“My parents have no idea what’s going on or anything. I think parents should know, because obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on.”
– Chris, age 16
On a lazy afternoon, when their parents aren’t around, friends Gareth, Minh and Chris enjoy some innocent fun.
But when they log onto the Internet, what they find in chat rooms is anything but innocent.
“Just stuff like flat out, like ‘I want to have sex with you, I want to **** you, I want to do this, I want to do that,” says 17-year-old Minh, who has surfed the web for about six years.
“She was saying stuff like ooh, I’m touching myself now, what are you doing. It’s like, you know, way out of bounds,” says Chris, 16.
It’s shocking, but experts say it’s not uncommon. According to a new survey, 20 percent of teens say they’ve taken nude photos of themselves and either posted them online or sent them out via email.
“Kids are horny, I mean it just seems like they want to do more of that,” says 17-year-old Gareth.
Parents may feel inclined to simply shut down the computer, but experts say curious kids will find a way to get online. Instead, over and over, starting when they’re little, parents need to insist their kids be responsible in all their decisions- whether on the Internet or not.
“It’s not that you specifically are able to prepare a child for internet and chat rooms but it’s how you connect with your kid and try to prepare them for all aspects of life,” explains psychologist Vincent Ho, Ph.D.
Tips for Parents
Pornography is not merely a fringe-element problem, and addiction to it is not just a stage in life. It is a very real and mainstream problem today. Consider the following statistics from 2003:
The pornography industry made $57 billion worldwide; $12 billion in the United States.
Porn revenue is larger than the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.
U.S. porn revenue is nearly double the combined revenues of the three biggest television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC revenues total $6.2 billion).
Child pornography generates $3 billion annually.
Nearly one out of every eight websites is a pornographic site (4.2 million in all).
One-quarter of all Internet search engine requests are for pornography (68 million per day).
Over two billion pornographic e-mails are sent daily.
The average age of the first exposure to Internet pornography is 11 years old.
The largest consumers of Internet pornography are 12- to 17-year-olds.
Eighty percent of teenagers ages 15 to 17 report having multiple hardcore exposures to pornography on the Internet.
Nine out of 10 children 8 to 16 years old have viewed pornography online, mostly while doing homework.
In the past, pornography was mainly limited to artwork, magazines and the red-light districts. With the advent of the Internet and cable television, however, pornography has now made its way into our family rooms, home offices and kids’ bedrooms. It is easily – and often inadvertently — accessible by children and teenagers, and parents must work even harder to prevent their children from becoming addicted to it.
The best cure for addiction is prevention. Experts at the Jacob Wetterling Foundation developed the following tips to help parents prevent their children from becoming addicted to pornography:
Place home computers in a central area of the house, not a child’s bedroom or secluded area. Make surfing the Internet a family experience.
Talk with your children about what they can and cannot do online, while trying to understand their needs, interests and curiosity.
Know your child’s password and screen names; they may have more than one.
Set reasonable time limits on computer use, and ensure that your children adhere to the limitations.
Parents (not children) should always establish and maintain an Internet service provider account (AOL, Earthlink, MSN), and the account should always be in a parent’s name (not a child’s). This ensures that a parent can legally maintain control of the account’s use and can access records if necessary. If an account is set up in a child’s name, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain account information without the child’s permission.
You should also realize that children may be accessing the Internet from outside the home, such as friend’s homes, work, libraries and school.
Be open with your children and encourage them to come to you if they encounter a problem online.
Explore filtering and blocking software, which is used to sort information on the Internet and classify it according to content. A major drawback is that some filtering may block innocent sites, while many “negative” sites still get past the filters. Though these programs can be great assets, parents still need to maintain open communication with their children to inform and protect them.
Many parents may suspect their children of being sexually addicted, but may not be sure of the warning signs. Victor Cline, Ph.D., an expert on pornography and its effects, encourages parents to be on the lookout for the following symptoms of sexual addiction:
A pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior
Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior, and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences
Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior
Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior
Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy
Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer satisfying
Severe mood changes related to sexual activity
Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual and/or recovering from sexual experiences
Neglect of important social, occupational or recreational activities because of sexual behavior
If you discover your child viewing pornography or you know it is a problem in his/her life, reassure him/her. Let your child know that while you don’t agree with the use of pornography, you still love them and expect them to do better. Rob Jackson, a professional counselor specializing in sexual addiction and codependency, suggests taking the following four-area approach to prevent the possibility of your child using pornography in the future:
Behavioral – Behavioral approaches attempt to prevent a scenario from developing in the first place. The house and grounds, for example, should be purged of all pornography. Media should be carefully screened for “triggers” that serve as gateways to acting-out. If the problem occurred with the Internet, a filter can be one of your strategies, although it can never replace parental supervision and involvement. Other common sense approaches include moving the computer to the family room where others can easily view the screen, limiting the time on the computer and making sure no one is alone on the Internet, and developing a mission statement that directs the family’s use of the computer and the Internet.
Cognitive – Pornography generates destructive myths about sexuality. Once your child is exposed, it will be critically important to initiate a comprehensive sex education program, if you have not already done so. The child will need to learn what and how to think about sexuality. More than mere behaviors, parents will want to communicate the core values of sexuality, the multifaceted risks of sex outside of marriage, and their ongoing compassion for what it must be like to grow up in this culture.
Emotive – Sex is inherently emotional. Premarital sex has even been linked with codependency, where at least one person becomes compelled or addicted to be in relationship with another. The youth culture would lead you to believe that sex is not necessarily emotional for them – don’t believe it. Sexual relations of any type bond the bodies, minds and spirits of two individuals. At the conscious level, this attachment is largely emotional. Your children need to understand that emotional attachment is often involuntary, and especially when the relationship has been compromised sexually.
Spiritual – At its core, sexual integrity your beliefs with your children, and explain to them the reasons to avoid the trappings of pornography. A strong spiritual foundation can be the best prevention method against pornography.
Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Jacob Wetterling Foundation