography or fallen into dangerous relationships online befor they seek help and use filters and parental controls. I can’t stress this enough: preventing exposure is worlds simpler than dealing with the aftermath of repeated porn exposure.
Parental controls and filters are extremely helpful to this end, and they exist for nearly all Internet-connected devices. Filters block inappropriate content from ever reaching the end-user: you can restrict or block sexual content, pornography, violent content, drug content, shopping content, alcohol content and even specific sites (like You Tube or Facebook).
Parental Controls often include a filter resource, but they move beyond filters and also allow parents to set time limits on Internet use, monitor certain types of online activity (similar to accountability software), monitor search terms entered, restrict or limit the individuals that your son or daughter communicates with and much more depending on the platform.
Now, can it take a bit of time to set parental controls and filters up on all of your Internet-enabled devices (cell phones, smartphones, tablets, gaming devices, computers, etc.)? Yes. Sometimes it’s not as simple as we would like it to be. But isn’t your child’s innocence worth it? Wouldn’t you rather your child come to you with their questions about sex so you can have a real conversation, rather than finding out that when your eight-year-old went online to learn about sex, they were greeted by a triple-penetration sex scene from a user-driven porn-site? Wouldn’t you rather your child come to you when they are frustrated that they can’t access Facebook, so you can have a real conversation with them about safe social media use and walk with them through the process of setting up a profile and guide them in the safety measures needed in the virtual world (rather than find out through a friend that your 10-year-old has posted sexually suggestive pictures of herself and her friends in such a public forum)!?
There are many resources available to you if you just take the time to become educated and protect your kids. Talk to your cell phone or Internet provider to see what options they have available; consider purchasing an independent software solution that best meets your family’s needs (we have a great filter and accountability program, which you can learn more about here). Before you set up and start using your devices, set up parental controls and learn about the filtering options available. Recognize that it’s never too early to do this!! Don’t wait until your son or daughter is 13 to protect your home computers.
Now some of you might be rolling your eyes and thinking that kids will be kids, and even IF you protect your home, kids will still access bad content and pornography through other avenues. You are correct (in part) –kids are curious, and pornography, violence and other harmful content is fairly ambient in today’s culture. This is why we strongly advocate not only using the tech-resources available (like filters and parental controls), but also using your words, time spent and the example you set as touch points to interact and have ongoing conversations about these subjects with your kids. Using parental controls will delay your son or daugher’s access to pornography and will prevent them from accidental exposure to pornography, but the interaciton you have with your kids will help them to develop the street smarts to know why it’s better to stay away form harmful content, even when they leave the safe walls of your home. Please, don’t end up like so many of the parents I work with: get ahead of this issue (of course, I will walk with you if you haven’t been ahead of the issue!), but don’t wait a day to be proactive in this respect. Your children and their healthy sexual development are worth it!