Parents – Get Your Kids off Adult Dating Apps

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I started engaging in prevention and education work as a direct result of my experiences working as a forensic psychologist in the field of sexual addiction and sexual offending. Despite my efforts and the efforts of many others more well-known than myself, we continue to see an increase in cybersex issues with teens.

This month, I have had several new forensic cases involving teens and dating apps. These new cases involved adult men who were found to be having sexual contact with minors that were met via the adult dating app Grindr.

First, let’s talk about dating apps. The most well-known adult dating apps are Tinder and Grindr. Tinder is used more for those who are attracted to the opposite sex and Grindr is targeted at the gay male audience. Other names you need to know: Jack’d, Scruff, Adam 4 Adam, Growlr, Plenty of Fish, Ok Cupid.

Why do you need to know about these apps? Because under age teens are on these apps, using them and meeting with adults for sexual encounter. Any and all of these apps are for people over the age of 18. They specifically state in their information that you cannot be under 18 (or 21 in some places) and use the app. The apps are for adults. The problem is that often all you must do is enter a birthdate or check a box that affirms you are at least 18 years of age and there is no age verification. Anyone under the age of 18 can do the math and figure out what birth year they need to enter to comply. If someone mutually swipes and connects with your child, they will text or chat to see if they are compatible and arrange a hook up or meeting. Sometimes, during these chats, the child may disclose that they are under the age of 18. Many times, they do not.

There are two ways your child could end up having sex with an adult via an adult dating app:

  1. They could be targeted by an adult who is specifically seeking a young or young-looking man or woman on the app. However, there is an assumption that all on the app are of legal age. During the chat, the child could disclose that they are underage. Obviously, at this point, the right thing for anyone to do is to discontinue the conversation with the minor and NOT meet them, connect with them and surely not have sex with them. However, some people will ignore what is right and hook up with the minor for sex. In this case, the person meeting the minor has full knowledge that they are underage when they are hooking up with them and knows this is illegal.

  1. A child could go on an adult dating app and create a profile that says they are at least 18 years old. They could engage with men or women on line and meet up with them for sexual encounters. The child could never disclose that they are a minor to the person they are meeting for sex. Therefore, the person who is meeting them for sex is under the assumption that they are at least 18 and they are not knowingly having sex with a minor.

What can you do if you are a parent?

  1. Talk to your child. Talk to them about dating apps, hook up apps and any social networking apps. Ask what they use and how they use it. Ask if they are on the sites. Discuss with them the inappropriateness of being a minor and being on an adult dating site. I have had clients tell me they were on these apps when they were as young as 13 years old.

  1. If necessary, block your child’s access to these sites. I am not usually a fan of blocking sites completely, but in these cases, where there are such serious risks, I say, block your child’s access until they are the legal age to use the apps.

  1. Be open to your child’s curiosity about sex and sexuality. Many of these issues occur on same sex dating sites. This is likely because adolescent men are exploring their sexuality and may not be out, feel safe doing so in their school or social network and/or have no one to talk to about their questions and feelings. Be that safe person for your child to talk to and help them find appropriate resources to answer their questions.

What can you do if you use a dating site?

  1. If you find out someone you are talking to is under 18, stop talking to them IMMEDIATELY. Report their use of the app to the administrators of the app per the app’s instructions. DO NOT MEET THE UNDERAGE USER.

  1. If you think someone is younger than 18, ask for some form of ID to verify their age. Ask for a driver’s license. Yes, someone can get a fake ID If they are underage, but you need to do this to protect yourself and not make a life altering bad decision.

Does the app bear any responsibility when a minor is preyed upon in an adult dating app or ends up having sexual encounters with an adult? The answer to this is, NO. They do not. This has been challenged in court and the apps have won, meaning that the stated age requirements and acknowledgment of the user of the rules removes them from any liability in these cases. I would urge the makers of these apps to do more to try to remove under age users from their platforms.

As always, the key to prevention is awareness and communication. Talk to your child!

