Sometimes I think I should rename this blog, the parenting chronicles of my amazing friend in North Carolina. I wrote about her experiences before when she shared with me that her eldest daughter was witness to a friend sexting on the school bus at the beginning of the school year. This week, she shared something she overheard while her youngest child, 7, was playing with a neighbor.
My friend, let’s call her Pam to give her some privacy, was outside overseeing her children play with the neighbor children. She overtly acknowledges that she loves these neighbor children. They are very good kids. Their parents are great parents who are active in their lives, in the community and in the church. Pam’s kids love these kids too. As a reminder, Pam is a proactive parent. She talks to her children about all things, including sexuality, sexting, etc. She has filters on her family’s technology as she has children of multiple ages and does not want them accessing inappropriate material in the home. But she also knows that she has little control over what goes on in the homes of their friends or on the technology of her children’s friends.
She relayed the following story: “Yesterday my youngest, who is merely 7 years old, was playing with some neighborhood kids in my side yard….
One of them had a cell phone with her that has a plan and data so she can watch whatever she wants wherever she wants whenever she wants. I heard my child complaining about how she doesn’t have a phone and about how annoyed she is that our internet is completely locked down and they don’t get to surf the web…as she put it. The little girl who had the phone chimed in and said she gets to watch whatever she wants. That she found videos of people who kiss each other in their private places. I almost fell over”
Being in possession of emotion regulation skills, Pam did not freak out but made a mental note. She now is going to head over to the neighbor’s house and let them know what she overheard. She is nervous about the conversation because she really likes all parties involved and she doesn’t want any hard feelings between anyone in the relationships.
What lessons do we learn here? Access to the internet should be age appropriate. Young children, like Pam’s child’s 8-year-old friend, should not have unfettered access to the internet. It is simply not age appropriate. Additionally, she should not have unfettered access to the internet without any parental discussion of what she might find. As the girl gets older, in conjunction with good discussions between parents and child, those restrictions can be lessened.
This story brings home what those of us in the field already know. Young children are accidentally exposed to pornography. It happens. And it happens a lot. When I teach, we use the statistic that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is 10. I also always use the proviso that this is old data so the age is likely younger, in this case 8. This child did not intentionally look for pornography. She saw a video of something that she did not understand. She also did not talk to her parents about it. However, she knew that it was to be kept secret.
The moral of this story. Please don’t be in DENIAL. Start talking to your children about this topic early in an age appropriate fashion. Do not let their sex education begin with the accidental viewing of pornography. Do not give young children unfiltered access to the internet. They are not developmentally ready yet! Most of all, BE AWARE and TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN.
To learn more about the effects of cybersex on children and how to talk to your child, order my book: The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.