The decision as to whether or not a parent will monitor or filter their child’s internet use is a very personal one.  Many parents do not.   They may think their child is not doing anything that warrants monitoring.  They may think their child is too young to necessitate even thinking about the issue.  Additionally, some parents choose to trust their children’s use of digital media.  Alternately, some parents will chose to monitor (not necessarily filter) what their child does in the digital world.

 I thought I would share a related issue that came up in a therapy session this week with one of my clients.  In talking to her about her daughter, she relayed that she had received an email from the father of one of her daughter’s friends.  The email simply said, “We monitor ______’s email and thought you might like to see this.”  Much to the chagrin of my client, the attachment was a racy/sexual audio file that had been sent by her 13 year old daughter.

 Needless to say, my client was in shock.  She had no idea that her daughter was doing or would do this sort of thing.  She thought that she was too young to be engaging in this type of behavior.  Armed with the audio file, she confronted her daughter in a very appropriate manner.  Eventually they were able to have a very productive discussion about why her daughter sent the file to her friends.

 This vignette brings to light several issues.  The first is that many parents don’t think their children are involved with anything sexual until they are older.  The younger generations, those who have been brought up on the internet, social media and video games, are living by different social norms than their parents’ generation.

 The average age of first exposure to internet pornography is 11 years old.  As this data is several years old, some would say that the age has decreased.  Unlike the days where exposure to pornography meant seeing a Playboy magazine, today’s first exposure can be to any type of online pornography.  First exposure can be and often is to very hard core pornography that exhibits such themes as bestiality, violence, rape or sadomasochism.  Though a developing body may react to these videos or images, a developing brain does not fully know how to process what it is seeing.  The relevant point is that if you think that your 12, 13, 14 or 15 year old has not at least seen online pornography or been exposed to sexual content, you are likely wrong.

The second issue involves generational differences.  My client’s daughter didn’t think it was a big deal and in this thinking, she is very much aligned with her age cohort.  I previously posted about some research out of Europe that suggests that teens today have a very different perception about sex and sexuality than their parents.  Many teens today do view sex or sexual imagery as “no big deal.”  Though this is the cultural norm, it often clashes with parental values and can create conflict in the family.  Instead of breeding conflict, it is my hope that these differences can bring discussion between parents and children.  Though the culture may be more permissive, it does not necessarily mean that the rules in the family have to be.  Family rules and norms are, again, very personal based on many factors other than the younger generation’s ideas about sexual imagery. 

 The most important message of this case, for me, is that my client talked to her daughter.  She did not yell or scream at her.  She did not shame her or make her feel like a bad or dirty person for sending sexual content  They discussed why she did it and the appropriateness of her behavior.  This was an example of excellent parenting.    If we shame children when we talk to them about sexual issues, we can set them up for problems in the future.