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Something’s Missing in the Current Drug Prevention Rhetoric

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I have been an addiction therapist for approximately thirteen years.  While for some professions that may not seem like a long time, for a substance abuse professional, thirteen years in the trenches is a very long time. It is thirteen years of being underpaid, overworked, and underfunded.  It is also thirteen years of working with lost and often traumatized souls who may never ever get better.  Thirteen years as a substance abuse professional can make you weary.  However, you don’t end up in this profession and last for any length of time unless it is a calling.

Unless you are completely cut off from the outside world, you have seen many a news article lately about what is being called the heroin or opiate epidemic.  The apparent meteoric rise of addiction problems due to a prescription pill problem that for many turns into a heroin problem.  In March of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids for chronic pain.  In 2015, hydrocodone combination products were moved to a Schedule II drug classification, indicating their highly addictive potential.  These changes were made in the hope of curbing the opiate addiction problem in our country, but with little effect.

This blog is not meant to be a discussion of anything related to why the situation continues to decline or what to do about it now.  What I want to talk about is prevention.  Most resources, even good resources like www.PASTOP.org, spend most of their page space talking about prescribing, what to do with unused medication, overdose and treatment information.  While all of this is very useful information, it is what I would call secondary prevention.  This is prevention of use by teens or adults, frequently who are prescribed medication initially by a doctor for a legitimate medical issue.  What is missing from the big picture of this prevention discussion is childhood.

Earlier this year, I finished reading both Dr. Gabor Mate’s, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s, The Body Keeps the Score.  Both are must reads for anyone who works in the addiction field.  I would like to share with you the line from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts that inspired me to write the post.

“The prevention of substance abuse needs to begin in the crib – and even before then, in the social recognition that nothing is more important for the future of our culture than the way children develop.” P. 443

What is missing in almost all current talk about prevention is that, unfortunately, for all the people already addicted or prone to addiction, it is potentially too late.  Why do people become addicts?  Trust me in that no one wants to be an addict when they grow up or enjoys addiction.  Maybe, in the beginning, they liked the effect of the drug, but that quickly wears off.  What many addicts like is the escape.  The ability to take a substance that makes them not feel feelings they don’t like or can’t handle.  They like the fact that when they are taking the substance, they don’t have to sit in reality.  They like that the drug makes their flashbacks go away.  They like the fact that many drugs make them forget for a period of time.

In 13 years, I have yet to meet a drug addict who, at some point in their life, and most likely in childhood, did not suffer from at least one form of abuse or neglect.  Many drug addicts and alcoholics (gamblers and sex addicts too) endured verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse by their parents or family members growing up.  Many endured neglect in childhood as well, whether that was physical or emotional.  Many addicts were bullied in school and had no one safe at home to talk to about their experiences.  These childhood experiences mean that often, they looked for ways to self soothe, ways to cope or ways to feel better even if it was for a short period of time.

The ACE studies (Adverse Childhood Experiences) have shown scientific proof of what addiction counselors have known for years.  The more ACE events in a person’s life, the more likely they are to not only have physical issues but also mental health issues.  People with higher ACE scores are 2 to 4 times more likely to use alcohol or other drugs and to do so at an earlier age.  If a person’s ACE score is 5 or higher, they are 7 to 10 times more likely to use illegal drugs, report addiction or to inject illegal drugs.

So what do we do?  Addiction prevention starts before a child is born.  The in-utero environment of a child affects their neurobiological reaction to stress as an adult.  To stop drug addiction, we need to stop child abuse.  How do we do this?  Obviously, this is a tall order.  Make parenting classes more accessible to all expecting men and women.  Teach not only about physical care of a child but their mental health care as well.  Talk about attunement to a child and how that affects his or her ability to regulate emotion later in life.  Work to create safe spaces in a home and healthy attachment.  Teach communication skills from the start.  Teach healthy coping skills to even very young children.  Teach healthy coping skills to the adults so that they can model these for their children.  Work as hard as we can to prevent physical, sexual and emotional abuse of everyone.

