Filter a child from online porn? Stop worrying

A columnist in my local newspaper recently lamented about the difficulty in “protecting” her child from online pornography. Her child wasn’t searching for the stuff, she explains. But porn is so pervasive in everyday media, that you needn’t search for it to be saturated with it. Not just the subtle innuendo of marketing & commerce—but the hard core variety and even the illegal variety. It appears in many web searches and it is often marketed in a deceptive manner designed to appear across all venues.

The idea of a child coming across something for which they lack context, experience and the curiosity that grows with hormones is disturbing. A common reaction is to shriek, shut off the screen or become hysterical. But what really works? I have an unorthodox approach to the issue of online safety and brief exposure to sexual imagery…

Today, I was contacted by a porn-filtering organization that seeks my endorsement. Like spam filters (a necessary technology) they offer a technical approach to the problem. Of course, they don’t condemn my approach (it’s called parenting), but they claim that an electronic babysitter (I call it a censor) will block exposure to horrific content: Apparently, the potential exposure of a child or preteen to any image of a naked adult fits their definition of “horrific”.

I say, “Why bother?!” Exactly what is the goal of this shield? Will it protect your child’s values, chastity or save her from nightmares? In my opinion, it defeats all of these goals. And so, here is my response to the founder of a porn filtering vendor…
_____________

Hi Martin. On your web page for My Porn Blocker, you say:

“One day while at the dinner table my 7 year old daughter
asked me why some people are naked on the computer.
My wife and I nearly fell out of our chairs.”

Additionally, your marketing video begins with a description of your “horror” in finding a racy web site on your son’s PC.

I also have a young daughter and, of course, she occasionally comes across online pornography. After all, it is pervasive – and clearly – it is important to many adults

A naked human. I’m ruined for life!

(either the soft core type used for marketing, or the hard-core material that is a market unto itself). That’s why there is so much of it.

While I respect your desire to shield children from material you find offen-sive or contrary to your values, I am puzzled by parents seeking technical help in filtering what children see on the internet or in media. The answer is parenting. Of course, porn will continue to pop-up, even if you surf the web with your child. But consider a more thoughtful response to her curiosity. Why not answer truthfully and in a manner that is age appropriate?

  • Mommy! Why are there so many naked people on the internet?

There are many photos like these, because some adults like to view naked people. The world is filled with all sorts of different people. They have many different preferences – and viewing naked people is something that lots of people seem to enjoy.

  • What is this person doing? It looks painful!

No—They are not in pain. In fact, they are either having a lot of fun, or they are actors pretending to do these things. In either case, they are doing things that you are not ready for—both physically: it would hurt, and emotionally: you need to develop other types of relationships before you play the adult games shown in these pictures.

Some photos are patently offensive, I won’t fault you for closing a sexy or violent web page before answering. But make no mistake: It is you who cannot handle the momentary exposure of off-topic content–and not her. As you move on to other web pages, you will be surprised by the maturity with which your child accepts an age-appropriate response.

Will she ask friends at school about the lewd photos? Of course! That’s life. Discussion is a healthy response to anything that is unexpected or shocking. But if you are consistent, loving and non-hysterical, your daughter will assess all available information through the lens of a consistent upbringing and shared family values.

We have used this approach with our child since she was 4. Since the age of 8, she has owned her own PC. We allow her to surf the web unattended. Although we don’t overtly monitor activity, the computer is in an open location. We have never felt it necessary to log and track the web sites that she visits – and we certainly don’t user filters.

Are we fooling ourselves? I doubt it. By 6 or 7, she was aware that sex is fun for adults and culturally pervasive. She knows that older teens talk about it frequently and she is peripherally aware that adults have individual, unique and sometimes very odd predilections. That is, they engage in a broad & seemingly bizarre array of behavior. Most kids figure this out because they listen to adults and because they are not blind to web sites & films that allude to unusual fetishes.

Should you care? I certainly don’t lose any sleep. My daughter will make up her mind about these things when her hormones and values tell her that it is time to explore. And even at 8 and 9, she realized this. As parents, we guide her to make the right decisions with our experience and insight, rather than attempt to censor web sites.

Prior to that time, I am convinced that shielding children from accidental exposure to porn is both futile and counterproductive. Of course, the parents are shocked—but for a young child, porn lacks the prurient stimulus that it has for adults. It may prompt occasional questions or discussion with peers, but this is not a bad thing! Believe it or not, a consistent message at home will trump the input from a few dissenting peers.

I typically end these personal pearls of advice with the glib and über confident tag line: “So sayeth Ellery”…but not today. I realize that, like Martin, many WildDucks want to control their children and reinforce values by blocking content. For what it’s worth, you now have another side to this story. That’s my 2¢.

5 thoughts on “Filter a child from online porn? Stop worrying

  1. All heartily Agreed.
    My son, Uly, 10 years old, got his 1st Internet connection at age 1½.
    Can you imagine filtering his traffic for all these years?
    We always answered his questions straight forward, in the manner described by Ellery.
    This helped Uly to develop his own positive ability to “filter” data.

  2. You have the right idea. All I would worry about is predatory adults who pretend to be kids and lure them into bad stuff.

    Growing up, my parents and I were comfortable being around each other without clothes. As we got dressed or undressed, we had no issues or discomfort with nudity. My parents shared where babies came from, etc. I was around nature and saw nature in action. I’ve never understood why people make such an issue of nudity, nor even sexuality. After all, this is life.

