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I've recently had a quick look at my son's iPod touch and found a large google searches for various pornographic phrases.

He's a little bit advanced in terms of hormones, etc. (e.g. voice broken, etc. while his friends haven't).

I have sat him down and had a long talk to him about the wrongness of porn (abuse, placing false expectations, etc) as matter of factly as possible and also explained that everything you do on the Internet is tracked, and told him of the trouble we as parents could be in just for the fact that he's been exposed to it. I've also taken away his access to his iPod touch & our computer.

We'd already given him the "facts of life" talk, etc. a couple of months ago.

Anyone have any suggestions about what we should do (or should have done)?

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    Have you tried adding some parental controls to the browser so he cant access adult content? I apologize but I don' t have one to suggest, but I am sure they exist. – user7678 Apr 29 '15 at 22:19
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    Not everyone would agree about the 'wrongness' of porn. There are concerns with it, of course. Also, I don't see how you'd be in trouble. Kids watch porn. Always have. Always will. Like with a lot of vices in life, you may want to take an approach of educating rather than scaring. – DA01 Apr 30 '15 at 1:04
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    @DA01 Regardless of the parent's beliefs on the matter, many places have laws regarding child abuse and sexual abuse the prohibit the exposure of child to pornographic materials. Kids may try to do it anyway, but neglect/abuse laws may specifically have provisions that find parents culpable for lack of supervision. So, depending on his local laws, there could be trouble. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 1:34
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    @MarkBailey Did you just equate dressing skimpily with porn? That seems like the exact kind of mindset that leads to victim-blaming. That last sentence is entirely unnecessary. Also, the child in question is not a teen, but 11. As I mentioned in my last comment, the age may be a factor in local laws. In Iowa, for instance, some crimes with 11-year-olds or younger are more severe than those with 12- and 13-year olds. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 1:38
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    @CreationEdge yep, but that would have nothing to do with a teenage boy surfing the web. – DA01 Apr 30 '15 at 3:52
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There's no universal answer to this question. It's going to vary heavily depending on all sorts of factors. I can merely offer my own POV.

I'd start by considering that you can't rid the world of porn. If your child is looking for it, they will find it no matter. So I'd accept the fact that they will be looking at it.

As such, I think--as with many things in life--education is the best option. Explain why people may watch it, that it's normal to have those feelings, and that (perhaps most importantly) it's all fantasy and one should remember to not consider any of it real and indicative of actual relationships. I'd also point out that, like a lot of vices in life (like drugs and playing video games) many people struggle with addiction. Moderation is key.

You can still disapprove as a parent, and even forbid, but make sure that educating part is there and treated honestly.

As for the comments that porn is 'wrong' and that you as a parent can get in trouble, realize that that is by no means a universally shared opinion, so you may be injecting your own personal opinions a bit too heavily into the education part of the equation. That's certainly within your right as a parent, but something to keep in mind.

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    I don't think there's anything wrong with this answer, but I think it could be greatly improved with some resources. There is substantial information out there that corroborates your opinion, and it's very accessible. There are also articles that deal with this exact situation, such as What to Do If Your Child Is Looking at Porn. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 1:43
  • @CreationEdge this is parenting.se. We parents have no time for that. :) (I kid, you make a very good point...please feel free to add your citations to the answer if you'd like). – DA01 Apr 30 '15 at 3:54
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It seems like stepping backwards through time, but most pediatricians and many psychologists recommend against kids having computers or televisions in their rooms. With the advent of hand held devices and lap tops used for school work, this seems like a thing of the past, but it doesn't need to be, although a parent would need an iron will to enforce this today.

Anyone have any suggestions about what we should do (or should have done)?

Unless you have younger children, should have is in the rear view mirror. It's very important that you not beat yourself up over it. You didn't knowingly neglect your son. Unfortunately, exposure to sexually explicit materials is in fact becoming a normative experience.

There are all kinds of spyware available, from software that takes a secret photo of the desktop at regular intervals to software that blocks nearly every site on the internet because there is a suggestive word somewhere on the site, and everything in between. Read about it and use whatever you think might work. Don't dismiss it on the basis that he'll watch pornography on a friend's computer. That's outside of your control, but what goes on in your house or on devices you allow him to use are your domain.

