Teen boys and porn

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I was puzzled when I fired up my computer one morning and found an unfamiliar icon on the desktop. I clicked on it, and it took me to a porn site.

Thoroughly freaked out, I went into my computer’s browsing history and discovered that my son, then aged 15, had been using my machine to access pornography for weeks without my knowledge.

Before confronting him, I phoned a psychologist friend who specialises in teen problems and told her what I’d found. She sighed. ‘It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,’ she said, but added that a preoccupation with pornography isn’t at all unusual in teenage boys – or, for that matter, in many adult men.

Her comment was borne out by my subsequent research, during which I found that (perhaps not surprisingly) more boys than girls look for sexually explicit sites, and also that this behaviour increases with age through the teen years.

But the most worrying fact I found was that the more teens sought out X-rated sites on the web, the more likely they were to view sex as ‘recreational’ – in other words, to think that love or even affection aren’t necessary for a sexual encounter.

Don’t forbid, educate

What, as a parent, was I to do about this? ‘Don’t forbid, educate,’ was my psychologist friend’s advice. She pointed out that if my son was old enough to be interested in sex, he was also old enough to find ways to access it – and anyone with a teenager knows how sneaky they can be when they’re determined to do something they’re not allowed to.

‘Point out to him, first and foremost, that the sex he sees on porn sites doesn’t correspond to what most adults experience in the bedroom,’ she advised. ‘He needs to understand that what he’s seeing isn’t real.’

I got that, but I was still unhappy with the notion that my son might regularly be cruising the Net looking for X-rated images. ‘How you handle that comes down to your parenting style,’ said the psychologist, adding that some research has shown that parents who express clear, strict guidelines about what may be accessed do have some success in limiting their kids’ tendency to seek out sex sites – over time, their kids do internalise the message. ‘Lay down the rules and expect your child to follow them,’ she said.

She also advised that the family computer be sited in as public a place in the house as possible, for instance in the family room. This wasn’t possible for me – the only computer we have is the one in my study, which I use for work.

‘In that case,’ she said, ‘hang around when your son’s using your computer. Ask him what sites he’s visiting and have a look at a few of them. If he knows that you’re keeping a close eye on him, he’ll be very much less likely to try to access porn sites.’

Okay to snoop?

I’ve always stressed to my children that they’re entitled to privacy, and have never been the kind of mother who reads their diaries or checks their cellphones, so I found this hard.

Harder still, though, was her further advice: ‘Feel free to snoop,’ she said. ‘Check their browsing history regularly and remember that most teens are savvy enough to delete telltale sites from it after they’ve completed a session.’

There is always, of course, the option of installing parental-control software on your computer. Once I’d had a long, serious talk with my son about his browsing habits, I told him that I didn’t want to do this but that I would if he made it necessary.

‘I want you to take responsibility for what you access,’ I explained. ‘I don’t want to be your policeman.’ He will, after all, not always live under my roof and within range of my beady eye, and one of our responsibilities as parents is, surely, to teach our children self-awareness and self-control.

Should parents feel free to snoop on their children’s computer usage?

 
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