A University of Texas at Dallas study of 100 mobile apps for kids found that 72 violated a federal law aimed at protecting children’s online privacy.
Dr. Kanad Basu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and lead author of the study, along with colleagues elsewhere, developed a tool that can determine whether an Android game or other mobile app complies with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
The researchers introduced and tested their “COPPA Tracking by Checking Hardware-Level Activity,” or COPPTCHA, tool in a study published in the March edition of IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security. The tool was 99% accurate. Researchers continue to improve the technology, which they plan to make available for download at no cost.Basu said games and other apps that violate COPPA pose privacy risks that could make it possible for someone to determine a child’s identity and location. He said the risk is heightened as more people are accessing apps from home, rather than public places, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Suppose the app collects information showing that there is a child on Preston Road in Plano, Texas, downloading the app. A trafficker could potentially get the user’s email ID and geographic location and try to kidnap the child. It’s really, really scary,” Basu said.
Apps can access personal identifiable information, including names, email addresses, phone numbers, location, audio and visual recordings, and unique identifiers for devices such as an international mobile equipment identity (IMEI), media access control (MAC) addresses, Android ID and Android advertising ID.
The advertising ID, for example, allows app developers to collect information on users’ interests, which they can then sell to advertisers.
“When you download an app, it can access a lot of information on your cellphone,” Basu said. “You have to keep in mind that all this info can be collected by these apps and sent to third parties. What do they do with it? They can pretty much do anything. We should be careful about this.”
The researchers’ technique accesses a device’s special-purpose register, a type of temporary data-storage location within a microprocessor that monitors various aspects of the microprocessor’s function. Whenever an app transmits data, the activity leaves footprints that can be detected by the special-purpose register.
COPPA requires that websites and online services directed to children obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from anyone younger than 13; however, as Basu’s research found, many popular apps do not comply. He found that many popular games designed specifically for young children revealed users’ Android IDs, Android advertising IDs and device descriptions.
Basu recommends that parents use caution when downloading or allowing children to download apps.
“If your kid asks you to download a popular game app, you’re likely to download it,” Basu said. “A problem with our society is that many people are not aware of — or don’t care about — the threats in terms of privacy.”
Basu advises keeping downloads to a minimum.
“I try to limit my downloading of apps as much as possible,” Basu said. “I don’t download apps unless I need to.”
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Intel Corp. and New York University also contributed to the work.
In today’s increasingly digitalized day and age, protecting your internet-enabled devices from malware, spam, and malicious activity is paramount to maintaining your digital anonymity and safeguarding your personal data from people with bad intentions.
As such, knowing how to block a website on android devices is an absolutely essential skill. Whether you’re trying to limit your kids’ access to the world wide web and keep their browsing activity age-appropriate, or simply trying to eliminate the chances of encountering malicious websites, there are a few quick steps that you can take to block off specific websites.
1. Block Websites Via The Browser You Use
Since Android is one of the most flexible and dynamic mobile operating systems – you have access to a wealth of modern browsers that already have all of the necessary features to block specific websites, which can be further extended via useful add-ons that you can install.
For this example, we’ll be taking a look at Firefox, one of today’s most popular and advanced browsers for android devices.
To block websites via an add-on in Firefox, you should:
Open the add-ons menu in Firefox via the three-dot menu in the topmost righthand corner.
Find and install BlockSite via the search bar at the top of the add-ons interface.
Grant BlockSite the necessary permissions and open up the add-on’s menu.
Tap on the “block sites” button and enter in any URLs for the websites you want to restrict or block.
2. Block Websites On Multiple Android Devices Via An App
If tinkering with add-ons and browser settings seems like it could be a bit out of the realm of your technological abilities, don’t worry. There is a much easier way to block websites on Android. We’re talking about apps!
And among all of your privacy and access-control apps, Google Family Link stands out a cut above the rest. This app is especially handy if you have several devices (such as your kids’ phones) which you want to be able to control and restrict at will.
Google Family Link allows you to block off web access, set bed-times, block phone access altogether, restrict access to certain websites via Chrome, and even limit the user’s ability to see and download mature content from the Google Play app store.
To get started with Google Family Link, you’ll need to:
Download the Google Family Link application from the Google Play store.