I realize that my goals are idealistic.  I have always said that if the world gets healthy, I would happily change professions.

We need to start addiction prevention from the beginning by having discussions about childhood abuse, neglect and trauma.  We need to work to take away the stigma of therapy and getting help for emotional problems.  We need to teach everyone how to effectively communicate and cope.

I know that this is a tall order and that many do not have the resources to learn all these skills.  We need to work to provide these resources to everyone.  As a society, we need to do more……….

 

For more information on Dr. Weeks please go to our company website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com.

Photo credit.  The Watsons, NYC, NY.

Sex Ed by Porn: Free Webinar Friday

iStock_000044887094_Full.jpgJoin me this Friday for a free one hour webinar hosted by The Center for Healthy Sex at 12:00 pm (PT) to talk about the effects of cybersex and sexting on children.

Click here to see the event details  http://centerforhealthysex.com/sex-therapy-resources/upcoming-events/

 

You can also check out my book on the topic:  The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.  

We Are Failing Male Sexual Abuse Survivors

I specialize in working with sexual addiction and problematic sexual behavior. Most of my clients are men.  Working with male addicts for over a dozen years has taught me, in person, that many more boys are sexually abused than the numbers tell us.  These boys do not tell anyone and do not seek help.  These boys turn into men who are profoundly affected by their sexual abuse experiences as children and most of the time, don’t even know it.  They do not name what happened to them as abuse, or they don’t want to.  They feel so much shame about being abused that they lock part of themselves away so tightly it can take years (like 5 to 7 years) of therapy before they even acknowledge to a trusted therapist what happened to them.  These men who were abused as boys suffer in silence.

I realize that many people (myself included) will respond to this by saying that many girls and women do not disclose their sexual abuse and that they too live lives that are deeply affected by their abuse histories.  Having spent time working in a Women’s Trauma and Addiction PHP and IOP program, I do not dispute this.  However, I see a difference.

When women finally find the courage to come forward to seek treatment for their sexual abuse, they can find resources.  There are many group, individual and support resources for women who are survivors of sexual abuse.  Finding help is not so easy for men.  I will share an example from my practice to explain.

I have a male client who came to me last year who I will call Tom.  Tom has a pornography addiction and came to treatment after the problem began to cause a great deal of disruption in his life.  He had never gone to therapy and near the beginning of our work together, he disclosed that, when he was a boy, he was sexually abused by a neighbor boy who was near his age.  He had never shared this with anyone in his life and as soon as he acknowledged the abuse, the floodgates opened.  He started to have flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms.  Tom is a take charge kind of guy and we nearly immediately started to look for resources for him to do trauma work outside of our individual sessions.

First, we looked for men’s specific groups.  There was nothing and we are directly outside of a major east coast city.  Then we looked for trauma groups.  Tom talked to a few places that had groups for trauma survivors and was told that, as a man, he would make the women in the group uncomfortable so they could not have him join the group.  He then had an intake with a county resource for group trauma work.  After his intake, they told him that his case was too complicated and he could not join the group.  After months of looking, we literally could not find a group for sexual trauma survivors that was either all men or that would allow men into the group.

Tom continues his trauma work in individual therapy but craves the connection and understanding that one gets in group work.  He wants to know he is not alone and the therapeutic community was unable to tell him that, as a man, he is not alone.

Tom is just one example of many that I could pull from my case load.  To me, he is the loudest example of how we, as a treatment community, fail male survivors of sexual assault.  I have had other clients walk out of public events for sexual abuse survivors because, as the only man in attendance, they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Why do we treatment professionals who work so closely with trauma not offer more resources to men? Are we uncomfortable?  Is there a reason we focus more closely on female survivors of sexual abuse?  These are questions to which I have no answers.  I have only heartbreak.  I can only do my part to welcome male sexual abuse survivors into therapy when they come and to start group programming for them in my practice.

I challenge other treatment professionals to process this issue and see what we can do to create more resources for men and to be more welcoming.

