by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée
With the advent of smartphones, it may seem next to impossible to control what your child sees on the web. While this may be true, there are tools available to help control the sites that your child can visit on the web (like parent-friendly routers you can buy, and software you can use, to limit your child’s access to the internet).
Most importantly, have continued conversations with your children about the harmful effects of inappropriate content, like internet pornography sites. Below are a few tips on how to talk to your child about staying safe online.
Tips on how to talk to your children about internet pornography
Children who learn early about online safety are more likely to exercise caution, and avoid unsafe websites and online behaviors. Below are four tips to help.
- Start communicating from before they have their own technology. Begin discussing online safety with your children at an early age—before they begin to do anything that involves the internet, and even before they can independently use computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices. This enables you not only to speak about the effects of unsafe websites (like pornography websites), but also other ways to stay responsible and safe online.
- Engage children with knowledge about the basics about online safety and responsibility. When you or your children get new devices or new online accounts, engage your children in setting up new passwords. This is a good opportunity to talk about the risks of sharing personal information online, and how to protect yourself. Also engage them in how to avoid computer viruses, like involving them in the use of software that helps protect your computer and which types of emails to avoid clicking on. This experience will serve as a foundation from which you can talk about more uncomfortable topics: online pornography.
- Create clear intentions on your children's technology use. Establish ground rules on how long (and between which hours) your children can be on devices, and continue a dialogue of clear intentions on why they are using devices when they ask for permission. Creating a relationship of your children having to ask for permission to use technology can help. Written contracts with clear ground rules that your children sign can help too. You'll always have to monitor and enforce your house rules though (there's monitoring software that can help).
- Ban technology in bedrooms. There should be no technology in children's bedrooms. Technology should be limited to the public areas of your home. And the most powerful way to teach this is to model it.
What should parents do if they discover that their kids have seen online pornography?
Parents who learn that their child has been viewing online pornography may be afflicted by a range of emotions such as fear, anger, and guilt.
- Ground yourself. The most important thing you can and should do, before anything else, is to sort through your emotions. This is your first priority. You do not want your child to feel an overwhelming sense of shame, which can hinder your child’s ability to learn, and even motivate them to become secretive about watching online pornography.
- Don't blame. It is important to remember throughout this process that it is not yours nor your child’s fault. For many, your child was exposed to internet pornography before you were able to teach them how to avoid inappropriate online content. Curiosity is natural, and online pornography is widely available on the internet.
- Remember that many technologies have been designed to be addictive. Most adults are addicted, and children are less likely than adults to fight the urge to be on digital screens. For some, online pornography can be addictive too, and children may be more vulnerable to it as well.
- Protect your relationship. If your child has been hiding their online behavior from you, this could be a sign that your relationship is in need of closer examination. Make it clear to your child that your relationship is important to you, and that your goal is to help them rather than punish them. This challenge could be turned into an opportunity to bring you and your child closer together.
Warning signs that your child may be watching online pornography
Communication about how to navigate the web safely and establishing good online habits are an essential foundation to protecting children from inappropriate web content.
You should also watch for warning signs in your child. Examples are below:
- lying about their computer use
- an increased curiosity in sexuality
- becoming depressed and withdrawing from family life
- unexplained charges on your credit card, cell phone, television, or internet bill
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