Taming the Internet

Short of locking your kids in a closet throughout their childhood, there is nothing you can do to completely protect them from pornography unless they cooperate with you. Pornography is so accessible today that, given enough motivation, kids can get it somewhere at their friends' houses, at the public library, even from dumpsters. So, you need to help them be internally motivated to avoid pornography not just because you say so (although that helps), but because they recognize how degrading and dangerous it can be.

Educate them about the negative nature of pornography. Help them conclude that, even given an opportunity, they want to avoid it. Then, the barriers you place between your kids and pornography will be seen as friendly reminders like the fence alongside a cliff helping them avoid giving in to temptation. Educated agreement is the best protection, because it is active wherever your child goes.

It may seem obvious, but also make sure your kids understand that accessing Internet pornography on the home computer will not be tolerated. Violation of that family policy should at the very least result in loss of Internet privileges for a time. If this consequence is posed in the right spirit, the child should consider it another friendly protection from what he or she already knows is wrong.

Of course, the parent's ultimate weapon against Internet abuse is totally pulling the plug on the Internet connection. As you will read next though, that action is not as simple is you might think.

Protection without an Internet connection

Many parents think that if they cancel their Internet Service Provider (ISP) or never subscribe to one they don't need to worry about Internet pornography in their home. This is not the case. Several ISPs offer "free" Internet access, or extended "free no-credit-card" trial periods plenty of time for your child to get deeply into the Dark Side of the Internet.

There is nothing to prevent your child from signing up for one of these services. One nationwide free ISPs sign-up screen asks a self-identified child to call a parent over to press a "Consent" button; another says, "Click here if you are at least 18 years old." Granted, there is some percentage of super-honest children who will not press these buttons themselves. But the rest of the kids will just click and continue. Once the ISP is set up, it is very easy to hide the "start" icon somewhere that a parent would never look. The bottom line is that even if you don't think you have the Internet in your home, it could still be there.

Depending on the relationship you have with your kids, you may be able to deal with this possibility by merely watching for signs of Internet activity. If in an extreme case you need to "pull the plug," you could remove or disable the modem. Of course, a child who works that hard to circumvent your protections will likely find another way to obtain pornography but at least you'll be able to have important conversations if you know about the attempts.

Clean Internet connections

The positive aspects of the Internet are strong enough that most families will want to provide some access to the Internet. One way to do this relatively safely is to use a "clean" ISP. This is an Internet provider that pre-filters the Internet before it reaches your home. There are advantages and disadvantages of this protection method. On the plus side, you don't have to install filtering software and keep it updated. A negative is that you as the parent don't have control over what gets filtered and what does not the ISP's notion of what is inappropriate may or may not match yours. With a filter, you can configure it to your family standards. (For example, what about skimpy swimsuits and lingerie? Will the ISP agree with your answer to that question? If not, there is little you can do about it.) However, for many families, a clean ISP can be the ideal solution.

Note, however, that a clever child can circumvent a clean ISP by simply signing up for a personal, free ISP account, which can silently coexist with your official family dial-up, cable or DSL-based service provider.

Also keep in mind that no filter is perfect even one used by a clean ISP. Not all "bad" sites are blocked, so you should still perform supervision and detection.

Protection for an unrestricted Internet connection

If your ISP doesn't pre-filter the Internet, and children have access to the machine, you absolutely must install filtering or monitoring software no exceptions.

Background Information

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Other Things to Consider

RelationshipsBlended Families, Parents and Adult Children

TransitionsPreparing for Adolescence, Empty Nest