 

For a good online resource for male survivors of sexual abuse, please see www.1in6.org

More Evidence That Filtering Doesn’t Work: Teach Resilience Too

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Earlier this month a study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics that looked at internet filtering and the adverse experiences of adolescents online. There are countless software options for filtering content on your smartphone, computer, tablet or even to filter all content via your home wi-fi. Filtering has become big business. It makes us all feel better. Many parents install parental controls of some kind onto their children’s devices. Many addicts use these programs to help them stay away from pornography or other acting out apps. Just because installing these apps makes us feel better doesn’t actually mean that they are working.

In order to address this question – do these apps really decrease the adverse experiences kids have online- two researchers from Oxford interviewed 1030 adolescents (aged 12 to 15) as well as their caregivers. The researchers hypothesized (like we all do) that having some sort of filtering software installed on digital devices would protect the kids from negative online experiences. In this study, only 34% of parents said they used some sort of network filtering. Nearly 50% of the adolescent participants felt competent to work around any filter that was installed on their devices.

The results of this study indicated that the presence of internet filtering software did not reduce a child’s risk of being exposed to some type of adverse online experience. This could have been bullying, sexual advances, pornography exposure, etc. The authors of the study suggest, as I have written about previously, that parents, caretakers and educators invest time in teaching adolescents resilience skills,particularly focused on internet use and exposure to negative online experiences.

What is digital resilience? It is the ability of children to cope with negative online content in a healthy and appropriate manner. This involves both their own use of the internet, and particularly social media, but also the content that they view. Some have suggested teaching digital citizenship to young people. This includes helping young people assess representations of body image online; learning how to identify fake news; learning how to control one’s own internet use and learning how to disengage. (for more information on this see the Growing Up Digital Report).

The United Kingdom has suggested 5 Rights for adolescents regarding digital use.

  1. The right to remove: This means that everyone should be aware of how to remove any information that they have posted themselves. Additionally, anyone using social media should be aware if it is possible to remove something that someone else posted of them. If it is possible, they should know how to do it.
  2. The right to know: This means that everyone who is using the internet, but particularly social media for teens, should understand what sites are doing with your information. Who has access to your data? Who do they give it to, etc?
  3. The right to safety and support: This means that adolescents should know that they can turn to someone for support if they encounter something online that they do not understand or that they find distressing. They need to have someone in their life that they can trust with this communication.
  4. The right to informed and conscious use: This means that everyone should understand that the digital world is complicated and that they can turn it off. This also means they have access to the skills to switch off for a period of time.
  5. The right to digital literacy: This means that adolescents should really understand the technology that they are using and it’s purpose.

As an example, most people just get on an app and start using it. They do not actually read the user agreement which will state if the user has any privacy at all and what rights they have to content. Those agreements also discuss what content is appropriate and how to report inappropriate content. Most teens never read these agreements so lack digital literacy and their right to know is not met.

The right to safety and support is the providence of parents. Do you talk to your children about online content. Are you a safe person for them to talk to about things they see online? Do you provide support or lecture? Also, as a parent, you can enforce digital time outs or digital vacations. This is something that no teen is going to want to engage in, but parents are still the ones to set boundaries. Is there a no tech rule at the dinner table that EVERYONE (you too parents) follows? Does the family engage in any no-tech activities?

Since the scientific evidence is mounting to indicate that filtering access to content is not very effective for protecting teens from adverse online experiences, we need to do more. If you filter, you also need to teach digital literacy and resilience.

For more information on how to talk to your child, you can purchase my book on Amazon by clicking here.

For more information on Dr. Weeks and her practice, click here.

Do you think your teen talks to you about online risk?

Daughter looking a phone and ignoring her mother

My last post detailed research presented last year by Dr. Wisniewski . Today’s post will highlight research she presented just a week or two ago, the end of February, at the CSCW conference. Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues continue to generate wonderful research that has real time applicability to parenting in the digital age.

Very little is known from the research community about whether teens actually communicate the risk they experience online with parents. Each parent may have their own thoughts about their own child’s exposure to risk and communication of that exposure but there is no way to really know the truth.

