How Parents Can Protect Kids From Porn Without Moving To A Secluded Mountain

When you become a parent, you immediately begin to worry about all sorts of things. Formula or breastfeeding, best and safest car seats, the balance of child care versus stay-at-home parenting, sleep training, when to introduce solids, vaccines. Porn probably doesn’t top that list.

Or at least it didn’t until last week, when a series of articles across the Internet brought to light the pervasive, horrifying, and all-too-common modern problem of preteens accessing hardcore porn online. Right now, if your social media and friends circles are anything like mine, discussions are monopolized with parents talking about smartphones, how to protect kids, if this is really as widespread as these articles imply, and how on Earth we got to this point.

Dona ora. Grazie!

In a viral article for the Dallas Morning News, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa writes about her 11-year-old daughter’s exposure not just to porn but to rape porn. “At a friend’s birthday party, they were playing on the little girl’s phone. The girl handed it to my daughter and said, ‘Boys are disgusting.’ My daughter clicked on a male classmate’s Snapchat story to find a video of him and a few other boys from her class laughing as they watched rape porn. She said the woman was bound up, saying ‘no’ as a masked man approached her.”

Herndon-De La Rosa’s daughter doesn’t have a smartphone of her own. She was exposed to this at a friend’s home, on someone else’s device.

The next article is by Sloane Ryan with Bark, a company that “uses AI to alert parents and schools when children are experiencing issues like cyberbullying, depression, threats of violence — or in this case, targeting by sexual predators.” To help address this problem, Ryan poses online as an 11-year-old girl. In her article, she highlights the interactions aimed at this fictional child, and the screenshots are stomach-turning and vile.

But they’re also important because they reveal the speed at which online predators target children, the words and phrases they use, and their willingness to send pictures and videos of their genitalia to preteens. “Over the course of one week, over 52 men reached out to an 11-year-old girl,” Ryan wrote.

Porn Access Is Everywhere

The porn circulating right now isn’t dirty magazines passed from child to child, but graphic videos. If reading those accounts has you ready to stick your children firmly in a bubble, you’re not alone. If somehow this is your first exposure to this material, I’m sorry. It’s distressing. It’s gross. It’s wrong.

But it’s also vitally important to understand that the Internet isn’t all fun Minecraft and makeup videos. It isn’t just a convenient vehicle for chatting with known friends. It’s a new world that we, as adults, are still learning to navigate semi-successfully, and we’re asking our kids, with very little real-world experience, to jump right in and be safe — to be reasonable.

Heather Wilhelm at National Review suggests the answer to this conundrum is just not to give kids smartphones: “If you’re a parent, you should not give your child a smartphone. If they already have one, you should take it away.” This is a possible solution. She notes some cell phones don’t have internet capabilities. For some families, this might be the right solution, and it certainly can reduce the likelihood your kids see something horrific.

Still, this doesn’t stop all the other access points for kids, such as friends’ devices. Consider the number of iPads floating around, or Kindle Fires, school computers, and all the schools that now give their students laptops to take anywhere. You can, when your children are little enough that they go absolutely nowhere without you, have a hope of controlling what they access.

But many families are wrestling with the reality that as soon as kids start leaving their parents’ field of vision to go to school, youth group, friends’ homes, the bus, homeschool coops, their cousin’s house, anywhere mom isn’t watching them 100 percent of the time, that control ends. Many people struggle with the idea that their children would ever watch even a moment of this because they are good kids. But then, how many of the boys involved in that sixth-grade rape video had parents who would have expected this of them?

Denial and blame-shifting don’t erase this. Instead, acting like this problem exists elsewhere, for other people, can create an atmosphere wherein if your child is exposed, they’re afraid to tell you.

Proactively Talk to Your Kids About the Dangers of Porn

I have spent a ton of time talking about this with teachers, youth group leaders, clergy, and other parents. I wish I could prescribe a fast and easy solution to this problem, but that’s a trite answer to a serious situation. There is no easy way to protect your kids from being exposed to troubling online content short of relocating to an isolated mountain cabin, outside the range of cell service, removed from modern society. This is unrealistic for almost all families, so it’s best to consider how to realistically tackle the mess our society has created.

You must be proactive with your children. Fight The New Drug puts the age most children are exposed to porn somewhere between 8 and 11 years old. This means we as parents can’t wait for high school or youth group to talk about family values, sexual morality, safe browsing, or the porn industry. At that point, it could be far too late.

While it’s uncomfortable to think of sitting down with elementary-aged kids to talk about the dark side of the Internet, our discomfort cannot get in the way of protecting our children. That means being there, unconditionally, despite our own hangups, to tell them about what sexuality should actually be like, and before anyone else does.

Tell your kids about your religious values. Tell them how much you want them to have happy relationships — when they’re old enough to have those relationships. Talk to them about how porn distorts and warps views of sexuality, damaging the viewer’s ability to engage in a healthy marriage. Tell them how it destroys their brains and their ability to love someone. Tell your kids you want them to know that if they see anything — and you do mean anything — online that scares them or makes them uncomfortable, they can talk to you and you will help them.

If it’s easier for your kids to talk to you in the car, where distractions ease awkwardness, use that time. Or write notes back and forth, or send text messages. Open up the lines of communication and find out what is actually happening around your kids and their friends.

Ask if anyone they know has seen upsetting things online. See what they already know, and use that as a jumping-off point to talk about this in an age-appropriate way. Remind them it’s all too easy for people online to pretend to be something they aren’t, to trick them into things they shouldn’t do.

Parents Are Not Powerless

Remind your kids that people who ask them to keep secrets from their parents aren’t doing it with good intentions. You as parents might feel powerless right now. This Internet porn thing is terrifying. The idea that graphic, violent sexuality can enter into kids’ worlds through multiplayer games, photo-sharing apps, or their “safe” neighborhood friends is a rock to our worldview.

But you aren’t powerless. You are still the parent, the one with the ability to teach and help your kids address this part of life, just as you teach them to navigate other difficult situations.

As scary and disturbing as this is, you’re not alone. Every family around you with big kids is probably pondering the exact same thing right now. Reach out to your friends, your church, your school groups. Talk to them about what they’re doing, or not doing, to stop the spread of age-inappropriate material making its way into the hands of children.

It’s okay to tell the parents of your kids’ friends that you would prefer electronic devices not be part of playdates. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Your kids are your kids even at someone else’s home. Talk to your schools about not allowing cell phones in class, and clubs and other activities they’re involved with about cutting phones out of social time. Find out what other people are doing to stop the spread of pornography, and work together to keep your kids, and the other kids around you, safe. Holly Scheer is a writer and editor, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. She’s fascinated by politics, culture and theology. Follow her on Twitter @HScheer1580.