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.  

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.

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.