In the research presented last week, Dr. Wisniewski had 68 teen-parent pairs fill out weekly online diaries that cataloged the risks the teen experience online, whether the teen intended the risk to occur and how they felt about the incident. The parents were also asked to log incidents of risk that child came to them to disclose the risk encounter. The researchers then looked to see how many “matched” reports existed. A matched report was a risk diary entry made both by the parent and the teen.

First, let’s talk about risk. What types of risk does a teen face online? For the sake of this research, the risks were broken down into four categories. 1) information breaches – these are situations in which a teens personal information or photo is being used or shared online without their permission. 2) Online Harassment – This is cyberbullying or negative online interactions that make the teen feel unsafe, threatened or embarrassed. 3) Sexual Solicitations – these are sexting or requests for sexual content that can come from friends, acquaintances or strangers. 4) Exposure to Explicit Content is either voluntary or accidental viewing of pornography or violent content online.

So, what did the researchers find? Well, in a nutshell, not much matching. They found that only 15% of risk reports were matched, meaning that most of the time, parents and teens were very out of synch on what they considered risk or what they reported.

Parents reported much less risk than their children did. Many teens did not share exposure to explicit content or information breaches with their parents. These tend to be viewed as low risk by teens and it is hypothesized that therefore the information is not shared with parents. While parents tended to report low risk issues, teens reported more medium level risks.

Another interesting finding from the study involves what the researchers called Risk Agency. Basically, this looked at whether anyone was “at fault.” Was a risk accidental or intentional? Teens more frequently shared that risk exposure was accidental and parents tended to assume that their children were either victims or intended to engage in risk. Parents tended to assume that things that were accidentally viewed by their children were intentional.

In my work with parents, I often stress communication. This study also looked at parent teen communication. In most cases, teens did NOT tell their parents about risk they experienced online. The bigger problem is that the parents THOUGHT that their teens were talking to them when they were not. When teens did talk to parents, it was to ask them for help or when they were shocked by content they had seen. Another main reason why teens did not tell parents about risk exposure was the fear that the parent would react negatively. They didn’t want to be punished for things that were not their fault. Teens also did not want to hear a lecture from their parents that involved reprimand. Teens tended to find the reactions of parents: grounding, taking away phones, disallowing social media, etc. to be too harsh.

What are the practical take aways from this study? First, teens only tell their parents about 28% of the risk they encounter online. Parents under estimate risk and over estimate how much their child tells them. Teens tend to think many online risk situations are “no big deal.” Teens also find parents as lecturing, reactive and judgmental about risk they do share.

The study and clinical practice suggest that parents need to work hard to improve their communication with their teen about online activity, risk and resilience. If a parent can share discussions with their child about how to manage online risk before it happens in a nonjudgmental, non-lecturing manner, they will likely increase the chances of their teen talking to them about their online experiences. If parents want to know what is going on in their teens online world, they need to specifically ask what is going on and not assume that their child will tell them.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Rethinking Online Safety Apps

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

 

After spending last year finishing my book, I am about to launch a very busy spring and summer of public talks and professional presentations about both adolescent cybersex and adult sexual addiction.  In preparation, I have again dug into the research to see what is new since I published my book, The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.  Dr. Pamela Wisniewski, now at the University of Central Florida, has continued her research (started at Penn State) on online safety.  She is doing great work and the world outside of academia needs to know about it!

Dr. Wisniewski recently presented some of her work at an ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) conference where she presented her TOSS model of mobile online safety.  She presented data on an analysis of 75 Android apps that promote teen online safety.  Her goal in doing this study was to see what these apps did and how they fit into her TOSS model.   Toss stands for Teen Online Safety Strategies.  Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues created this model to frame and discuss the disparity between parental control and teen self-regulation.  This model looks at how parents try to regulate their child’s online safety and what teens need to learn to do it for themselves.

