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Dear Abby Takes On Kids Looking At Porn

Here’s today’s Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: My daughter and 12-year-old grandson “Patrick” visit me on Sundays. Patrick watches TV in my office.

I was recently looking at the history on my Web browser after he had been there, and I noticed that Patrick had been visiting free porn sites and chat rooms on my computer.

I am disappointed that he has been looking at pornography and that he has put my computer at risk for viruses, etc. Should I talk to his parents? To him? Or should I ignore it and disable my computer when he visits? — GRANDMA ON ALERT

DEAR GRANDMA: You should do all three — so that Patrick’s parents can make certain that when he uses a computer at home he can be supervised. And if the parents haven’t yet had “the talk” with their son, suggest they place it at the top of their agenda.

OK advice from Dear Abby (who is now the daughter of the original Abby). I would go further to say that you have to lock down computers when you have young guests. This is a pain in the neck, of course, but it’s the best option. I forget to do it many times myself, and my 10 year old likes to play with friends on kids’ game sites.

Kids know that many parents are savvy enough to check the browser history. So when they have access to the internet on a supposedly unmonitored computer, the first thing they usually do is look up porn. Kids look at porn on the internet. They are curious and it’s available. This is totally normal.

There are 3 major questions you have to ask yourself about kids looking at porn on the Internet:

1. Do I think my kid will be irreparably damaged by viewing one, a few, or many photos/videos of pornography?

2. Do I trust my kid to follow the house rules?

3. Do I want to spend time and energy on banning pornography and other damaging websites?

Let’s discuss.

1. Damage to personality, health, social skills: Many hobbies, pursuits, distractions like sports, video games, cooking, as well as porn-viewing, are run through the “Is it good for kids” gauntlet. I think we can all agree that viewing pornography is very inappropriate for children. But is the damage done by seeing some pornography so great that we must go through major inconveniences to ensure the exposure doesn’t happen? Psychology research can be a bit varied in this area. The general rule is that it depends on your kid. If your kid is resilient, well-adjusted and feels safe to talk with you about anything, then a few porn shots aren’t enough to justify canceling your broadband connection. This really only applies to older kids, say older than 9 or 10. Younger children can be frightened more easily, and show in research that their behaviors are more easily influenced by the videos they watch. Make an effort to shield younger children from any older children’s browsing. Younger kids wonder what the word “porn” means, but in general, there’s not much danger of them looking it up themselves. If your child is under 9 years of age and is finding and viewing pornography on their own, I’d take your concerns to a school counselor or child psychologist.

If your older child (9 years and up) is withdrawing from family and friends and spends most of their time alone in their room with their laptop, then it’s time to dig into things a bit. Your child is probably normal, as only the rare cases of porn and internet addiction will be seen in kids below the age of 18. While this behavior is thought to be normal nowadays, it isn’t healthy. But most kids won’t run into this danger. Most parents fear it, but statistically it’s still quite rare.

You have to judge your fear of pornography exposure against the efforts it will take to totally ban the internet from your house/phones/children’s lives. In my opinion, it’s better to talk to kids about pornography and how it distorts people’s (especially young men’s) views of sex and what a healthy relationship is. Repeated exposure translates into belief adoption. This is why advertising works. The more you are exposed to images, the more you expect reality to match those images. So, we don’t want kids looking at porn on the internet. You can’t stop the internet, so you have to stop the kid. Open and honest reinforcement of your personal values with your children is basically your only hope.  And anti-virus software. Definitely install some of that.

(P.S. Please don’t offer up filtering systems, parental controls, etc. All of that software is a joke. It’s poorly designed and all sorts of porn isn’t caught by the filters. I’m not wasting my money or my time on any service available right now. They just don’t stand a chance against human kid ingenuity.)

2. Trust: now that we’ve established that the only way to get a kid to not be influenced by the pornography they will surely see a lot of by the time they are 18 is to keep communication open and have frank talks –often– about how porn can be bad for people. The next thing is trust. I’ll be honest here. I trust my kid to respect my house rules, including internet use. BUT, I only trust her to her own limits. She’s 10 years old, not 30. At ten years old, it’s hard to enforce rules upon oneself and one’s friends. I’ve taken to locking down all machines when her friends come over. This includes the TV. (I neglected the cable at a sleepover. I awoke to find them watching TV at 2 a.m. Thankfully, the group of girls that were sleeping over were more interested in Disney channel movies than porn, but the porn-viewing capacity was there. I won’t forget the TV next time.)

I also realize that there will be times where my kids break the rules. We’ve established a “No Browser History Erase” rule on phones and internet connections. An erased browser history is an admission of guilt. This guilt comes with punishments. This rule is very well-known in our house. If I see a blank browser or any other efforts to stealth-browse the internet, heads roll.

