No matter how many times I read "What to Expect When You're Expecting" or any other parenting books or blogs, no one told me I would have to teach my kids about internet safety and pornography. Yes, the internet is a great educational tool, but it also has dark corners with sexual images and predators soliciting youth. No matter how deep I live in rural America, I can't disconnect my kids from the world where the average child is exposed to pornography by age 11. Because of the following statistics and the words "porn star" in everyday news headlines, pornography isn't a taboo, hush-hush topic in our home.
- Seventy-nine percent of pornography exposure happens at home, according to a University of New Hampshire study.
- One in 5 youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the internet in the past year based on interviews with 1,501 youth ages 10 to 17 conducted by Crimes Against Children Research Center with funding from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children.
- One in 4 youth had an unwanted exposure in the past year to pictures of naked people or people having sex.
- About 25 percent of the youth who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent. Almost 40 percent of those reporting an unwanted exposure to sexual material told a parent.
- In households with home internet access, one-third of parents said they had filtering or blocking software on their computers.
I asked a couple of friends how they handle exposure to pornography in their homes and mostly got silence followed by uncomfortable, awkward responses such as "Umm, we really haven't." I get it. Our plates are overflowing with parenting commitments. We can feel like we're under a magnifying glass of the world looking at how we're doing as parents. Silence on difficult topics seems possibly easier than tackling the task of porn-proofing our kids. But if you don't tackle the topic of pornography with your kids, who will? I firmly believe it is our responsibility as parents and grandparents to protect, prepare and teach our kids about the dangers of pornography, just like we teach them to look both ways before crossing a street.
Protecting the emotional health of young minds is equally as important as caring for their physical health. My husband and I might be able to protect our daughters, ages 8 and 10, at home with internet safeguards, monitoring software and overseeing their time online but how do we prepare them for outside exposure? I purchased the book "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures," which provides a five-step action plan if kids are exposed to pornography. There's actually two books-the junior version is best for kids ages 5 and younger and the other one is ideal for elementary-aged kids or older.
It's not an option to not discuss internet safety and exposure to pornography with our children and grandchildren. It's a necessity. As the "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures" books suggest, encourage your children to ask questions. If your kids share they've been exposed to porn, listen and ask more questions. Shame and secrecy only gives more power to pornography.
Let's give our kids the happiest, healthiest future. Halt the pornography epidemic facing our nation by being a positive agent of change at home.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.