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Online Safety: Protecting Your Kids from Cyberporn

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Step 1: Stay Aware

Understanding your teen's virtual reality is a good place to start. That doesn't mean becoming a Facebook fanatic or cyberspy, but you should have a clear idea of what he's doing and where he's going, says psychologist Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us (Palgrave Macmillan). Have him show you his Facebook or Twitter page, and ask if students at school are sexting or visiting explicit sites—and what he thinks about it. "You've got to know enough about his online activities before you can talk about them in a meaningful way," says Rosen. Checking out the pictures he's posted on Facebook, for example, can lead to an informal chat about which ones are appropriate and why.

Step 2: Play Interference

There are many tools parents can use to limit kids' access to porn sites, such as checking their Internet histories and installing filtering software that blocks sexually explicit material. Just keep in mind that they're not foolproof. "Filters have their value, especially when it comes to protecting young kids from accidental exposure. But if teens want to access sexual material, they'll find a way around whatever barriers you've created," says Eva S. Goldfarb, Ph.D., professor of health education at New Jersey's Montclair State University.

Some parents require kids to keep their bedroom doors open while on the Web. Others require that laptops and desktops be out in the open, in places like the kitchen or den. "It ultimately comes down to what works best for your family and your house," says Rosen. "The point is to not let your kids hole up quietly in their rooms. It's tempting, since a quiet teen seems like an easy teen. But over the long term, it's asking for trouble."