The only additional suggestions I have are:

  • Educate yourself (enough that you can back it up with plenty of studies)
  • Talk about it (more rather than less)

Read about the effect that exposure to sexually explicit materials has on pre-pubertal, pubertal, and post-pubertal males and females. What you learn might be fairly disconcerting.

By the end of middle school many teens have seen sexually explicit content not only on the Internet but in more traditional forms of media as well. Such exposure is related to early adolescents’ developing sense of gender roles, sexual relationships, and sexual behavior, including perpetration of sexual harassment. These analyses suggest that sexually explicit media should be considered important, but not necessarily healthy, agents in early adolescents’ sexual socialization.

Talk, ask questions about, and be actively involved in the formation of your son's ideas regarding sex, gender roles, objectification of women, etc. Discuss the morality or immorality, the practicality or impracticality, and the potential outcomes of his beliefs in a rational and relatively unemotional manner. Will that embarrass him? Sure it will. But it's a fact of life, not more embarrassing than the fact that you used to change his diapers or wipe his bottom until he could do it himself. Fifteen years from now when your son is married is a sad time to discover that he finds porn more exciting than his lovely new wife. Think of what you will wish you had said and done and do it now.*

Discuss love, sex and birth control. Most pubertal boys will start experimenting with sex within 2-3 years of starting to look at pornography. Start those discussions (it's not a one-time deal) now. Make sure he knows that whatever he chooses to do, getting someone pregnant is not an acceptable option. Being old enough to (hopefully love and) have sex should also mean being old enough to care for the well-being of the person he's (hopefully loving and) having sex with.

*In my work with adolescents and adults with addictions, the topic surfaces not infrequently, and the degree to which it affects people is no longer shocking at all. In retrospect, I'm very grateful that I had these difficult talks with my kids. They aren't immaculate because of it, but I did what I reasonably could to encourage not only physical health, but emotional health as well.

X-Rated: Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors Associated With U.S. Early Adolescents' Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media

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    I like the long-term, "not a one-time deal" approach you suggest. Helping guide kids through sexual development is certainly an ongoing process and encompasses a wide range of topics. – Acire Apr 30 '15 at 11:06
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My son did this as well. We proceeded with education as DA01 described above. My husband is more of a doer and I am more of a talker so the kids often turn to me to understand things. We explained our position as well, that it wasn't acceptable. The worst I found after that was a Victoria's Secret catalog in his room.

I am big on listening to my kids point of view and explaining everything I can to them in an age appropriate way. As a result, they have come to me about worries with pot, girlfriend/boyfriend issues etc as they have gone through their teens and early 20's. If you haven't had this kind of relationship with him, it isn't too late! Try to talk on his level (not "down" to him) and encourage him to ask questions.

I would keep the electronics away until after the talk or whatever limit you set as consistency is important with consequences. If you explain that it is a CONSEQUENCE of his misbehavior rather than a punishment, it helps him to accept his responsibility for your action. I try to tailor my actions to any infraction in this manner so they don't just learn to watch time they learn that each action has a consequence - good or bad.

You know your child best. In light of how technology has advanced and how smart kids can be with it, parental controls sound like a great option as well. When I dealt with this issue 9 years ago, the parental controls were spotty at best and my son was writing code that he had figured out in his own so I didn't use that. It won't prevent him from looking at it with friends, but the more you talk with him on the subject, the more he will make his own informed decisions. He probably won't want to look uncool and walk away if his friends try to involve him, but he won't seek it out as fervently either.

This is just advice from my own experience and each child is different. The more confident he is in his choices due to your education and love, the better decisions he will make (hopefully). It has enabled my 16 year old daughter to choose not to smoke with her ex-friends so that she doesn't mess up her future. Best wishes!

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  • Personally, I want to be a grandmother some day, and I want to see my son have a healthy, mutually supportive relationship with his life partner. A Victoria's Secret catalog would seem to me to be a helpful resource in the path toward that goal. A great resource for my husband and me has been healthystrokes.com. – aparente001 May 2 '15 at 14:43
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I'm going to offer you an option, a description of how things work at my house, for you to consider. I have two boys.

