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Keeping Kids Away from Internet Porn
Q: We have an 11-year-old son. He went away for a week to his grandparents and wound up getting into pornographic (male) sites on the Internet. I had had suspicions that he might do this because I had walked in on him typing in the word masturbate, so I warned his grandparents, and told them to keep an eye on him. Well, he would get on there after they went to bed, even after being told not to. Not only was he looking but he was conversing with some of the people and having them send him pictures under his screen name here at home and to his grandparents email address. We found out about it, because I occasionally check to see what he is being sent and by whom. We had put a password under our screen name, but he being the smart kid he is, figured out that he could go to the username and get onto the Internet. We deleted his sceen name and told him no more computer for quite a while, and my husband spoke to him about all this. What we were wondering is, should we take him to a shrink, or is this just normal curiosity? He won't open up with us and tell us anything, and my husband was real blunt with him about what these types of people would want to do with him, and he said not to worry he didn't want to hear any more. We just don't know if what we've done is enough or if there is something else we should do. Please help!
A: Your 11-year-old son's sexual curiosity is quite normal and in today's world that pre-adolescent curiosity often entails cruising the Internet for porn sites. His Internet porn explorations don't necessitate a trip to a therapist but they do warrant further discussions and rules regarding his home computer use. First, keep your computer in a very public place in your house. Talk to your son about why you don't want pornography coming into your house. Don't just lecture him that it's bad and immoral. Explain your family's values behind this prohibition and use these discussions as bridges to talk to him about age-appropriate sex and sexuality concerns ("It's Perfectly Normal", by Robie Harris, is a superb resource for your son's age and stage of development).
You can use whatever parental controls your Internet service provider offers and install any number of filtering devices but this always comes down to parents and kids agreeing on a set of rules regarding the computer.
What disturbs me most about your story is his exchanging personal information with people on the Internet. I am sure that he thinks that you are overreacting to possible dangers of this practice. There are pedophiles and other dangerous people who lurk on the Internet, in chat rooms, on porn sites, etc. They assume different identities and build up a relationship with kids that eventually leads to their asking the kids to meet them in person. Your son must NEVER give out any personal information about himself or any other member of your family. I'd suggest that he not be allowed to use the computer at all.
We can't prevent our kids from doing things we don't approve of outside our home but we can insist that they respect our family values within our home. Don't treat your son like he's always under suspicion of Internet abuse. The best that you can give him now is the beginning of an ongoing series of discussions about healthy sexual practices backed up by your family's values and beliefs. Although he may assume a know-it-all, non-responsive attitude toward your discussions with him, he needs to hear what you have to say and why you believe as you do.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.