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Boys and Online Porn: What's A Mom To Do?

If talking to your child about the "birds and the bees" seems hard, try bringing up the subject of online pornography with your adolescent son. Chances are good that you'll find yourself conducting an embarrassing, one-way conversation, but it's one that could save your family both frustration and money.

When your child is young, there are so many ways to thwart his access to porn sites. You can use filters, sit next to him as he surfs, and warn him repeatedly not to look at those sites. But when he reaches a certain age and the combination of hormones and curiosity drives him right to the search engines, all he has to type in is ''girls,'' ''boys,'' ''teens,'' ''love,'' and, of course, ''SEX.'' Think you're safe because you have filters? Kids will go to a friend's house or the library to look up thousands of images.

So now is the time to explain to your son that he can get into trouble for sending emails or pictures with sexual messages. A favorite pastime of younger teen boys is sending friends X-rated pictures that they have downloaded off the Net. Warn them that if they are reported by another teen or parent, your account, along with all the family's screen names, will be dropped by your Internet service provider. What's worse, if the images or emails are threatening or involve children, your son could be reported to law enforcement officials.

Older teens are more likely to find unsolicited X-rated emails luring them onto pornographic sites. As one mom of high school- and college-aged sons lamented, ''They are much too old for filters and they will find someone else's computer to use if I block them, so I have to carefully approach the subject. If you think that talking to them about sex is hard, try discussing pornography!"

But boys must become educated, especially about the most recent ''adult entertainment'' scams that have surfaced on the Internet and the consequences of online porn. The newest Internet technology has opened the door to ''modem hijacking'' by some pornography websites. This scam targets high-school and college males who don't want to give their name or credit card number to enter a porn site but do want to take a peek. Users are invited onto a site with ''free, uncensored, no name, no sign-up, no credit card'' entry. The catch? The pop-up window saying you will be disconnected from your local dial-up number and connected to their own phone service. Of course, most boys ignore the small print and technical explanations and click Yes without reading it because they assume it's just another privacy agreement. (And who has time to read at a time like this?)

In this case, it's a very costly mistake. These scam artists now have a legal okay to ''hijack'' your modem with their software and bill you for an international call to Vanuatu (near Australia), Madagascar (an island in the Indian Ocean), or Chad (a country in central Africa). You never see the charges, which range from $3 to $9 a minute, until the phone bill arrives.

Pam (not her real name) opened her local phone bill last April and was shocked to find three AT&T charges to Vanuatu made around 3 a.m. for a total of 49 minutes and a heart-stopping total of $283.43. Petrified that her number had been stolen, she called AT&T. A supervisor explained that the calls were made from a computer modem in her house. After some detective work, she discovered that her son had come home from college late that night and gone online. Answering an ''enticing'' email, he logged on to an ''adult entertainment'' site and became one more victim of ''modem hijacking.'' Not surprisingly, AT&T refused to remove the charges, maintaining that, ''You made the call, you pay the bill.'' Pam's son gave her part of his paycheck from his summer job to cover the phone bill, and swears he will never go visit ''those sites'' again.

So what can you do to prevent this from happening in your home?

  • Warn your child that he could get caught in an expensive scam that can cost money. Tell him to read all the little boxes on every site he visits.
  • AT&T recommends putting a block on the computer phone line that would prevent all outgoing international calls. If you are not an AT&T customer, call your local phone company and they will place a block on your line.
  • Investigate the different types of filtering software for families. Unfortunately, none are perfect.



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