Filtering My Kids’ Online Experience Provides Me Peace of Mind

Nov 16

About four months ago, I erased all internet safety programs from my kids’ computer.  No matter what software I tried (granted, they were all freeware), the computer’s performance slowed significantly.  Add to that the effort I was exerting every time my kids called me over to add the protection password so they could visit a new website.  The most recent program, offered by Cogeco, eventually blocked our family’s entrance to the world wide web completely.  How’s that for internet safety?  Maybe it was trying to tell us something…

Although the filtering software did provide me peace of mind, I was so frustrated by the tediousness of entering password after password, not to mention the agonizingly slow page loads, that I had the local computer repair shop extract every shred of ”nanny” software.  The computer now works better than ever.  But that peace in my mind is a little frazzled. 

To compensate, I’ve been extra vigilant in tracking where my kids go online.  I always explain to my ten-year old (the most prolific of our web surfers) that he cannot visit just any website, but must ask me first.  I remind him that there exist a lot of horrible images on the computer that he does not want to see.  Among my bits of advice is a plea to refrain from any Google searches.  On the other hand, I am online every day and have never personally come across anything explicit or disturbing.  As a grown-up, however, I know what phrases may lead to unsavoury sites and likely, on a subconscious level, avoid them.  Kids, however, haven’t that built-in censoring system because they don’t have the depth of experience to understand the need for caution.  For them, the internet is just a bunch of fun games and videos. 

While my paranoia radar has been on higher alert since I removed the filtering software, one of the biggest benefits to the change has been an increase in communication with my kids about internet safety.  My fears have prompted me to talk to my boys about the dangers that lurk in some websites and the need for them to censor themselves should they come across an image that is scary or lascivious.  It has been a great exercise.  And helps prepare my ten-year old who is evermore hanging out at other kids’ homes where the computer rules are more slack than our webkinz-friendly household.  I think our open discussions about the internet have better prepared him for those times when his friend’s screen plays something inappropriate.   

I’m now ready for my peace of mind to return to its previous levels.  Yes, it is time for Big Brother (or Panicking Parent) to move back into our computer.  The timing couldn’t be better as YouTube has become a new fascination among my boys.  And I’m not sure anything else on the internet scares me more than YouTube.   It represents, to me, the Wild West of the internet where anything can happen without a second’s notice. 

This week, I will install Norton’s Online Family program which is offered free of charge.  The company has also just released an upgraded version called Online Family Premier that includes video monitoring capability, available for $29.99 for a limited time.  It’s a great idea, considering that visiting video sites is the third most popular online activity after social networking and playing games, according to a 2010 study by Kaiser Family Foundation.  And I may consider it in the future, but for now I’m going to stick with my old standby – plain and simple censorship.  Sorry YouTube, but you’re being added to the list of blocked sites.  I expect soon enough I’ll have to extend that apology to my kids, too.

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Children’s Exposure to Online Porn – A Parent’s Guide

Oct 06

Posters of the movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno hang from the theatre where you take the kids to watch Igor.  The family-friendly Knight Rider (airing at 8pm) shows teens swapping jokes about porn while shooting hoops.  The latest “It” girl is barely dressed on the cover of at the counter where you buy little Mikey a lollipop.  As our pornified culture seeps ever deeper into the daily activities of a typical family, parents can be forgiven for thinking that the only way to shield their children from its effects is to bar them from ever leaving the house.  As ridiculous as it sounds, even an overzealous strategy such as that would not necessarily prevent exposure to porn.  In fact, the most explicit porn is most likely to be viewed in the home, thanks to the internet.

While parents ask “What do I do if my child sees porn on the internet?” the more realistic question is “What do I do when my child sees porn?”  In fact, many parents may never find out when that actually occurs.  According to a study on youth aged 10 to 17 years (Mitchel et al. 2003), a quarter of them had been exposed to unwanted sexual images, with only about half of these exposures being reported to a parent or friend.  In a study on Australian youth aged 13 to 16 years (published in Youth & Society), only 8% of kids will tell their parents if they’ve seen something disturbing. 

No wonder filter software is a multi-billion dollar industry, soothing the worries of anxious parents hoping to erect a barrier between Lego.com and Openlegs.com.  I personally have blocking software that requires a password to enter any website other than those I’ve approved.  So far, it’s worked.  But, my kids are young and easily stumped by short passwords and basic firewalls.  With age, kids grow increasingly web-savvy (surpassing the limited techie know-how of parents) and learn quickly how to overcome barriers to get where they want to go online.  In fact, despite the rush to buy the latest blocking software, studies – such as the Australian survey – have concluded that filters do little to prevent exposure. 
 

 

 

The proliferation of cell phones with internet access has only exacerbated the problems that parents face.  Results of a study of wireless search behaviour indicate “Adult” entertainment to be the top google search, making up almost 20% of all queries. 

It’s enough to make any parent throw their hands in the air and lament, “there’s nothing I can do.”  This is too serious an issue to just let it be, according to Pamela Paul, author of .  In her book, she describes what children learn through porn. 

“Watching pornography, kids learn that women always want sex and that sex is divorced from relationships.¬† They learn that men can have whomever they want and that women will respond the way men want them to.¬† They learn that anal sex is the norm and instant female orgasm is to be expected.”

Parents face a daunting task, no doubt.¬† But there is hope.¬† According to the Australian study, porn exposure was most likely among the most frequent internet users (that is, those who¬†surfed online¬†every day, or more.)¬† Therefore, a rational first step is to limit children‚Äôs internet access.¬† And while it‚Äôs virtually impossible to totally prevent a sexual image from popping onto the screen, parents can more readily address exposure, when it does happen,¬†by regularly reviewing the¬†surfing history.¬† Microsoft provides easy instructions on how to do this, and other simple methods to ensure children’s online safety.¬† Their website is http://www.microsoft.com/protect/family/guidelines/basics.mspx.

Having frank and open discussions about sex is also important in helping children put the sexual images into context.  That means including a chapter on pornography when you teach your child about the birds and the bees.  In Pornified, Paul interviews Al Cooper, past director of the San Jose Marital and SexualityCenter and an expert on Internet pornography.  His advice is to accept children will see pornography, and to talk to them about it.

“Not only can all children see pornography online, they will see it.  All kids today will see sexually explicit stuff and they will see it constantly… When a parent finds a pornographic picture on their six-year-old’s computer they need to have a talk with the kid.”

 

 

In other words, don‚Äôt cross your fingers and hope that your child will be the one in a million who doesn‚Äôt see porn.¬† And, on the other end of the spectrum, think twice about shrugging it off with the age-old argument that it‚Äôs “a normal part of being a boy.‚Äù¬† Both are forms of denial.¬† A mix of prevention tactics with open discussion about pornography will go a long way in helping children learn to recognize the fallacies and dangers of pornography, and to censor their own online exposure.¬† Because, truly, the best filter around, is the one within us all.¬†¬†

 

 

 

 

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