From the perspective of a parent, the model identifies three strategies that parents use to monitor teens online activity.  Monitoring is a strategy in which parents passively monitor their child’s online activity.  Restriction involves placing rules and limits on the teen’s online activity.  Both strategies do not involve discussing the topic with the child.  The third strategy is Active Mediation.  This involves discussions between parents and teens regarding online activities and how they will be handled.

The TOSS model also stresses Teen Self-Regulation.  This too falls into three categories.  These are skills that teens need to learn, both to deal with the digital world and in life in general.  The first skill is Self-Monitoring, which is a teens awareness of their motivations and actions that comes through self-observation.  The second is impulse control.  Teens need to learn to inhibit their short-term desires in favor of long term consequences.  The final issue is that of risk-coping.  Teens are exposed to risk all the time and they need to learn how to manage a negative event once it has happened.

This study found that nearly all the app features, (89%), were targeted at parents and only 11% at teens.  Monitoring and Restriction were supported by most the online safety apps.  Education on the topic was only supported by 2% of the apps and active parental mediation was only supported by less than 1% of the apps.  The news was not any better for teen coping strategies.  At most, 4% of the apps supported any teen self-regulation, self-monitoring or impulse control features.

When the researchers looked at what values were supported by the apps, they found that parental authority and teen safety were valued over teen autonomy and personal privacy.  They also found that parental control through invasion of privacy and restrictions was valued over open communication with teens.  Finally, they found that, for teens, asking for help was valued over trying to actively cope.

If you are a parent concerned about your child’s online safety, you might say “so what.”  I want to know that my child is safe online so I restrict their access to things.  Enough said.  Maybe not.

The research on resilience shows us that teens develop effective coping mechanisms to protect themselves online when they are exposed to some level of risk.  When we use strategies that only enforce transparency and obedience in teens, we do not allow them to learn coping and self-regulation.

The most effective strategy remains that of parental active mediation.  Parents and teens NEED to have discussions about online safety.  This does not mean that a parent cannot use an app that restricts or monitors.  It means that the parent and the child talk about the risks of being online, including pornography use, sexting, cyberbullying etc.  Then they decide together how best to manage the environment in a way that fits with their family values.

As a parent, you will not always be there to shield your child from online risk.  We need to foster the appropriate TOSS skills in teens (and younger children) to help ensure that they can navigate the online world in a healthy manner even when you are not around.

 

Wisniewski, Ghosh, Zu, Rosson & Carroll.  (2017).  Parental Control vs. Teen Self-Regulation:  Is there a middle ground for mobile online safety?  Presented at CSCW ’17 in Portland, OR 2/25 0 3/1/17

For more information on Dr. Weeks please go to Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.

Not Your Father’s Porn

Computer Key - Porn

One of the many comments I often hear when talking about pornography and young people is, “What’s the big deal? I saw my dad’s playboy when I was a kid and I’m ok.” This statement is true on many accounts. Yes, many people grew up sneaking a peek at a Playboy or Penthouse magazine and they never developed a pornography addiction. True, many people watched pornography when they were young and never developed a pornography addiction. So why are we worried about this now?

Today’s pornography is not your father’s porn. Not only has the internet made access to pornography nearly unlimited, it has also shaped the types of pornography available. Today’s internet pornography is much more aggressive than the pornography produced in the pre-internet age and when it was in its early days. Studies show that 88% of scenes in the most popular pornography show physical aggression and 94% of that aggression is aimed at women. Common sexually aggressive acts include slapping, choking, gagging and verbal aggression. Young people who are being exposed to pornography without any education about it are viewing pornography that is frequently aggressive. This often becomes their idea of what sex is supposed to look like. Therefore, young people can come away with the belief that sex is supposed to be rough and aggressive all the time.

Not only does today’s pornography frequently show acts of sexual aggression directed toward women, but it also overwhelmingly shows that women enjoy these acts of aggression. So not only does current pornography tell its viewers that it is ok to be aggressive in sex, it also tells them that women like it. What teens see on pornography videos, they frequently act out in real life. This means that they will possibly try these aggressive acts out with a partner as a matter of course. They won’t talk to their partner about them or negotiate consent.

