The Internet is amazing. And also horrifying.
The latest proof of the latter? A new study that tells us just how common it is for American teens to be exposed to pornography online.
According to the study, released by Common Sense Media this week, nearly three-fourths of teens have watched porn online. More than half of those polled said their first exposure to it came by the time they were 13. And a disturbingly high minority—15%—had seen explicit sexual imagery online by age 10.
Another interesting finding: About 58% of respondents said they had stumbled across such content accidentally. They weren’t looking for it, but it found them anyway. And those who did seek it out? Nearly four-in-10 found it on such popular social media sites as TikTok and Instagram.
The study’s findings might well—and, honestly, should well—strike fear into the hearts of most moms and dads. After all, the internet is almost as ubiquitous in our society as air, something that phone-owning kids and teens can access at any time, night or day. Keeping your kids absolutely, positively free of exposure to porn seems impossible.
But parents can curb the risks that their children will be exposed to the Internet’s most unsavory corners. Here are a few tips.
First, and most importantly, talk with your kids about the problem. Don’thide from this societal issue, as much as you might like to. Even if your kids haven’t been exposed to pornography itself, chances are strong they know someone who has. Kids and teens talk about this sort of stuff, and it’s important that you be a part of their ongoing conversations. In age-appropriate ways, talk with them about the issue. Talk with them how sexually provocative pictures can twist and corrupt God’s intention for our relationships. Remind them how it turns people into objects, rather than beautiful, unique, creations of God. And be sure to listen to your kids, too—because they’re probably full of questions and opinions of their own. The more you’re able to talk with your children about this critical issue, the more likely they’ll be to understand why you need to put in some rules and place some restrictions on their internet access.
Delay when you give your kids phones. This is, obviously, a touchy issue in many homes, and I’m guessing many of you have had plenty of conversations on the subject. But Jonathan McKee, a regular on our Plugged In Show, recommends that parents wait until at least age 13 before letting their sons and daughters have phones.
Don’t let your kids go to bed with them. Nighttime is, for kids and teens, an opportune time to poke around regions of the internet you’d rather they stay away from. So why not eliminate the temptation? Get your children old-fashioned alarm clocks instead of allowing them to use their phones as wake-up tools, and insist that phones be gathered up and put away before they go to bed.
Consider installing monitoring software. Several companies have created services that allow parents to check up on the sites their kids are going to and what they’re doing while there. (Among those that Focus on the Family has recommended are Net Nanny, Covenant Eyes and Canopy.) Sure, kids and teens hate the idea that you’re spying on them, which makes this a difficult sell for many families. To lessen the blow, consider installing monitoring software on everyone’s devices—including Mom and Dad’s—to make sure that everyone is held accountable. Because, let’s be honest: Porn isn’t just a problem for kids and teens.
None of these tips are foolproof, of course. These can increase the odds that your home will be a relatively innocent refuge from a titillating culture. But consider these things fences, not 30-foot walls. Porn can still leap over those fences, and determined kids and teens can, too.
Which brings us back to the concept of talking. Always keep the lines of communication open. If your kids do see something they shouldn’t—because they stumbled across it or because they sought it out—they need to feel that you’ll not overreact.
Sometimes, discipline is appropriate. Sometimes just a good discussion about what they saw, and how, and why, can help curb future issues. But as much as possible, reinforce the idea that you’re in this together. And that only together, can you help shepherd them past the temptations of a frayed and frenetic world and into a long-term relationship with the author of all things.