Each child gets a cell phone and a laptop when he goes to college. On the other hand, he gets a simple mp3 player that does not connect to the internet, as soon as he can be trusted not to lose it. The desktop computer is in the living room. The child doesn't have an account on either parent's laptop. The child's desktop account has strict controls, which get gradually relaxed as the child matures. Age 11 at our house generally needs maximum controls. I do not allow google and I especially do not allow google images at that age.

On the other hand, if the child wants to buy himself a magazine with curvy ladies from the drug store... I can live with that.

I think some of the porn-seeking behavior is a bit like a moth seeking the flame.

Also, I think an over-exposure to pornography can get both young men and young women confused about what they think one is supposed to enjoy, versus what they and their partner do enjoy. And it takes away some of the miracle of discovery with the partner.

If you don't have a good book written for boys about sexuality on hand, it would be a good idea to pick one up. The one I chose last year for my then 11yo is called "It's Perfectly Normal." You have to go to the bookstore and browse, so you can choose something that feels right for you and your son, though.

You can go to the movies together, as a family; the movies you choose can get very gradually a little more risqué. You want him to have mental images of healthy, realistic romantic interactions. I don't mean people having sex -- I mean people developing relationships, feeling attraction, figuring out how to act on those interests, getting through difficulties, etc., and you want the child to see some images of kissing, hugging and caressing in this context.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Can you give him back some computer access, but with safety built in? On our Windows 7 desktop, we have had good results with Windows Live Family Safety, which is free. I can choose the settings my child needs.

A couple of times a week, I sit down at the desktop with my son, and we go on my account (no controls!) and we surf TOGETHER. I have absolute veto power.

Try to find some adjustments that will convey the message to your son that what happened was understandable and normal (but not healthy), and that you don't blame him. So that he doesn't feel guilty about what happened. You might want to discreetly point out the curvy ladies magazine section next time you're in the drug store.

I hope some of our customs give you some ideas for things that will work for you and your son.

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Once the internet appeared there was no way to put that particular cat back in the bag. Anybody who gets on the internet is going to be exposed to porn.

My husband and I have come to the conclusion that the only way to deal with porn is to pull its teeth as best we can. When my son has questions about things he sees on the computer, we just react with a shoulder shrug and make it clear that yes, scummy people put pictures like that on the internet but the best thing to do is just ignore them and click the little "x" box.

We don't get emotional or emphatic because we don't want to give porn importance. Trivialize it, and the people who put it up. My husband is pretty frank with our kids about subjects that most people are uncomfortable with. I appreciate the fact that my kids feel they can go to him with questions and concerns. The trick is to judge the porn without judging your kids for asking about it.

You can put in all sorts of parential controls but that runs the risk of deepening the thrill-of-the-forbidden factor. There's a difference between being knowledgeable and being obsessed.

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  • "Anybody who gets on the internet is going to be exposed to porn" -- only those who can't be bothered to lock safe search, and install a filter. – aparente001 May 2 '15 at 4:01
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    @aparente001, safe search and filters only work against accidental exposure. If someone's deliberately looking for it, those are trivial to bypass. – Mark May 2 '15 at 22:30
  • @Mark, I have two boys. They have not managed to crack my internet controls. I use Windows Live Family Safety. - - - My husband gave the 12yo a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Magazine as a birthday present last month. He's happy with that. - - - I don't know if our experience is unusual. Have you had a child crack your safety features? – aparente001 May 3 '15 at 3:48
  • @aparente001, no, I was the one cracking the safety features. (Still am, but as an adult, I've got a much wider range of tools to work with.) – Mark May 3 '15 at 4:49
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    I've got several friends who are very tech savvy, so their kids have absorbed much of that through repeated exposure. By the time their kids were old enough to want to search for porn, they were certainly old enough to figure out how to get around the restrictions set on them. Not easily, but unless you are pretty techie yourself your kids are going to leave you in the dust. Just type "how to get around parential restrictions" into google and see what you get. – Francine DeGrood Taylor May 4 '15 at 16:43

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