Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Parents have both a right and the responsibility to be totally aware of their child’s online life, and the earlier you make that clear to your child the easier it will be to enforce. A 2010 Pew Research study revealed that “the bulk of kids … are getting cell phones at ages 12 and 13 – right as they transition to middle school” and a 2013 study found that 95% of teens are online. And while the true incidence of sexting with explicit photos is probably less than 5 percent of kids online, we also know that at least 10 percent of kids report an unwanted sexual solicitation. Here are two good reasons why parents need to stay on top of their kids’ online activity: Neither young children nor teens are a match for a skilled predator;  and adolescents have a mature sex drive managed by a not–yet-mature brain. And if you still need convincing, read this report prepared by the Crimes Against Children Research Center and see how many of the cases reported to law enforcement were uncovered when parents checked their kids’ phones!

Parents of young kids can set a precedent starting when their kids use their first electronic devices. Certain security measures are low-tech, like keeping the device chargers outside of the bedroom in order to keep devices off the bed, setting all passwords yourselves, and checking devices daily. The most readily available of the low-tech options is parent-child communication. Let your children know why you intend to monitor their on line use; little ones should not have independent internet access until at least age 12; their first experience of your limit setting can be when they learn that your plan only covers a certain number of calls, or of you program their phones limiting the numbers they can call or receive calls from

Continuing conversations about online safety provide a countless opportunities to discuss your family values around relationships and sexual health and safety with young teens and adolescents. Discussions about unanticipated solicitation, sexual and otherwise, lead right into a conversation about respecting other people’s boundaries, and being empowered to hold their own. A dialog about predators opens the door to conversations about the importance of really knowing someone — online or in person — before placing full trust in them. And when you get to the talk about sexting, don’t stop at the tech-based reminders that photos exist forever and can be shared beyond the intended recipient. Try having a discussion about how normal it is for young people to be confused about making any decisions about sex. Chapters 5 and 6 in my book, The Sex-Wise Parent will be helpful.

What parents need to know about pornography and kids

What parents need to know about pornography and kids

If your children have access to a device with Internet access — and it’s a good bet that they do — it’s an equally good bet they’ve been exposed to pornographic images.

A major study found that almost all boys and two-thirds of girls over age 13 have been exposed to online porn. Most exposure happens between the ages of 14 and 17, but thousands of children 13 and younger are exposed to sexually explicit images daily. Boys are more likely to report that they sought out pornographic images while girls were more likely to report involuntary exposure.

Impact of porn on kids:
Sexually explicit images and erotic art have had a place in almost every culture, so observing a sexual image is not necessarily harmful. But it’s all about context. Pornographic images are often reflections of sex that have nothing to do with real life and young people lack the context to know that. The very fact that such a private act is being shared with the world obliterates the concept of intimacy, and intimacy is an important aspect of sexual health and safety.

Early images influence a young person’s fundamental understanding of sexuality. People develop “sexual archetypes” or fundamental beliefs about sex, and viewing sexual images can become part of this development. If the people in the images look like people who could be a friends or neighbors then the acts may appear acceptable and an involuntary feeling of sexual arousal may make the act even seem more agreeable.

Archetypes become like shorthand the brain uses to immediately put things into categories prior to gathering additional information. For example, if you were bitten by a German Shepherd, the image of such a dog may become part of your archetype for fear. Sexual archetypes are developed when our brain stores information about the characteristics of images, experiences and/or people that lead to our sexual arousal, and the earliest associations with sexual arousal are very important.

The type of images kids see can influence their sexual archetypes and later sexual behavior. One study found that kids who had seen violent pornography were more than five times as likely to have forced or coerced someone into sex as kids who reported watching only non-violent porn. An association of sex and with violence or coercion threatens the sexual health and safety of your children and their future partners.

So what can a parent do?

First, use every technological resource available to limit your children’s access to pornography, including spam filters and parental controls on devices, software and browsers. If your child knows more about technology than you do, call your school or local library and ask if the resident technology professional can offer a workshop to parents.

