What should parents do when they discover that their young teen or preteen has been looking at pornography sites online? And what does it mean?
Based on a survey of online victimization conducted by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, only a small percentage of kids seek out pornography on purpose, and most respond appropriately by quickly leaving the site, though few report such incidents to parents (Wolak et al., 2006). Exposure to sexually explicit content online can occur very easily through a misdirected Google search using an innocent word such as “toy,” a misspelled word or URL, a misleading website or email, or a link or photo sent by a peer or through spam (Wolak et al, 2007).
When evaluating what it means that your child is viewing sexually explicit material, before reacting or drawing conclusions, the first step is to assess the situation to find out what is really going on and whether there is a problem. Is this an ongoing issue? How many times has this occurred? Does this seem to be a habit? Are there other changes in behavior, mood or sleep? Is your child isolating himself?
Find out how your child has encountered these sites. Does anyone else at home frequent these websites or suffer from a hidden sexual addiction? When others at home with access to the computer -have a hidden sex addiction, children are exposed to such material with or without the parent’s knowledge, giving the child more opportunity and temptation to explore such websites themselves.
What are the sites the child is going to and what is he looking at? For example, the meaning and effect of looking up the word “sex” on “ehow.com” (a website that is an “encyclopedia” of sorts on how to do anything) is different from watching porn videos online. Children may look for, or view, sites at first out of curiosity after having stumbled upon them – or to find out about sex. When the motivation is curiosity, the diagnosis could simply be “teenager” or “preteen”, the impact benign, and prognosis good.
However, viewing pornography, especially in an ongoing way, can have potentially detrimental effects on children, and may be motivated or perpetuated by loneliness, isolation and compulsion.
What are the potential negative effects of viewing online pornography?
In the absence of any context, and without having learned about or known healthy sexuality, children may experience depictions of sex as confusing and take the images they see to be representative models of adult behavior. They are thereby introduced to sex before they are ready through images they do not understand, which often involve sexual deviations, and sex detached from relationship or meaning, responsibility, and intimacy.