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The Internet, Censorship, and Your Kids

by Ken Edelston

The Supreme Court just decided to stop funding libraries that do not install filters to keep porn off the libraryís computers. Unfortunately, these filters donít work very efficiently. They often filter out untargeted information and leave in the bad stuff. Most all of this controversy stems from the natural and normal parental desire to keep their kids safe from porn. This article is about porn, the internet, keeping kids safe, and the potential harmful consequences of censorship.

First of all, parents have been trying to keep porn out of sight and totally away from their kids ever since Eve put on her fig leaf. I imagine there must have been some parents who were successful, but only because the kid didnít really try. My rule of thumb is, ďIf a kid really wants to do something, I may be able to postpone that particular gratification, but only in inverse relation to the kidís desire.Ē A simpler way of putting it is, ďIf your kid works at it long and hard enough, he or she will get what they want.Ē Now, just because hard work and dedication to get something can pay off, it doesnít mean that I agree with or like the prize attained by such efforts. All this is to say that if a kid wants to view porn these days, nothing except confining him to his room for life will stop him. (Girls just aren't all that interested in these kinds of images, but sometimes view them anyway.)

So here is the dilemma. I donít want my kid to be exposed to porn and I donít want to parent like a jailkeeper. I am a realist, so I know my kid will ultimately do what he or she wants to do. This is the same issue that parents confront around the use of alcohol and other drugs, sex, and raunchy music, not to mention high risk friends, etc. The truth is that we cannot exert enough external control over our childrenís behavior to really control what they do, and when we do try to exert this kind of control, we drive our kids away from us, end the possibility of dialog, and encourage them to lead secretive lives- just the opposite of what we intended.

If you have read this far, you are still interested in the topic, but may be saying to yourself something to the effect, ďIím not about to let my 3rd grader look at this stuff on the computer, even if I have to look over his shoulder.Ē I basically agree with you, maybe not about the looking over the shoulder part, but I would not want my 8 year old to have free access to smut. Nor would I allow them to view PG-13 or R rated movies.

I would install some kind of filter that would limit accessibility- just as the Supreme Court has ruled that libraries must do. (Remember, however, that the Supreme Court ruling affects all computers in libraries, not just the ones that kids use.) ButÖ and this is a big butÖ, limits and filters are not totally effective. The point is that I want lines of communication open with my kids, no matter what. If I act like the thought and morality police, this will not happen. As a responsible parent, it is my job to teach my values to my kids. I want my kids to learn how to deal with the incredible amount and diversity of information available to everyone. Instead of putting energy into restricting access, I am more interested in being able and willing to talk with my child.

Here are two examples (both fictitious):
Even though we donít allow unfiltered computer access in our house, my sonís friend does. I have a sense of who these folks are and that is good enough for me. I choose not to question his friendís parents before allowing him to go over. So, my son is free to be with this friend. One day, he comes to me and asks me why our computer doesnít work the way his friendís does. I ask him what he is talking about. (knowing full well exactly what he is talking about. I remember what it was like being 10) He tells me that his friendís computer has cool pictures on some pages. I ask him to tell me what he has been looking at. He replies with a bit of vagueness, but I get the picture. I ask him if he has ever been grossed out by stuff that he has seen on the computer. His face scrunches up and he tells me that there was some real gross stuff, that he and his friend looked at it for about a split second before they went back to better stuffÖ and then he looks at me and asks, ďDad, what is that gross stuff that came out of that manís dick?Ē ( My son is 10. He doesnít say penis) So, we had a little talk about sex, but mind you, a little one that was appropriate for a 10 year old who has just discovered something about human sexuality. I donít delve deep into morality or sexual exploitation of women issues, because he is not ready to understand these abstractions. The point is that even though I would prefer that my son ride bikes with his friend and not view porn, my preference has not won out. I have a choice. I can forbid my kid from playing with this friend, or I can take this as an opportunity to give my son a way to voice his thoughts and feelings after he has had a disturbing experience. I like this idea better.

(Note: In the next example, the child I describe is not nearly as verbal. Boys are often not as verbal as in the example above, and though girls are often more verbal than boys, in this next situation, I will portray a girl with a less verbal and open response.)

The same situation exists as above. My daughter visits a friend and comes home looking a bit upset. I ask her what she is feeling, and she just shrugs and says she doesnít know. I give her a hug and invite her to help me prepare dinner, which she likes to do. We prepare dinner together without talking much. I donít think much of this interchange, not even enough to mention it to my spouse. I may never know about that long face, because it may never come up again. I will not know in this example, that my daughter had viewed some pornographic images on the computer as a dare by her friend. I will not know that these images were deeply disturbing to my daughter even though she tried to brush it off. I will not know that she is still seeing these images as she enters our house. I may never know.

However, if I am a savvy parent, I will have prepared as much as possible for events such as this. At some point in the past, I will have talked to my children about disturbing images. It might have been when we were looking at pictures in a book, and my child got upset with some image. In this conversation I will talk about disturbing images and how they just enter into your head and stay there like they are etched in your brain. I will say that this happens to everyone sometimes. Some people are scared of this and some are scared of that, but for certain everyone is scared of something. I will inform my child that when she gets upset over something like this, it helps to talk about it, because if you just keep it inside, the image seems to take over and get bigger and bigger. This will have set the stage for a conversation in the future.

I am suggesting a balance of limiting accessibility with openness to discuss difficult and uncomfortable information. I realize that kids are exposed to stuff that most of us could not have dreamed about. It is everywhere, commercials, movies, magazines, schools, and computers. I want to protect my child, but I donít want my protection efforts to ruin our relationship. That is why the Supreme Court ruling makes no sense. For the most part, censorship does not work. It just stops the discussion.

About the Author:
Ken Edelston may be contacted at Ken Edelston MS is a life and business coach. He has extensive experience in counseling teens, adults, and couples. For over 20 years, Ken has specialized in treating the effects of addictions, parenting adolescent issues, and conflict resolution. His coaching practice focuses on helping individuals, families, business persons, and couples identify ineffective patterns of behavior and then exploring and implementing real change.




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