Editor’s Note: On Friday, we began hearing the story of Charlie, an 11-year-old struggling with pornography addiction (Read Part One of this article here). As his mother has shared, she, like so many parents, had no idea that the troubling transformation she observed in her son’s life was rooted in his access to pornography. Rather than continuing to turn a blind eye and just saying “boys will be boys”, she decided to intervene. Here is the rest of Charlie and his mother’s story (excerpted from the MailOnline):
I was going to bed when I noticed the light on in Charlie’s room. It was almost 11pm on a school night, so I went in to tell him to turn off his light at once. Charlie was sitting in bed with his laptop in front of him — we’d bought him one when he’d started his new school, but he clearly wasn’t doing his homework. When he saw me come in, he quickly closed the computer. The way he did it was so furtive that it would have aroused my suspicions even if his face wasn’t stamped with the guilty look of a boy who’s been caught red-handed. I snatched the computer from him, turned out the light, said a brusque ‘goodnight’ and left the room.
Mike was away on business, so I was alone when I went to our bedroom, still holding the computer. I thought I’d better shut it down. I knew Charlie liked to play a particular online fantasy game — an entirely innocent one — and I had visions of it chugging away all night. But when I opened the laptop, it wasn’t a child’s game that I saw, but hardcore pornography.
A couple were having sex. I can’t possibly go into the details in a family newspaper, but this was not a normal act of lovemaking. Yet it was tame with what I discovered when I checked Charlie’s Internet history.
An 11-year-old boy with no credit card had been able to access websites that presented every possible kind of perversion. Today’s pornography is vile beyond description. I had never before seen or even imagined anything like the scenes of violence and sadism, the shocking mistreatment and degradation of women and, worst of all, the child abuse that now appeared before me.
In a peculiarly disturbing twist, some of the most vile, pedophiliac images were presented in cartoon form, so that children were abused in the very medium that children most like to watch.
And my son had been watching this, night after night, week after week. No wonder he’d become such a wreck. I wanted to run right back to his room and wrap the poor little boy in my arms to protect him from everything that he’d been exposed to. But he was asleep now and, besides, I had no idea how to tell him what I knew, or how he would react.
Then, of course, I was furious with myself and filled with guilt for my failure to discover what was happening sooner. But how could I have known? Of course I’d thought about what would happen when Charlie was old enough to start buying all those magazines that teenage boys love, filled with airbrushed pictures of beautiful, available starlets.
How was I going to let him know that it was perfectly natural to find women attractive, but that he shouldn’t expect, let alone want, women to be the perfect but vacuous creatures portrayed in the media?
It had never occurred to me that his concept of relationships between men and women would be influenced by the hateful, loveless and deeply offensive way that porn degrades the female sex. It sickens me to think that Charlie and millions of his young male peers might want to treat the girls in their lives in the way that porn treats women.
When Mike came back from his trip, I told him what had happened. Together, he and I told Charlie that we knew what he had been doing. We said these websites were very wrong, but we still loved him very much and would do everything we could to make him feel better. We began by taking his computer away at once. I think Charlie was glad to be rid of it. He never once asked for it back and, for the next few weeks, he seemed to rush back to the shelter of childhood innocence, reading all his old books and watching TV programs aimed at much younger children. Charlie was offered counseling on the NHS and went along to a session. But the moment he realized that the counselor knew what he’d been doing, he refused to have anything to do with her. He was just too ashamed to be in the same room as her. She assured us, though, that we had done the right thing by supporting rather than criticizing him, and told us not to worry. Children are astonishingly resilient and she had every hope that Charlie would make a full recovery.
Nearly three years later, it seems — I hope — that she was right. Charlie has his smile back and it’s the most wonderful sight in the world. We never talk about that terrible time when Internet porn had him in its grip. But both his computer and phone stay downstairs when he goes up to bed — and I think we both know why.
Of course, some people will scoff at the idea that children who watch porn should be treated like victims of addiction. Surely they should be punished for their wickedness.
Yet the Internet is an extraordinarily addictive medium. Plenty of us find ourselves losing an hour because we’ve been glued to Mumsnet or Facebook, or can’t resist clicking on another silly celebrity story . . . and another . . . and another. Grown men become addicted to online porn and gambling sites. Why should children be any stronger?
They don’t need punishment because they are already punishing themselves. Charlie was far too young to process the images he was seeing, let alone be turned on by them. He didn’t even know why they made him feel so wicked and dirty. But like a junkie who needs one more fix, he couldn’t stop himself going back.
Claire Perry MP, who commissioned the report revealing the extent of the Internet porn menace, has done society a huge favor. I’m lucky. My son has been freed from his addiction. Now it’s time to free all the other sons and daughters trapped by pornography, too.
If Charlie’s mom would have just said of Charlie’s porn viewing “Boys will be boys” what kind of hell would Charlie be living in? Boys don’t have to be “boys” and it is our job, as parents, to raise them to know that they can be so much better than that. Remember, it’s never too early to start using a filter on your computer and all Internet enabled devices in your home to prevent exposure and possible addiction. For more tips, check out our parent resources here.