Over my years talking with parents about sexuality, pornography and their kids, it seems as if everyone just wants to know what button to push, what software to buy, what technique to use, in order to ensure their child never sees porn, talks to strangers about sex online or sends a “sext.” Let me be the first to say there is nothing a parent can do to guarantee their child will never do anything potentially dangerous online. There are, however, steps parents can take that can keep your kids safe and will drastically reduce the probability that a child will develop consistently problematic Internet behaviors.
When it comes to porn specifically, I believe protecting and preparing children has less to do with managing Internet access and more to do with being an approachable parent and talking about sex early and often in a positive way. Of course, talking about porn helps too, which is why you should read part 1 and part 2 of this three-part series.
When it comes to problematic Internet behaviors generally (e.g., cyber-aggression, responding to sexual solicitations from strangers, engaging in sexting or webcam sex, exposure to violent or child pornography), I recommend first focusing on becoming a reduced-tech family. Doing that will already be helpful in the fight to keep your kids safe. Putting more emphasis on the real world and less emphasis on cyber-reality can help kids and teens put their value and energy into their real lives and simply use the web as a tool to connect with others and learn about the world on an as-needed basis, instead of constantly drudging through the cyber-sphere searching for the next thrill.
Every family is unique, so you need to do whatever tech reduction works for you. The following are just some suggestions to get you thinking about what you can change about the technology environment in your household to help keep your kids safe. Try something out and adjust as needed. For example, you might want to start out more stringent, and then allow more online autonomy as your children get older and demonstrate they can handle the responsibility. Regardless of how you’d like to implement a change, here are some tips to get you started:
1. Limit time. Help reduce problematic Internet behaviors by reducing time spent online in a specific way. If you are trying to limit the use of technology in a general way (e.g., a few hours a day) it is easy to forget how much time you’ve been online on any given day. It is much easier to limit time by providing time windows when the use of the Internet is allowed and windows where it is not, because it is difficult to forget that from 5-7 p.m. there is no Internet action going on in your household. This is a great way to help keep your kids safe. You could also try a tech curfew (no internet after 7 or 8 p.m.). Some families have found that having no tablet/smartphone usage from 5-7 p.m. works, then they have a 30 min. window to return emails, messages and texts, and then off again at 7:30 p.m. There is also software which tracks time spent on Netflix, Facebook, Games, Word, Excel, etc., and that is another way to monitor time spent on a computer doing recreational activities vs. homework activities. Whatever you choose, 24-hour unlimited access to the Internet doesn’t mean we need to be online 24 hours a day. The Internet isn’t going anywhere. We can take a break.