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Guarding Kids From Online Porn

The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared the month of June to be Internet Safety Month.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared the month of June to be Internet Safety Month. Keeping kids safe online is a year-round challenges � and that means knowing what they have access to.

A growing number of teens around the country admit they've logged onto pornographic websites

Ask about online pornography, and it's clear many kids have seen it.

12-year-old David says, "There's a lot of bad stuff on the Internet, like porn."

14-year-old Annelise says, "Sometimes if you're just looking for a picture, or if you're looking for something not gross at all, all of a sudden all this gross stuff pops up."

12-year-old Kaveh says, "You feel all nasty, and just kind of trashy, and dirty, and you just kind of want to maybe go take a shower or something, but it doesn't feel right for the whole day."

Psychologists say there are many reasons why viewing porn can be harmful to kids. First, they may become interested in sex before they are ready.

Dr. Colleen Taylor, a licensed psychologist in metro-Atlanta says, "Research does indicate that when children are exposed to sexually explicit information or images, that they do become more sexually active at an earlier age."

And research shows that, for some, online porn is addictive. "One begins to need more and more intense stimuli in order to produce the same type of arousal," says Dr. Taylor. "It creates a greater appetite for more bizarre, more violent, more deviant types of sexual images. So what you really see is a progression from what you might call soft core pornography to more hard core."

She says when viewing porn goes beyond simple curiosity parents need to find out why. Dr. Taylor says, "You want to find out if there are other areas in their life that aren't going so well, that maybe they are using pornography to kind of escape."

She recommends parents get a filter to block porn on your home computer. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.

13-year-old Hannah says, "A lot of things are kind of gross on the Internet, so child blocks are always a good thing."

What Parents Need To Know

In the past, pornography was mainly limited to artwork, magazines and the red-light districts. With the advent of the Internet and cable television, however, pornography has now made its way into our family rooms, home offices and kids' bedrooms. It is easily � and often inadvertently -- accessible by children and teenagers, and parents must work even harder to prevent their children from becoming addicted to it.

The best cure for addiction is prevention. Experts at the Jacob Wetterling Foundation developed the following tips to help parents prevent their children from becoming addicted to pornography:

  • Place home computers in a central area of the house, not a child's bedroom or secluded area. Make surfing the Internet a family experience.
  • Talk with your children about what they can and cannot do online, while trying to understand their needs, interests and curiosity.
  • Know your child's password and screen names; they may have more than one.
  • Set reasonable time limits on computer use, and ensure that your children adhere to the limitations.
  • You should also realize that children may be accessing the Internet from outside the home, such as friend's homes, work, libraries and school.
  • Be open with your children and encourage them to come to you if they encounter a problem online.
  • Explore filtering and blocking software, which is used to sort information on the Internet and classify it according to content. A major drawback is that some filtering may block innocent sites, while many "negative" sites still get past the filters. Though these programs can be great assets, parents still need to maintain open communication with their children to inform and protect them.

Many parents may suspect their children of being sexually addicted, but may not be sure of the warning signs. Victor Cline, Ph.D., an expert on pornography and its effects, encourages parents to be on the lookout for the following symptoms of sexual addiction:

  • A pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior
  • Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior, and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences
  • Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior
  • Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior
  • Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy
  • Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer satisfying
  • Severe mood changes related to sexual activity
  • Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual and/or recovering from sexual experiences
  • Neglect of important social, occupational or recreational activities because of sexual behavior

If you discover your child viewing pornography or you know it is a problem in his/her life, reassure him/her. Let your child know that while you don't agree with the use of pornography, you still love them and expect them to do better. Rob Jackson, a professional counselor specializing in sexual addiction and codependency, suggests taking the following four-area approach to prevent the possibility of your child using pornography in the future:

  • Behavioral � Behavioral approaches attempt to prevent a scenario from developing in the first place. The house and grounds, for example, should be purged of all pornography. Media should be carefully screened for "triggers" that serve as gateways to acting-out. If the problem occurred with the Internet, a filter can be one of your strategies, although it can never replace parental supervision and involvement. Other common sense approaches include moving the computer to the family room where others can easily view the screen, limiting the time on the computer and making sure no one is alone on the Internet, and developing a mission statement that directs the family's use of the computer and the Internet.
  • Cognitive � Pornography generates destructive myths about sexuality. Once your child is exposed, it will be critically important to initiate a comprehensive sex education program, if you have not already done so. The child will need to learn what and how to think about sexuality. More than mere behaviors, parents will want to communicate the core values of sexuality, the multifaceted risks of sex outside of marriage, and their ongoing compassion for what it must be like to grow up in this culture.
  • Emotive � Sex is inherently emotional. Premarital sex has even been linked with codependency, where at least one person becomes compelled or addicted to be in relationship with another. The youth culture would lead you to believe that sex is not necessarily emotional for them � don't believe it. Sexual relations of any type bond the bodies, minds and spirits of two individuals. At the conscious level, this attachment is largely emotional. Your children need to understand that emotional attachment is often involuntary, and especially when the relationship has been compromised sexually.
  • Spiritual � At its core, sexual integrity comes down to a spiritual commitment. Share your beliefs with your children, and explain to them the reasons to avoid the trappings of pornography. A strong spiritual foundation can be the best prevention method against pornography.
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