I remember what it was like before I became a parent when I heard tragic news about a child. I’d get sad, maybe a little angry, but the feelings would soon disappear. Generally, those stories didn’t have long-term effects on me.
Since I had my daughter, every story of child abuse and exploitation I hear makes me angry. I recently heard a story that made me cry. Because what ends up happening is I hear and see my daughter in place of the abused child sometimes, and I think to myself,
“What if that was my daughter?”
And then I shudder. I have to be so careful not to let those thoughts linger further. But it’s hard sometimes.
Paula Neal Mooney was recently tagged by Ilker Yoldas for a meme that brings the issue of children victimized by online porn to the forefront. Paula just tagged me. And so, here I am, attempting to make some sense of what I believe with regard to this issue that I now find myself thinking alot about. Because needless to say, as I parent, I don’t want my daughter to ever be exploited in this way (or any way).
Basically, the meme originates at Blogger Power: Safeguard the Web for Children. It is a project which seeks to bring attention to the fact that adult sites with explicit content require no safeguards that would prevent children from gaining access to their sites. The initiative, directed toward owners of adult sites, makes the following request:
“Please require a password-protected login before allowing even free access to explicit adult content. We understand that selling porn is your business and we respect your right to make a legal living. But understand our legitimate concerns and work with us. You already have the ‘warning adult content’ on your websites. Yet kids, who are not legal customers of your product, ignore the warning. So to prevent them from having direct access to explicit images, texts and sounds, the simplest way is to have a password-protected login. No more ‘free tours’ before a visitor supplies basic information.
I find this to be a noble effort at attempting to protect our children. No doubt, adult sites are everywhere. In fact, I was checking out blogs one day this past week using MyBlogLog (a great and addictive site), clicked on a face, got to this person’s homepage, scrolled down, and on the site was a picture of a naked woman with her legs spread. Needless to say, I had no idea of the content of that site before I clicked. I quickly clicked away because I didn’t want the blog owner thinking I was interested in anything about her site. Nonetheless (and oops! too late!) the content was there. And as I would have never expected to run across that type of content, an innocent child can be exposed to an adult site with explicit content just as unsuspectingly as I was.
I was not affected by seeing the picture. I’m an adult. However, it’s different for a child. Children are much more impressionable about sexuality, especially during their teenage years. According to Prevention Works, in an article, “Teens, Crime, and Brain Development,” adolescence is a time
“…when youth encounter and struggle with new and profound situations, including acceptance of responsibility, physical changes, and self discovery…”
The article goes on to state,
“In recent years there have been many studies done on the human brain’s development during adolescent years that would…prove society’s belief that youth are incapable of making highly rational decisions before adulthood.”
The authors of the article cite studies on frontal lobe development in adolescents to arrive at the conclusion that,
“The frontal lobe has been found to play a part in impulse control, judgment, language, memory, motor function, problem solving, sexual behavior, socialization and spontaneity (emphasis mine).”
Therefore, while I was able to make a conscious decision that the explicit content I saw on that blog was not good for me and could be potentially harmful, a child will probably not arrive at the same conclusion. That child may not be able to determine that gazing at such material is not in her/his best interests (problem solving). He or she might try to engage the arousal they might experience in unhealthy ways (sexual behavior). That child might be so enticed by sexually-explicit images that they might seek out ways to “live out” what they see or “relieve” what they’re experiencing with another person (socialization). Finally, the urgency of what they’re experiencing might prohibit any sense of “let me think about this for a minute” and result in a child making an impulsively poor decision (spontaneity). Physiologically, then, adolescents should not be expected to make the best decisions regarding such a sexually-charged issue – at least not without some guidance.
Where does this guidance come from? From parents, of course. Parents have a great responsibility to teach their children right from wrong. My husband and I are the ones who set the boundaries for our daughter. She doesn’t know how to set them. And if studies about frontal lobe development are true (there isn’t any reason, really, to doubt – I see it everyday in the behavior of my high school students), my husband and I, as her parents, have to be aggressively proactive at ensuring she knows what is beneficial to her soul and what is harmful to her well-being. We have to be increasingly diligent at teaching her how to make decisions. We are the ones who raise her, teach her, discipline her, love her. We are the ones to teach her what is offensive and why (this includes not just adult porn, but R-rated movies, music with misogynistic lyrics, etc.). And hopefully, once we surround her with that framework, when she has to make a decision to engage in “this or that,” she will be adequately informed by that which her parents taught her and make good choices.
So, as much as I can’t stand the fact that explicit content is so readily available online, I don’t believe it’s simply the producers of online (or in-print) adult content that are at fault for children being exposed to this material. In fact, if they aren’t actively doing something now to protect children from being exposed to their content, I doubt they even care that children are viewing it. Therefore, we can’t rely on them to make a difference. They’re out to make a profit. But we, as parents, I believe, can have much greater impact on our children each day by our words and actions than an outsider ever can.
We can let owners of adult sites know we don’t approve. But let’s let our children know why we don’t approve. Let’s love them enough to have those tough conversations that can make the difference between life and death.
Now, don’t ask me how to do it. Our daughter is not yet three years old. But I guarantee you, we will love her enough and so much to have that dialogue, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.