“But he’s a good kid.”
This is a common response among moms when the topic of kids and online pornography comes up. The problem is… good kids run into porn online just as easily as anyone else. Of course they do—porn is everywhere.
According to a study done by the UK’s NSPCC, kids are EQUALLY as likely to come across pornography on accident as they are to deliberately seek it out. I’ve heard more stories than I can relay here of the many ways kids accidentally come across pornography. One that I often tell in the context educating parents about the importance of safe search engines (in our live workshops) is the FAT DOGS story.
A 10-year-old girl was doing a school project about dogs. She was using the Google search function and then clicking on the “images” tab to choose photos. (Side note: if you have a kid in elementary school, chances are they not only know how to do this, they also have done it many times). The little girl was finding all kinds of dog photos, but when she went to search for “FAT DOGS” the search results turned into a gallery of male genitalia. The girl was traumatized, as any 10-year-old girl would be! Although she had received some information about sex from her parents, she had never seen naked pictures of anyone, nor did she understand why people would deliberately take and post such pictures. Thankfully, she was with her parents when it happened and they responded immediately. They also lovingly helped to walk her through the confusion and anxiety that came in the days to follow as a result of the traumatic exposure. (To learn more about safe searching, click here.)
Now, picture a 10-year-old boy… instead of FAT DOGS, he searches for a favorite Pokemon character. Did you know there are porn sites that deliberately put key words in their images corresponding to Pokemon characters? How do you think search results containing hard core pornography would impact a 10-year-old boy?
Unfortunately, the most vile and disturbing images and videos are one click away from any Internet user. Social media is especially problematic because it is app-based, so external content filtering won’t work. I heard the CEO of NetNanny, a leading content filtering software, describe the situation like this: “Apps are fortresses.” That means if your child is on ANY social media, he or she WILL encounter pornography (plus a whole bunch of other disturbing content — read more about the problems with hashtags here.)
If a child comes across an inappropriate image online, he or she may not have the courage to talk to a trusted adult about it right away. And if the image sparks a measure of curiosity, the accidental exposure could prompt further searching. And because the industry offers “endless clicks” that same child may find that they “just couldn’t stop clicking.” The level of damage that can happen with this kind of exposure should not be underestimated.
Recently, a colleague of ours posted about an entire floor of male dorm residents at a Christian college who admitted that they struggled with pornography. 38 guys, and not one of them walking in freedom. All but one said their struggle started by age 11. I’m not one to stereotype, but I would imagine that quite a few of these guys would have been described as good kids. And the fact that they struggle with pornography doesn’t mean they’re bad kids! It means that at one point in their lives, whether by intention or by accident, they found their way into a fire that they did not know how to put out. Shame and secrecy fueled the flame, and moments turned into days, which turned into years. That’s how pornography addiction works.
What can we do?
1. EDUCATE – The most important thing you can do to protect your child from the damaging effects of pornography is to educate yourself about the issue. Understand the risks of the kind of internet usage you have allowed in your family and where your greatest vulnerabilities are. A great place to start: Fight The New Drug and Protect Young Minds.
2. COMMUNICATE – You con’t protect your kids from pornography without preparing them with a plan for what to do if and when they encounter it. We prepare them for what to do if they are in a burning building, although they may never find themselves in that situation. So must we prepare them for how to escape the fire of pornography. How? Read this.
I read something in the #Being13 report from CNN that gave me great hope. “Parents who tried to monitor their child’s social media had a profound effect on their psychological well-being.” I’m going to venture to say that ANY monitoring by a parent (Internet use, searching, YouTube viewing) has a profound effect. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say…
Our involvement in our kids’ digital lives is a key ingredient for raising GOOD KIDS.
Good kids are not perfect. They are not without temptation. They are just kids who have been trained (not just “told”) to avoid and reject pornography. And perhaps most importantly, they are kids who have the courage to do so when no one is looking.