I check the browser history on all devices on a random, regular basis. I call the kids over to ask about any URL or text message number I don’t recognize, and I demand explanations. It’s best to do this every few days or so, so you can remember when your kid had friends over or you had guests, etc. (By the way, don’t assume the bad-browsing wasn’t your spouse. It could have been. It also could have been the babysitter. Just note the dates and times of the browsing, and perhaps erasing of said browsing history.)

3. Time and Energy: How much effort and technical knowledge is parenting in this digital age going to take? Not much, actually. Checking text messages on phones isn’t hard, checking browser history isn’t hard. If you don’t know how to do it, search the internet on “Check text message history on a Samsung phone” or something similar. You will find step-by-step instructions. If you are a technophobe, I want you to know one thing: It isn’t easy to break computers. No, really. Click around, don’t be scared that your mistakes will FUBAR your device. Almost anything you can do can be fixed. It’s not likely that your clicking around is going to erase the hard drive. Overcome your fear. Search on Google.com for step-by-step instructions. The plain fact is that parents, grandparents and any child caregiver needs to know how to check browser history and the computer’s picture and video files. Pornography isn’t just a bad thing for kids, it can get you into a whole heap of legal trouble. Kids won’t know if they are looking at child porn or snuff videos, and downloading it can get you into hell with the Feds.

You can get technical enough to keep an eye on Internet use. That, actually, is the easy part. The hard part is having conversations about subjects you don’t want to talk about. Don’t wait for your kid to bring it up. I usually break the ice like this: “Oh my god, you would NOT believe what popped up on my screen today! It was a picture of _____! (e.g. a naked lady licking a man’s boot, an erect penis, a video of people having sex). I was so grossed out!” Then you can get into how those types of things are all just a fantasy, that real life isn’t all big fake boobs and leather straps.

However you want to say it is up to you. But you have to say it. Definitely talk about this with any child you have over 9 years old. (The younger ones can simply be told, “You know, Honey, there are scary, adult things on the Internet that you aren’t allowed to see.” Kids under 9 still see the world in black-and-white terms, so invoking “The Rules” usually works with this crowd.) Yes, yes, things were much nicer when Junior was 16 before he found Dad’s hidden stack of Playboys and Mom was secretly relieved Junior wasn’t gay, but that Hollywood version of kids’ sexuality never existed. We have to step up our game now. If we do it together and present a united front, the next generation will accept our terms of service.

Let me know how it goes. Let’s discuss in the comments.

_____________________

Here is an article that gives you some steps to do with kids of each age group who are searching for porn online: Kids Looking Up Porn

Here’s an another article that offers some ideas on how to teach kids that what they view can hurt them: Eye Bleach (http://www.purplecar.net/2011/06/beyond-eye-bleach/)

Please email me with any questions: christine (at) purplecar (dot) net

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Forrest Cavalier III 31 July 2010, 9:34 am

    Good advice. Here are additional approaches we have found helpful.
    – Kids’ TVs and computers should be used in family areas, not private areas. You would not let an adult stranger talk with your kids. Why allow it to happen with the Internet?

    – Limit all media time. This develops a habit of deliberately selecting what’s good, rather than filling all available time with whatever is present.

    – Encourage a habit of discussing all inappropriate content that they come across, perhaps ranking it as PG, PG-13, R, X. Based on the website decide to complain or avoid the website entirely.

  • Gregrory Underwood 3 August 2010, 3:29 am

    You should keep an eye on your kids. Porn access in the internet is so easy these days. You set a time frame where they are only allowed to use the internet while someone is watching over them.

  • MikeS 18 August 2010, 11:41 pm

    Christine,

    Nice article! My story: J was in 4th grade and wanted to add Sims Hot Date to her expansion pack collection. I laughed and told her she was way too young for that one, and there would be too many things she wouldn’t understand.

    She was annoyed, and said “Dad, we talk about that stuff in school all of the time.” I laughed again, and asked exactly what they talked about.

    Unfortunately, she told me. 🙂 TMI. I said hold on, found my wife and said “Birds and the bees talk for the middle child — you’re on right now!” And, yes, I did order Sims Hot Date. Kinda tame compared to what they talk about in school these days!

    • PurpleCar 19 August 2010, 5:29 am

      Mike, thanks for writing. Some thoughts:

      LOL Sims Hot Date. Wow.

      Sex talk: One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about “The Talk” is
      to judge the question well. Does a 3-year-old really want to know the whole
      sordid story when they ask where babies come from? No, probably not. She just
      wants to know a simple answer like “Mommy has a special tummy.” Sometimes Gen X
      parents make mistakes in assuming that if kids are asking, then they are ready
      for full disclosure. This is exactly the opposite mistake of the generations of
      parents before us who would put off answering the questions altogether. I knew
      zero about sex until I was an adult. This was not good; my naivete led me into
      bad situations. But too much detail at the wrong time can also overwhelm a kid,
      which may result in their avoidance to ask another question later.

