A Potentially Dangerous Combination
It can be argued that for a healthy adult, the viewing of some types of pornography is essentially a harmless diversion. It’s certainly popular enough - many of the new technologies introduced in recent years (both online and offline) have been intimately related to the porn industry, and in some cases, were developed and popularized largely in response to the enormous demand for pornographic content.
As innocuous as some porn may be - and there are, of course, those who believe all pornography is bad - few people would deny that there are some negatives associated with the industry and concept in general. Many adults develop a serious addiction to pornography and we all know that there are those who have been the victims of exploitation by those who create and distribute it, whether or not the content is “legal” or if the participants are consenting adults at the time of its creation.
So, it would seem rather obvious that what can be potentially harmful for adults is certainly likely to be even more harmful for children of any age. And there’s very little to stop a child from viewing pornography - in fact, kids are often exposed to it without their ever seeking it out on their own.
Frighteningly Easy Access
Who hasn’t, at some point, entered a seemingly innocent search term into Google or another search engine and been surprised at an unexpected flood of results directing the user to websites offering nothing but pornography and sexual content? Sure, you can use parental filters, but usually they don’t weed out everything that’s inappropriate for children’s viewing, and for those kids interested in accessing sexual content online, it’s pretty easy to sidestep the filters. And the fact that teens typically know a lot more about settings and filters, etc. than their parents do, it’s nearly impossible to activate a few parental filters which will block all sexual content - particularly if a child is determined to access it.
Threats to Adolescents Associated with Viewing Pornography
Whether or not individual parents have basic moral objections against pornography, in general, it seems most would agree that unrestricted viewing of porn can potentially be harmful to a child. First, there is the fact that many people do develop serious addictions to porn and children may be even more susceptible to this than adults. A child who becomes addicted to porn may or may not be more inclined to engage in risky sexual behavior in real life - and there is mounting evidence that supports that they are more likely to do so - but at the very least, a porn addiction can result in mild to serious psychological problems, as is the case regarding any type of addictive behavior.
Adolescence is a time of discovery of one’s sexuality by definition. And along with all the hormonal changes and confusion which are natural consequences of puberty, there are also subtle and delicate social adjustments necessary for adapting to the process of growing up in a healthy manner. Pornography can serve to create a skewed view of the role of sex in one’s own life and in relationships with others. Pornography generally objectifies people as sexual objects and much of it is violent or demeaning in nature. A teen dealing with raging hormonal changes typically can’t help but be influenced by the content and implied messages found in pornography, and let’s face it - most porn is not designed to help create or foster relationships built on love, trust and other important considerations.
In fact, most pornography is ultimately about distancing oneself from real interaction with other human beings, whether that is its intended purpose or not. It may be argued that a normal teenager naturally seeks or even requires sexual release through masturbation (although some may consider masturbation unhealthy or even “sinful”) and that certain types of pornography might be “acceptable” for this purpose but in general, most parents would probably agree that much of the pornography available these days sends the wrong messages to a developing adolescent.
Long gone are the days of Playboy pinups (which somewhat tastefully revealed just a little bit of female flesh) being pretty much the standard fare. Anyone living in today’s world who has even a passing knowledge of what’s freely available on the Internet, in terms of pornography, will have to agree that times have definitely changed since Hugh Hefner first introduced his “bunnies” to the world more than half a century ago. Without going into lurid detail, there is a shocking amount of what most would surely consider to be utterly depraved pornographic content. Content which is readily available to anyone who knows how to navigate the Internet - and no one is better at surfing the web than our own children.
But Even Scarier…
The potential psychological, social and emotional consequences associated with children, adolescents and teens having access to Internet porn - even the “extreme” varieties - actually pale in comparison with the real world dangers which are all too often lurking behind much of the sexual content so easily found online. Sexual predators, pedophiles and even serial killers have been known to use online pornography and sexual content to lure their young victims. Many are adept at it.
Teens are naturally curious and trusting. The desire to appear worldly and knowledgeable is also a natural part of growing up. But these impulses can turn deadly - sexual predators know how to exploit these traits, and it’s often surprisingly easy for them to spark a young person’s curiosity and gain their trust in a short time. Kids who already have problems with self-image (and how many teens don’t, at some point?) are sometimes easy prey for those who know how to manipulate them. Even their own peers may be able to take advantage of these weaknesses. But an older person with nefarious intentions can sometimes very easily lure vulnerable kids into unspeakably horrific situations.
Luckily, most kids have been informed and warned against these potentially life-threatening scenarios by their parents and teachers and in general kids are not as naive as we may tend to think. Often, our children are savvy about many more things than we realize or would like to admit. However, any caring parent should do everything humanly possible to protect their children against the dangers and threats discussed in this article.
What Can Be Done to Protect My Child?
There’s no need to panic or try to drastically limit a child’s freedom. Life always contains an element of risk, and over-protectiveness never did any child any good. In other words, parents should give their kids a little credit for knowing the difference between what is right and wrong, and to give them some freedom to explore their environment - online and offline.
That being said, it is also vital to take an active interest in your child’s social life and online activity. Even the somewhat awkward subject of sexuality needs to be addressed and discussed. Let your child know that you are open for discussion on any subject and that you will not punish or judge them for being open and honest. But also let them know there are limits to what is acceptable and healthy behavior, and that you expect them to be aware and cautious about their activities - both in the real world and online. Try to develop a sense of mutual trust and respect between you and your growing child.
Monitoring Your Child’s Online Activity
It’s sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line concerning a child’s privacy. There is no one formula that applies to all parents or all children. Concerning issues such as pornography, there may be vastly differing attitudes among parents, depending on factors such as religious beliefs, cultural environments and individual lifestyles.
But for many parents, taking an active role in monitoring a child’s access to pornography and other potentially inappropriate content available both on and offline is a paramount concern. It is becoming increasingly common among parents to opt for installing “spyware” onto a child’s smartphone or tablet. Spyware, for those unfamiliar with the technology, is simply a software application designed to monitor the activity on a given Internet-connected device, such as a child’s smartphone. It can be installed and used without the targeted device user’s knowledge, and it can be used to gather some or all of the data associated with the use of the device.
Spyware can give a parent a window into the type of content their child is accessing, such as which websites are being visited and how much time is spent on them. Phone spy apps can also reveal the content of what a child is sharing online, and with whom. Most spyware packages offer the capability to view - remotely and discreetly - any photos and videos the targeted user is sharing or receiving on the device. Spyware can also give parents a GPS fix on a child’s location at any given time, as well as the history of routes taken and places visited by the person carrying the device.
Although some parents may legitimately feel that this is an invasion of privacy, others find it a vital tool for protecting children from accessing porn, talking to the wrong people and going to the wrong places. And there is always the option of letting the child know that there is spyware installed on their smartphone or tablet, thereby giving them the knowledge that they are being monitored.
The use of spyware may seem a Draconian measure to some parents, but to others it’s a very effective and necessary of making sure a child isn’t viewing pornography or engaging in dangerous online behavior in general. It’s certainly worth considering if you are raising children in this complicated and often perilous modern world we live in.