I recently found my year-old looking at a Web site that was obviously pornographic. My kid says it happened by accident, but I don't know. Does this call for punishment, and how can I see to it that it doesn't happen again?
This is one of those times when there are two roads you could take. There's the high-tech road, and the low-tech road. Because of the potential for serious consequences if your child continues down the road he's on, Family Project panelists suggest you go down both. Panelists don't know how savvy you are, technologically speaking, but just in case you're not familiar with computers, they want you to know that, yes, there are several ways a child could wind up viewing porn on the Internet without fully intending to, and that you might want to base any decision about punishment on how he or she got there.
Guest panelist Trooper Paul Iannace, who investigates computer crimes for the Pennsylvania State Police's Troop M in Bethlehem, says several paths could have gotten your child to the porn site. For example, he or she could have mistakenly clicked on a pop-up or other ad or been automatically sent to a porn site by opening an e-mail or attachment. He or she also could have made a Web search request, received porn sites in response and clicked on one. Be aware -- the Web search might have been on a legitimate topic, or there might have been a minor error, like a double x typed in a word, such as "fox.
On the other hand, he or she could have been trying to find such a site after hearing that they existed, possibly from friends his own age. And he might have used your personal information, such as a credit card number, to get inside.
So, take the low-tech approach, and ask your child what he thinks happened. Then, take the high-tech road, and see if the story checks out using the computer's history. Knowing how to do this takes some computer knowledge, and a kid who's one step ahead of you can cover his or her tracks, the police investigator says. But the attempt to confirm the story will help you understand the risks to children, and stop future problems.
If you don't know how to check, perhaps you can find a friend or relative or someone at your child's school who does. Perhaps the worst case scenario, Iannace says, is that a child who's looking at porn has been sent it by someone who preys on children. That's because pedophiles can use access to porn to establish a bond with a child, says Matt Falk, a Lehigh County assistant district attorney who's prosecuted such criminals. The bond can lower a child's resistance to meeting in person, and viewing porn may lower his or her resistance to being persuaded to perform sexual acts, he says.
Showing a child pornography also is a good way to prevent detection because the child knows at some level he or she is doing something his parents wouldn't sanction and is unlikely to tell them, Falk says. If you suspect such a predator has had contact with your child, you need to contact police right away, panelists say.
Now, for that pesky matter of punishment. Iannace says that, after such an episode, "You have to be careful in how you discipline a child," especially if the exposure was accidental or if he or she was victimized. You want the child to know, if he or she was victimized, that it wasn't his or her fault.
And you want him or her to continue to be willing to tell you what he or she is doing online and if something uncomfortable happens, he says. He'll go to a friend's house and there," Iannace says.
And that secrecy can set the child up for future problems. In addition, you don't want your reaction to make viewing porn a "forbidden fruit" that your child will want more of, says panelist Marcie Lightwood.
So, panelists suggest that you use the incident as an opportunity to teach your child that not everything and everyone on the Internet is harmless. It also might be a good time to talk to them about sexuality and how it can be exploited, as well as your values about men, women and relationships, panelists say.
It's also a good time to set up some house rules about Internet use if you don't have them, or review them, if you do. Panelists say if your child violated those rules in getting to the porn, then punishment might be in order. For example, if you require that he or she tell you before going online, and the child didn't, then that infraction should be dealt with.
But you should base any punishment on the fact that a rule was violated, not just because the child saw inappropriate content. Panelists also think you probably should monitor your child's computer and Internet use. Panelists suggest putting the computer in a place where it's always visible, that you limit the amount of time your child spends there, and that you initiate any Internet session for your child and log him or her off.
That's the low-tech route. The high-tech route is opting for blocking and tracking services or software. Some local Internet providers offer such things for free, while others charge.
Sometimes the products are very similar, so do some homework before you decide which features are really useful. You need to be aware that some of these high-tech tactics work better than others, and that even the blockers may not screen out every avenue of potential exposure or sites that might offer content you find objectionable. But don't let your child wander around the information superhighway alone. Because computer use generally is a solitary activity, a sizable portion of that input will occur beyond your control, he adds.
So, control what you can. What parents should teach their children about safety on the Internet Here are some things parents should teach their kids about online use: People don't have to tell the truth about who they are. Much Internet contact between people is anonymous, and many people make up names and whole identities that they can hide behind. Don't give out personal information. That means your name and family members' names, addresses and phone numbers.
Even your age and information about your school, friends and favorite activities can be used improperly. If something that someone asks for or talks about makes you feel uncomfortable, tell a parent. The same goes for anything you see. Don't accept gifts from, or agree to meet in person, anyone you've met online.
Even if you've chatted often, that doesn't mean you know that person. Tell your parent immediately if you get such a gift or request. If a site asks for a password, don't use your name or something close to it. It is safer to make something up and use a lot of unusual characters in it. Write passwords down and keep them offline.
Don't give them to other people. Don't buy anything or sign up for anything, even if it's free, without checking with a parent.
Many sites will try to sell you something because that is the way the Internet pays for itself. But that doesn't mean the site will deliver or that the claims are true.
And, free offers are often a way to get your e-mail address that will benefit the recipient more than you. Steer clear of chat areas. Even areas with designated topics or age limits can be extremely different from what's promoted. Don't post your picture or have a personal or family Web site online. You have little control over how pictures or other information might be used.
Don't answer e-mail from people you don't know. You might want to delete much of this "spam" mail unopened because some may contain pictures or information not appropriate for kids. Answering e-mail only confirms to spam senders that your address is a working address and will lead to more unwanted mail through the selling or sharing of your address.
If you think you're spending a lot of time playing games, surfing the Internet or chatting online or feel it's getting harder to stop, tell your parent. It's better to have a lot of different interests, not just bury your nose in the computer. If you wouldn't say it in person, don't ever say it online. Contact the Family Project Offer comments, suggest topics or ask questions.
Box , Allentown, PA Ann Friedenheim, clinical supervisor for Confront, Allentown. Matthew Falk, Lehigh County assistant district attorney, Allentown. To sign up, call , Ext. The Pennsylvania State Police will provide speakers to groups of parents. Don't overlook your Internet service provider as a resource. Ask if they can help you make their service more friendly and appropriate for kids.