      The web has forced me into talking about porn and other things with my
      10-year-old, but ignoring it would be worse. Girls especially need to know how
      boys, men and this sexist/misogynist society work. Knowledge is their only hope
      to keep safe. To judge the situation, I usually ask, “Well, I can give you a
      simple explanation, or I can give you one with a lot of sordid details. What are
      you in the mood for?” Also, I rely on well-written, age-appropriate books and
      booklets about sex. Being a gatekeeper of all sex knowledge is a bad way to
      parent; kids want to read about sex in private sometimes, and we need to provide
      safe ways for them to do so. If you try to control all information, kids will
      sneak around on the internet to get it, and who knows what they’ll see there.

      Now, we all know that kids are looking up porn on the internet, regardless of
      our efforts to keep them safe. To address this in our house, we do a few things.
      We say that looking up that stuff will bring down damaging computer viruses, and
      viruses should be avoided at all costs. We also make it clear that we check
      browser history, and if it’s been erased that means someone is guilty of looking
      up porn. No history=admission of guilt. We don’t issue internet-enabled smart
      phones (yet). And most importantly, overall, we concentrate on building a
      critical eye in our kids. We challenge them to look at implications and meanings
      behind all the information that is put toward them. We analyze advertisements,
      we talk about boys’ behavior at school, we talk about salary differences and how
      I was treated at work. We make fun of gossip magazines and point out yellow
      journalism. We try to talk about what is a “good buy” or a scam. We talk about
      the importance of keeping passwords private and how friends shouldn’t test
      friendships by demanding to know your passwords. We take opportunities to point
      out these things when we can. Of course, we get rolled eyes and “I KNOW, I
      KNOW”s etc. etc., but repeating these messages is necessary for them to stick in
      their brains.

      Today’s environment surely calls for a different approach than generations past,
      and as parents of the newest generation, we need to come together on this one. A
      united front presents cultural expectations that support our messages to our
      kids. Right now I feel like Boomers and GenXers are trying to get away with
      taking the Silents’ route. This doesn’t help me when the parents of my kids’
      friends don’t have the same internet-use rules I do. I find, in general, that
      Gen X parents are totally ignoring the internet and their kids’ usage. They
      think their kids are just on Club Penguin or watching tame music videos on
      YouTube. I need for those types to wake up. It will make all our lives easier
      and our kids safer.

      Wow, I just comment-hogged on my own blog…

      -Christine Cavalier

      • Forrest Cavalier III 25 August 2010, 2:30 pm

        Used to be that physical contact was necessary to spread sex-related diseases. Now computer viruses spread by “just looking.”
        There’s some kind R-rated “What’s the difference” joke around here somewhere.

        Pre-teens will get the message about the computer viruses but “You might catch something” is pretty much shown to be totally ineffective advice for teens on average, though. Obviously every kid is unique, but on average scaring teens about STDs and AIDS doesn’t work that well, so I’d imagine they would ignore warnings about computer viruses too.

  • Kit 10 September 2010, 9:03 pm

    I think some parents have a distorted view of kids. I’m twelve years old and I want to make it clear that at least in this generation, a lot of kids are tech-savvy. We know about computer viruses, and trust me, we don’t want them. It’s a lot of time, effort, and money (if you hire someone or an anti-virus software) to fix them so the best solution is simply to prevent them.

    Restricting access to TV and computer when friends are over?? Okay, sorry but that’s just not cool. I mean if you really don’t trust your kids then okay, but a friend that makes you look up gross things is not a real friend. Part of the fun at my friend’s house is watching her favorite TV shows. Her mom is usually in the room but we don’t mind. And at my house we like going on the computer to record songs, search things, create websites using Webs.com and HTML, and watching videos on Youtube. By the way, youtube is not an inappropriate site. They have an 18-or-older policy for videos with “adult content” and we just don’t watch those.

    The word for this kind of behavior is “mature”. LOL.

    • PurpleCar 11 September 2010, 7:03 am

      Kit, I wish all kids were as practical as you.

      And maybe when my kid is 12 I won’t care so much. There’s a huge difference
      between 10 and 12, as I’m sure you know. And I trust my kid for the most part,
      and I trust her friends until they screw up, which some of them have, so I tend
      to lock crap down when they are over. I don’t want my kid to shoulder the burden
      of keeping her friends off inappropriate sites. At 12, I’d expect her to do that
      more. I definitely won’t lock down regular TV. I will password-protect the stuff
      you have to buy, just because that costs me money.