What we are talking about is the mainstreaming of aggressive sex. I do want to take a minute to differentiate that from BDSM practices. Some people are aroused by acts of physical aggression, humiliation, etc. There is one key difference between acts practiced by those who embrace BDSM and what is seen in pornography. A key concept in the practice of BDSM is consent and care. People who are engaging together have talked about behaviors, consent and safe words. They have communicated about the sexual aggression ahead of time. This is not a practice that mainstream pornography is depicting. Mainstream pornography is often depicting rough sex as something that every woman wants.

Yes, many people who grew up before internet pornography often did view magazines or movies on that old VHS or even DVD player. The pornography that was readily available pre-internet is fundamentally different than what is frequently produced in the fast paced internet pornography age. When you think about your child’s exposure to online pornography, please do not think of it in terms of a rather innocuous Playboy centerfold. Parents need to be aware of the nature of internet pornography and what their children may be seeing. It becomes the parent’s responsibility to teach them that what they see in pornography is not what real life sex looks like. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach about consent and treating partners with dignity and respect.

For more on this topic, please watch The Porn Factor available on www.itstimewetalked.com.au. Also, please read The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age for more detailed information on the effect of pornography on children and how to talk about it.

Things 8 year olds say: I’ve seen videos of people kissing each other in their private parts

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

Sometimes I think I should rename this blog, the parenting chronicles of my amazing friend in North Carolina. I wrote about her experiences before when she shared with me that her eldest daughter was witness to a friend sexting on the school bus at the beginning of the school year. This week, she shared something she overheard while her youngest child, 7, was playing with a neighbor.

My friend, let’s call her Pam to give her some privacy, was outside overseeing her children play with the neighbor children. She overtly acknowledges that she loves these neighbor children. They are very good kids. Their parents are great parents who are active in their lives, in the community and in the church. Pam’s kids love these kids too. As a reminder, Pam is a proactive parent. She talks to her children about all things, including sexuality, sexting, etc. She has filters on her family’s technology as she has children of multiple ages and does not want them accessing inappropriate material in the home. But she also knows that she has little control over what goes on in the homes of their friends or on the technology of her children’s friends.

She relayed the following story: “Yesterday my youngest, who is merely 7 years old, was playing with some neighborhood kids in my side yard….
One of them had a cell phone with her that has a plan and data so she can watch whatever she wants wherever she wants whenever she wants. I heard my child complaining about how she doesn’t have a phone and about how annoyed she is that our internet is completely locked down and they don’t get to surf the web…as she put it. The little girl who had the phone chimed in an
d said she gets to watch whatever she wants. That she found videos of people who kiss each other in their private places. I almost fell over”

Being in possession of emotion regulation skills, Pam did not freak out but made a mental note. She now is going to head over to the neighbor’s house and let them know what she overheard. She is nervous about the conversation because she really likes all parties involved and she doesn’t want any hard feelings between anyone in the relationships.

What lessons do we learn here? Access to the internet should be age appropriate. Young children, like Pam’s child’s 8-year-old friend, should not have unfettered access to the internet. It is simply not age appropriate. Additionally, she should not have unfettered access to the internet without any parental discussion of what she might find. As the girl gets older, in conjunction with good discussions between parents and child, those restrictions can be lessened.

This story brings home what those of us in the field already know. Young children are accidentally exposed to pornography. It happens. And it happens a lot. When I teach, we use the statistic that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is 10. I also always use the proviso that this is old data so the age is likely younger, in this case 8. This child did not intentionally look for pornography. She saw a video of something that she did not understand. She also did not talk to her parents about it. However, she knew that it was to be kept secret.

The moral of this story. Please don’t be in DENIAL. Start talking to your children about this topic early in an age appropriate fashion. Do not let their sex education begin with the accidental viewing of pornography. Do not give young children unfiltered access to the internet. They are not developmentally ready yet! Most of all, BE AWARE and TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN.

To learn more about the effects of cybersex on children and how to talk to your child, order my book: The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.