SCREEN TIME:

How to Protect Your Kids From Porn

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Our kids are navigating a whole new world digitally and we’ve been hearing a lot about children’s access to porn.  We checked in with best selling author, pediatrician and parenting consultant, Dr. Cara Natterson for some helpful advice on how to limit your kids’ exposure to porn and how to talk to them about it.

 

What are the effects of kids and porn?  Do boys tend to be more exposed to it than girls? How does it affect them?

This is a humongous question and we are only beginning to learn the answers. Online porn is nothing like the pornography of Playboy and Penthouse from 30 years ago. Today’s porn is often aggressive or violent imagery, generally in the form of videos rather than still pictures. What’s more, it is free and widely accessible. And it is advertised in all of the places your kids go online, starting with social media.

Gail Dines, founder of Culture Reframed, is considered one of the leading researchers on this topic – her website is devoted to explaining the scope of the problem and providing solutions to parents. I strongly encourage you to read Gail’s content, as well as the scripts she has written to help parents navigate this tricky subject. But be prepared to feel a bit overwhelmed, because the scope and magnitude of this issue is far greater than many parents realize.

According to many studies, the average age for first online porn viewing among boys is 11-years old. Many questions are yet to be answered, including the differential effect of today’s porn on boys versus girls. While that research needs to be done, we know the imagery has negative effects on both genders. Unfortunately, no one is immune. This means that porn needs to be discussed as part of sex education, both in schools and at home.

Almost every parent I know shares the goal of having their kids grow up to have healthy, happy, fulfilling and safe sexual relationships. However much of the porn they are exposed to models the complete opposite.

How do I check to make sure my kids aren’t being exposed to porn without invading their privacy and losing their trust?

It’s really hard to figure out what your kids are seeing online. Even if you had the ability to see everything that comes their way (you don’t) or you could be a virtual fly on the wall peeking at all of the specific pages within websites they surf (you can’t – and even if you can, you don’t have the time).  You still haven’t accounted for all of the exposures they have on other peoples’ screens.

Frankly, the most effective strategy here is to talk to your kids. Constantly and repeatedly. Have regular conversations about what they are looking at and ask them what they think. Whether it’s bombarding them via social media, ads on websites, or being shared across text or email, content that you want to spare them is going to head their way. So prepare them for it and give them lots of opportunities to know you want to talk about it.

On the more pragmatic side, there are apps and hardware devices that screen devices, reporting back to you when inappropriate content appears. I strongly suggest, though, that if you use one of these (the Bark app is a favorite of many, as is the Disney Circle) you let your kids know. Not just because knowing is a deterrent for them, but also because when you do get alerted that they’ve been seeing something you had hoped they wouldn’t, the conversation goes a lot more smoothly if they already know how you found out.

How do I limit their time on screens in general?

It would be so convenient if we could just put screens in the “bad” bucket and dis them entirely, but they don’t belong there exclusively. So screens have provided a whole new element of parenting complexity, one that changes as our kids get older, as devices become ubiquitous, and as the platforms evolve as well.

There are so many ways to limit time on screens – or on various platforms on those screens.  Organizations like Common Sense Media have created platforms (ironic, I know!) to help guide that process. Screen limitations are going to depend upon the ages of the kids, their personalities (and yours), household logistics, and dozens of other variables unique from family to family. So, basically, there isn’t one absolute answer here. That said,  I do think I can share an invaluable piece parenting advice:

You are the parent.

You make the rules for your kids, and you set the consequences as well. Don’t be afraid of that dynamic. Trust me, kids like limits, even though they are experts at denying that fact. Limits make them feel safe, and consequences with follow through make them realize you mean it when you set the limit. Don’t judge other parents for how they handle time on platforms in their homes; instead, focus on yourself and your own follow-through.

Bonus piece of advice: You can take do-overs! That’s right, if you set a rule or buy a device or make a parenting decision you later regret, then take a do-over and reset the rule. Try it… you’ll be amazed how freeing it feels.

 

CARA NATTERSON, MD, is a pediatrician, consultant, and New York Times bestselling author of The Care and Keeping of You, a 3-book series with over six million copies in print.

A graduate of Harvard College and Johns Hopkins Medical School, Cara trained in pediatrics at University of California at San Francisco. She began practicing medicine in her home town of Los Angeles, where she cared for thousands of infants, children and teenagers. Eight years later, Cara founded Worry Proof Consulting, a first-of-its-kind practice offering parents open-ended time to discuss the topics that doctors could no longer squeeze into regular office visits.  She is the Chair of the Board of Starlight Children’s Foundation, a 30-year old charity that brings technology, entertainment, and joy to children in nearly every hospital in America. She is also on the Medical Board of Advisors for The Honest Company, and has held seats on the boards of Baby2Baby and The John Thomas Dye School.

But more than any of this, Cara’s greatest feat to date is parenting her teenage daughter and her tween-age son with her husband Paul, a beloved cardiologist in Los Angeles.

 

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