      YouTube has a lot of inappropriate content, that’s all I meant to say. It’s not
      like it should be banned forever. You know what’s really bad? Some of these
      shows on Disney and Nick. The way those “friends” treat each other is
      ridiculous. Hannah Montana has to be the worst! Wizards of Waverly place has
      some of the worst sibling rivalry and just lack-of-common-courtesy scenes ever.
      I hope that kids realize it’s just TV and that’s no way to be a good friend.
      Anyway, there’s all sorts of bad crap in places that people wouldn’t think of.

      The Internet is just one of those adult things that kids should get more free
      access to as they get older. On the Italian-American side of my family, they
      used to let the kids have a tiny tiny bit of wine mixed with a lot of water in
      the wine glass. As we got older, we got more wine and less water. By the time we
      were 18, it was 1 full glass of wine with dinner. When we were 21, we could have
      whatever amount we wanted. The Internet is kind of like that. Some kids try to
      sneak more wine, not because they are bad kids, just because that’s the kind of
      things kids do. You just have to guard the bottle.

      Thanks for the comment. It’s good to hear from someone who’s smack dab in the
      middle of this royal mess.

      -Christine Cavalier

  • Zooey 21 December 2010, 10:51 pm

    I’m a thirteen year old girl, and I would be mortified if my parents knew I watched and masturbated to porn. I think it’s perfectly fine for kids to be curious about sex, and the internet is readily accessible and full of information. And yes, I’m aware that I shouldn’t expect sex to be like porn, and that it objectifies women, and that I shouldn’t have sex until I’m ready. I’m in a perfectly healthy, normal, fairly asexual teenage relationship, just so you know.
    I think that putting blockers up on your computer is stupid, and your kid will find a way around them. It would probably be a good idea to install some filters against viruses, but other than that, he’s a teenager, let him be one.

    • PurpleCar 22 December 2010, 7:00 am

      Zooey,

      I totally don’t think there is anything wrong with masturbating to porn. I’m not
      as conservative as most parents. And you’re 100% right that blocking porn or
      anything is a losing battle, because there is always a new site up that the
      filters don’t know about yet. When I speak to parent groups about this, I tell
      them to not bother giving those blocking software companies their money. It’s
      basically a product that doesn’t fully work, and needs constant upgrading. It
      will just keep costing them money and won’t work well enough. Basically, I tell
      them the same thing you just said, and you’re 13 and I’m 40. LOL.

      There is a good article is about porn you might want to look at. It’s about boys
      and porn, but maybe you want to take a look at it anyway, because it is really
      good:
      http://goodmenproject.com/2010/12/03/boys-and-porn-it-aint-your-fathers-playboy/

      It talks about how you can get too used to masturbating and porn images, and it
      can be a bad thing to get too used to something. It’s like, hard to break a
      habit kind of thing. Maybe put yourself on a schedule or something so you don’t
      get too too used to it? I don’t know, maybe you don’t need to. But this might be
      a good opportunity to see if you can put limits on yourself, like adults have to
      do all the time with all sorts of things. For me, I have to limit myself a lot
      when it comes to (not) saying what I really think about some people, I have to
      limit sweets and fat foods because as an adult, I gain too much weight if I do
      that, as a mom I have to hold myself back when I get annoyed with my kids or my
      husband, that kind of thing. My big problem now, though, is social networking.
      Twitter, Facebook… man, I spend WAY too much time on those. I don’t even do
      any FB games, either! But I am struggling to discipline myself to stay away from
      Twitter and Facebook so I can get some real writing done. I want to write a
      novel and have a writing career, and spending time doing those sites takes me
      further and further away from those dreams. It’s like I can’t help myself
      sometimes. I wonder what you and your friends do when they have to quit using
      Facebook or whatever. Maybe you guys or your generation has some secret about it
      that us Generation Xers don’t know!

      Anyway, just be careful not to get too caught up in anything in life. There,
      that’s my “great wisdom” to share with you. (Pretty awesome, huh? Yeah… not so
      much. But hey, it’s all I got).

      Your parents, by the way, should not be shocked. And so what if they are? They
      need to get over it and deal. Hopefully you are underestimating them.

      Peace!
      -PurpleCar

  • Jacob 8 July 2012, 4:07 pm

    im 11 almost 12 and i so ageee with kit i am particularly  good with computers i write programs on fbide and before that i could get past parental controls very eaisly. but youtube has dumb and inapropriate videos but never porn  and disabiling the tv please. just password restrict the stuff. its easy and there are tutorials on getting past parental controls but on tvs not so much kit or anyone email me jacob8015@yahoo.com thx

    • PurpleCar 8 July 2012, 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Jacob! And let’s talk about what makes a good password, too. Any thoughts?
      -PC

  • Angelacpaigejackson 10 December 2012, 7:17 pm

    Dear Abby my husbent watches porn on his phone n his computer n I have caught him master bating how I am worried because we have a daughter together n the porn he was watching were teen porn should I be worried

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