How can parents protect their children from online pornography and predators?

Grimes asks: I am so worried. I have just seen my 14-year-old daughter’s phone, and the things she has been up to have turned me grey overnight. She has been on chat rooms claiming to be 18 and having very sexual texts with the men on there. She has been looking at all kinds of adult material on the web. I am so worried that after the material she has seen and the things she has said, she will have a very dark idea of what sex is about. We have taken all devices out of her bedroom and blocked all sites. This came as a massive shock – the things she was saying as she acts very young for her age fooled me in every way. I have stressed the danger of what she is doing, but I’m finding it hard to look her in the face. Please help!

Hi Grimes –

There are problems that parents have faced ever since societies began.  Infants wander off, children have tantrums, teens rebel.  Most of the issues I talk about on this site are universal and eternal, like these.

But families today have a particular issue that no one ever dealt with before, which is the incredible technology at the fingertips of youth.  There have always been predators, but computers and cell phones give them so much easier access to kids.  Teens have always been curious about sex, but these devices make it impossible for them to learn only the things you want them to, or for communication to be controlled.  I am not an alarmist, Grimes, but you are absolutely right to be as frightened and concerned as you are.  The giant question is what to do about it.

When Handsome was about your daughter’s age, he was spending the night at a friend’s house, and they sneaked out and had a big adventure in town.  They nearly got killed on a railroad track, they got in a scuffle with bigger guys, and they got in SOOOOOOO much trouble when they got back and were caught!  No one would say that what they did was good or right, but it was a one-time deal.  The difference is that your daughter – and pretty much all kids today – are able to do the equivalent of that “sneak-out” all day, every day.

Now when Handsome had some time to think about what he’d done, his brain literally grew some new neurons!  He realized that he and his friend had put his friend’s young sisters into danger by leaving – something he’d not thought of at all at the time.  He got a better sense of how terrifying it must have been for their parents to not know where their sons were at that hour.  These were good lessons.  Your job, my friend, is to teach your daughter the same lessons as quickly as you possibly can!

Of course your daughter broke some rules and did some ‘wrong’ things.  But that’s not what’s most important here.  She needs to understand the dangers of sexual chat with strangers in chat rooms, and what horrors have resulted from that to other kids.  As far as the sexual material she’s watched, this is a great time for you to work to teach her a more positive view of sexuality – however that can be done (if she’ll listen to you, great.  If not, there are books and websites that can help with this).

What’s really happening here, Grimes, is that your daughter is telling you – in no uncertain terms – that she is very interested in learning about her own sexuality.  But like the old song said, she’s looking for love in all the wrong places!

The truth is that you and your daughter are LUCKY!  You found this problem BEFORE anything really bad happened.  And now you can become her friend and her support, as she winds her way through this very difficult time in her life (difficult for every teen), especially in terms of sexuality.

If there is anything I can help with, please don’t hesitate to ask.  But for right now, while it’s fine to put some boundaries up around her communication for the moment, the far more important job you have is to build trust in her so she’ll let you help her.

One thing that might help her understand your feelings is something that happens to me, just about every day.  When Handsome leaves our house, he shuts the gate to keep me in the yard.  But he knows that I’m perfectly capable of finding ways out, through digging or jumping, if I really want to.  So he takes my face in his hand, looks me in the eyes, and says, “I love you more than life itself.  Don’t break my heart.”    Because if he came home to find me gone, or having been hit by a car, it would ruin his life.  Now maybe your daughter can’t quite understand what a parent feels about a teenager, but can she relate to what my guy feels about his dog?

The day she understands how valuable she is to you, she can begin to develop a value of herself as well.  And when she has that, you can be pretty sure she’ll have no interest in creeps in chat rooms, or watching idiotic male fantasy videos.  Much more likely, she’ll begin looking for someone she can care about too, and who’ll care about her.  And that creates a whole new set of problems, where she could really use your help too!

Please stay in touch, Grimes.  And good luck.


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