How to Protect Your Child From Online Porn

7 steps parents can take steps at home to prevent online porn exposure at an early age.
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You are the best “parental control” for your child when it comes to early porn exposure.

“I never thought this would happen to my child.” says a local mom. She continues, “We were devastated. So embarrassed. This has been so painful for our whole family. We will never get his innocence back.” 

Why is her family in pain? Her child was exposed to pornography. And he’s a first grader.

Think about that. She’s the third mom I have met with recently whose first grader was exposed to pornography. Sadly, such meetings are becoming frequent for me. She’s right, her child can’t “unsee” the image. He quite likely will remember it for a long time, as that “first graphic porn image” takes a permanent place in his memory banks. Science says that the earlier the exposure the more damage and the more likely it will be for that child to seek early and high-risk sexual experiences.


How does it happen?

According to national statistics, first-time porn exposure has been dropping and getting younger and younger. Our screens are becoming smaller and our kids are acquiring devices much younger. For example, if your child has a smartphone, he or she will be exposed to porn more quickly, and see more porn than a child who does not have a smartphone. If your child has an iPad they also randomly see more graphic images if it is connected to the internet than a child who does not have access to an iPad.

Even if your children are not actively looking for it yet, they can accidentally stumble on it when they enter simple words such as “bottom,”  “butt” or “panties” in a Google search. By the time they enter fourth or fifth grade, it is very possible that they may type in more direct words such as “boobies” or even “porn” into a Google or YouTube search. Perhaps they see it during a sleepover at a friend’s house on a deactivated old phone that can be easily connected to the wireless internet. Perhaps they see the screen of an older sibling, or they get a long look at a classmate’s screen at school or on the school bus.


How can you help delay the exposure?

Because we live in a screen-saturated world, you may think it is hopeless to stay on top of it all. Here are some good tips that can help you push back an early porn exposure date.

  1. Delay handheld screens including iPads and smartphones. Yes, it is easier than you think! A laptop in the kitchen in full public view can cut down on private searching. Remember, the smaller the screen the harder it is to monitor.
  2. Co-view screens with your child. Remember that your frontal cortex is fully developed; his is not.
  3. Resist the urge to let your children play with your phone while in line at the store, in the car or when they are just bored. It’s likely they can end up on the wrong site. Instead, keep handheld toys in your purse, such as a Pocket Simon or a Rubik’s Cube.
  4. Use caution regarding sleepovers. It seems that many first-time porn exposures occur at a friend’s home at a sleepover or play date. We adopted the “half-over” solution to sleepover invitations allowing our kids go to the party, but picking them up at 9:30 p.m. Nothing good happens after 9 p.m. anyway. This seems to be a growing trend among parents. Also, when dropping your child off for a play date, it is perfectly OK to ask the other parent if their screens are locked down.
  5. Don’t allow any screens in the bedrooms.
  6. Take steps to prevent unmonitored YouTube surfing. Your parental controls won’t filter YouTube videos and even a Minecraft search can result in sexual Minecraft content. 
  7. Begin the conversations early. The only thing worse than children seeing graphic porn at a young age is seeing it and not being able to talk to their parents about it. Ask your children frequently if they have seen anything that made them uncomfortable. Have an age-appropriate talk about sex, and make sure that they are not on sites that potentially have content you have not discussed with them yet.

Come find out how simple protecting your child can be at the next Families Managing Media Charlotte seminar on Oct. 19, 7-9 p.m. Hear about the most current research on brain development and screens, and get the facts you need to make the best decisions for your children. Remember that you are the best “parental control” for your child when it comes to early porn exposure. Do everything you can to delay exposure. That may include giving the screens a rest, plugging into more age-appropriate toys, and purposefully redirecting their interests and hobbies. Childhood is so short — be sure that you don’t let them miss it.