Parents should be concerned about their children’s exposure to obscene content online. As Dr. Michael Rich, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Associate Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health, points out:
"Pornography has many many different effects, but the central one that exists regardless of age - at its base, pornography commodifies the sexual act. [Pornography] turns something that is intimate, human communication and intimate connection with another human into something which can be bought and sold"1.
Studies show that young men repeatedly exposed to pornography are more likely to objectify women, and young women who view pornography are more likely to self-objectify and tolerate sexual harassment from men 2.
Some children may seek out sexually explicit content online out of curiosity, but accidental exposure is also common. One national survey found that 25% of its participants (ages 10 to 17) had experienced unwanted online exposure to pornography in the past year3.
Parents who keep current, keep communicating, and keep checking can help children understand why pornography is harmful and know what to do when obscene content is encountered.
Be aware of the different ways the Internet can be accessed in your home. Many parents are aware of how to limit and filter the home computer or laptop, but the Internet can also be accessed through a cell phone, a gaming system, or the "help function" button on any computer program.
Install filters on all kinds of connected technology (computer, cell phone, game consoles). A variety of filters can be purchased commercially. K9 Web Protection is a free filter designed for Windows and Mac computers. FamilyShield is a free filter service, which has options for game consoles. For cell phones, contact your service provider to discuss options for filtering or limiting Internet access.
Keep computers and other connected technology consoles in public areas of the house where a parent can monitor the content being accessed or viewed.
Filters help, but they don’t prevent all contact with inappropriate content. Discuss with your children why you use filters and monitoring software. The discussion will set a benchmark for your family standards and help your children understand what you expect. In an age-appropriate, but open manner, discuss with your children the reasons obscene content is dangerous for them.
Have your children help keep the computer safe from inappropriate content - children can help you locate the Internet access points in your home. Always encourage them to let you know if they discover a problem.
Determine an action plan for encounters with inappropriate content (both in the home and out of the home). For example: turn off the screen and tell an adult, or call for a ride home. Practice the action plan in family meetings or informal discussions.
Make sure your children know you will keep checking all connected devices including cell phones. Help them understand the Internet is a public forum and never completely private. Review Internet histories regularly. Check text messages on cell phones.
On a regular basis, discuss the risks of viewing obscene content. In this way, you can allow for children to feel safe discussing the topic and make appropriate adjustments to filtering systems.
1. iKeepSafe.org. Dr. Michael Rich–Porn Commidfies Sex [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ercmw6jNHU&feature=player_embedded#!
2. Flood, Michael (November 2, 2009). The Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People. Child Abuse Review, 18. Retrieved from http://www.xyonline.net/sites/default/files/Flood,%20The%20harms%20of%20pornography%20exposure%2009.pdf
3. Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K. & Wolak, J. (March 2003). The Exposure of You to Unwanted Sexual Material on the Internet: A National survey of Risk, Impact, and Prevention. Youth & Society 34: 3 (340-342). Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/Exposure_risk.pdf