    I feel that the whole issue gets blown out of proportion. But it is violence that is more offensive and its media connection to sex. The violent aspect needs to be regulated and not the nudity.

    The important threat from which we must protect children are potential predators, who disguising themselves as friends, can lure them into bad situations. Thus, a kind of monitoring process–that of keeping an eye on things as one does with children.

    Perhaps the innocence of childhood is lost sooner these days, perhaps a kind of wisdom is gained, who knows?

  3. I have not previously encountered such level-headed, well-thought parenting advice on a subject that generates blind hysteria and herd-following fear. In like your quip about accidental exposure: “Only the parents are shocked.” Exactly! It is classic Freudian transference.

    You make an excellent case for a non-hysterical approach to parenting. Hysterics, of course, is the method by which many parents try to inhibit sexual awareness. It goes hand in hand with suppression and striving for innocence (actually, ‘ignorance’). When suppression of all things sexual rises to a fear of accidental exposure, the result is counter productive because it elevates the likelihood of risky & secretive behavior. Dr. Ruth and Helen Gurley Brown would nod in agreement. Although your position is obvious to you, Ellery, I suspect that most parents find it either creepy or foreign. Yet, any rational analysis will conclude that it is eminantly logical.

    And quite articulate, Mr. Ellery Blogger. Very, very well put, indeed!

    — E. Charles Prague

  4. This month, some Facebook moms threw a hissy fit over a free issue of GQ Magazine included with some shipments of clothes from Lands’ End catalog (August 2014). The company specializes in school uniforms and other children’s outfits.

    All parties acknowledge that the pairing was unfortunate (effectively, delivering soft porn with a curbside delivery of kids’ clothes), and some parents wrote to Lands’ End in anger and with fingers wagging. The clothes vendor was properly embarrassed and issued a written apology, explaining that the GQ publisher is a marketing partner and that controls would be added to separate what is effectively G-rated venues from PG-13 or R-rated advertisements (the comparison to movie ratings is my own…and was not cited by Lands’ End).

    Maria Mora, an editor at Sheknows.com, highlighted the brouhaha in a great piece. (I think it’s great, because the controversy leads us to identical conclusions)…
    Mom’s freak out on Facebook after Lands’ End mails a sexy GQ Magazine

    But Maria did not side with outraged parents. In fact, her opinion matches our WildDuck perspective, above. “Chill out, folks!” But, I give Maria credit for stating it more eloquently, succinctly and with far more compelling panache…

    • Outraged moms throw hissy fit over boobs.
      This time, it’s not about breastfeeding

      [Excerpt]

      The model on the cover is definitely naked, barring strategically-placed flowers, but the pose is hardly pornographic. Are kids being raised with no concept of what a woman’s breasts look like? Are girls and boys fed the notion that nude bodies are dirty and shameful?

      My sons, ages 5 and 8, both saw the cover of the magazine. Neither of them spent more than a second or two studying it. They’ve seen me topless, and I’ve made it clear that there’s nothing gross or weird about a woman’s body. I’m not about to show them legit porn — in fact I’ve often forwarded through So You Think You Can Dance performances when they’re really racy. But a topless, beautiful woman on a beach isn’t going to destroy the foundation of a family or send a child into some kind of rabbit hole of confused debauchery.

      Even if an older kid ends up having some stirrings over the sexy image, it won’t be the last time that happens. Entertainment media is saturated with images of women’s bodies in various states of undress. If anything, use the moment of outrage as a teaching moment — not to teach kids that bodies and sex are dirty, but to talk about the male gaze and the disproportionate number of magazine covers that feature undressed women.

      Boobs aren’t a big deal. If we want to normalize using them to feed our babies, we should chill out about cleavage and sideboob and slightly suggestive magazine covers. Our kids don’t deserve our hang-ups, they deserve to know that bodies are just bodies, capable of nourishing babies — and making babies.

  5. While I have no problem with your view of parenting I’d like to point out that not all parents are adept at this level of communication.

    Also you over use the word ‘we’. Single parent families have issues that include lack of time (assuming they work 2 jobs and don’t just sit on the welfare couch while said child surfs porn in their room), lack of energy etc among many many other things. It’s the children of single parent families most at risk from violence, crime, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse, self abuse, unemployment, poor health and suicide. God (small g) forbid a young impressionable mind confuses sex with the affection they never had as a young child.

    Also what is there to be lost by potentially delaying a young child’s first encounter with porn. Perhaps until they are in double digits and basic sex education (parent providing) is out of the way.

    It’s one thing to show your child photos of herpes or genital wart infected genitals as a wake up call. But I’d rather my child not stumble upon snuff / torture porn (real graphic violence, sexual or otherwise) until we’ve tackled god, religion, war and other mental afflictions that affect the weaker among us.

    So thumbs up to good parenting that includes both your approach and the use of filters where appropriate. You wasted a good opportunity in promoting so many things about good parenting or perhaps the company in question was only interested in $$$.

    On the topic of filters, our house is a no TV, no celebrity gossip house. It’s not ‘enforced’. Just nobody wants to watch that drivel. And nobody wants to be like so and so because they really don’t care about so and so.
    Anything we watch is downloaded. If we find something stupid / offensive / boring it gets deleted mid way through. We all have hobbies. We make things or go and play outside. We live in a fashion conscious fast paced city and everyone fits in just fine with fun and busy schedules.

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