But don’t count on technology; no measure is foolproof and purveyors of pornography and curious kids are both likely to figure out a way around them. This takes active parenting. Open a discussion about online pornography and consider it a great opportunity to share your family’s values about sexuality and pornography. Don’t start by asking their child if they’ve seen sexual images on line; assume that they have.

 Concepts to explore

Ask about the content of the images using medically accurate terms for body parts and sex acts. Acknowledge that curiosity is normal, and share that these images are fictional and have nothing to do with real life love, sex and intimacy. Then consider exploring these issues:

  • Consent: Did the people in the pictures look like they’d both agreed to the sex act? Did one participant appear to be coercing or otherwise threatening the other? Impart the healthy value that in real life all sex requires explicit consent.
  • Emotions: What feelings did the people in the images seem to be experiencing? Make it clear that that the emotions associated with sex should be love, affection, warmth, and respect.
  • Intimacy: No matter what was going on in the image, the very fact that it was being recorded and shared shows that there was not intimacy; share that healthy sexuality is an expression of deeply private and intimate feelings between partners.
  • Arousal: Involuntary physical arousal from viewing sexual images may leave a youngster both exhilarated and shamed. Sexual arousal is instinctual and autonomic, and people of any age may find their body responding with arousal to an image they intellectually find repulsive. A discussion about the feelings associated with the arousal caused by the sight the pornographic image will break the secrecy and with it the power the images have over the child’s perception of sex.

Finally, while a demand that the child not watch porn is likely to be met with overt or covert resistance, suggest that the child’s future sex life will be much happier and more satisfying if he or she avoids it.   Maybe use the analogy that learning about sex from pornography makes as much sense as learning to drive by watching a NASCAR movie.  And, it can limit the ability to find the satisfaction that comes from sharing  experience with a partner.

The thought of this conversation may make any parent uncomfortable, but here’s the win: when you make an active effort to counteract the messages from online porn, you have a golden opportunity to replace the dysfunctional values with your own. And — research shows us that kids keep listening, even when acting like they’re not!

This article first appeared at Philly.com

Parenting the on-line teen

Anyone see the Today Show this morning (3-8-11) ?  Two experts joined Matt Lauer to debate the pro’s and con’s of parents ‘spying’ on their teens internet activities.  Is it an act of dishonesty between the parent and the child or a prudent safety measure?  Any parent can imagine the indignant scream of a 14 year old caught in a racy IM chat, or the sound of a foot-stomping, door-slamming 15 year old confronted about visits to a XXXX-rated site.  Parents hate that. Too bad.  I come down squarely on the side believing that it is a parents responsibility to know where their kid is hanging out and with whom they are communicating.

Parents can’t forget that the adolescent brain is still under construction, particularly in the areas relating to taking risk.  Dr. David Walsh does a great job in his books explaining the details. As parents, we can’t let ourselves be fooled by the fact that our kids look like almost-adults, almost doesn’t count here.  While they seem so much more grown-up than the baby -faced toddler we used to cuddle, they have not yet grown all of the tools necessary to exercise really, really good judgment.

But there is a big difference between being a responsible parent and being dishonest.  Let your child know that you have installed tracking software, or that you have changed your internet setting so that only you can clear the browser cache, or whatever technical tool you choose to monitor on-line activities. And when they’re through screaming and stomping, talk about using seatbelts.  When they buckle up as they get in the car, you don’t take it as an insult to your driving….. it’s just what we do in case today is the one in a million where something goes very wrong.

And the odds of something going wrong for an adolescent on-line are WAY higher than one in a million.  A report commissioned by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children found that 1 in 7 youth on-line  were exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations; one is eleven reported sexual harassment and — are you ready for the big number?    ONE IN THREE reported unwanted exposure to sexual material! Need proof? See the full report at http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications/NC167.pdf .

So let them stomp and slam for a moment or two — after all, demonstrating the need to be independent from parents is also developmentally normal for an adolescent. But hold your ground. Kids need parental support in the on-line world as much as they need a seatbelt in a car.