Sign in with your Google account and add your family members to your “Family.”
Once your family is configured, you can set the necessary restrictions by tapping on any given family member. You can also review their activity, from browsing activity to their app downloads and time spent on the device.
Alternatively, if you feel like Google Home Link is a bit too excessive for your purposes, you can download BlockSite (which we covered as a browser add-on) as an application directly onto your Android device as well.
In today’s world, keeping a solid grasp on your private information and limiting access to potentially malicious websites is a must!
And while there are more and more pitfalls to watch out for as technology advances and evolves, there are also many more ways for you to block websites and certain browsing activity on your Android devices.
So, whether you’re trying to limit your kids’ access to the web or put an extra layer of security on your Android devices – our guide should give you a few easy ideas for how you can tackle this challenge.
The following tools or interventions can be used to prevent or treat mobile phone overuse.
Many studies have found relationships between psychological or mental health issues and smartphone addiction. Hence, behavioral interventions such as individual or family psychotherapy for these issues may help. In fact, studies have found that psychotherapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing are able to successfully treat Internet Addiction and may be useful for mobile phone overuse too. Further, support groups and family therapy may also help prevent and treat internet and smartphone addiction.
Further, complete abstinence from mobile phone use or abstinence from certain apps can also help treat mobile phone overuse.
Other behavioral interventions include practicing the opposite (e.g. disrupt their normal routine and re-adapt to new time patterns of use), goal-setting, reminder cards (e.g. listing 5 problems resulting from mobile phone overuse and 5 benefits of limiting overuse), and creating a personal inventory of alternative activities (e.g. exercise, music, art)
In 2019 the World Health Organization issued recommendations about the active lifestyle, sleep and screen time for children at age 0-5. The recommendations are:
For children in age less than one year: 30-minute physical activity, 0 hours screen time and 14 – 17 hours of sleep time per day.
For children in age 1 year: 180 minutes physical activity, 0 hours screen time, 11–14 hours of sleep time per day.
For children age 2 years: 180 minutes physical activity, 1 hour screen time, 11–14 hours of sleep time per day.
For 3-4-year-old children: 180 minutes of physical activity, 1 hour screen time, 10–13 hours of sleep time per day.
Many smartphone addiction activists (such as Tristan Harris) recommend turning one’s phone screen to grayscale mode, which helps reduce time spent on mobile phones by making them boring to look at. Other phone settings alterations for mobile phone non-use included turning on airplane mode, turning off cellular data and/or WiFi, turning off the phone, removing specific apps, and factory resetting
German psychotherapist and online addiction expert Bert te Wildt recommend using apps such as Offtime and Mental to help prevent mobile phone overuse. In fact, there are many apps available on Android and iOS stores that help track mobile usage. For example, in iOS 12 Apple added a function called “Screen Time” that allows users to see how much time they have spent on the phone. In Android, a similar feature called “digital wellbeing” has been implemented to keep track of cell phone usage.
These apps usually work by doing one of two things: increasing awareness by sending user usage summaries, or notifying the user when he/she has exceeded some user-defined time-limit for each app or app category, of course, there are some very good parental control apps, that will allow you to monitor and set cellphone time uses, you can check out one free here
Studying and developing interventions for temporary mobile phone non-use is a growing area of research.
Hiniker et al. generated 100 different design ideas for mobile phone non-use belonging to eight organic categories: information (i.e. agnostically providing information to the user about his or her behavior), reward (i.e. rewarding the user for engaging in behaviors that are consistent with his or her self-defined goals), punishment (i.e. punishing the user for engaging in behaviors that are inconsistent with his or her self-defined goals), disruption (i.e. a temporary barrier momentarily prevents the user from engaging in a specific behavior), limit (i.e. certain behaviors are time or context-bound or otherwise constrained within defined parameters), mindfulness (i.e. the user is asked to reflect on his or her choices, before, during or after making them), appeal to values (i.e. reminding the user about the underlying values that shaped his or her decisions about desired use and non-use), social support (i.e. opportunities for including other individuals into the intervention). Users found interventions related to information, limit, and mindfulness to be the most useful. The researchers implement an Android app that combined these 3 intervention types and found that users reduced their time with the apps they feel are a poor use of time by 21% while their use of the apps they feel is a good use of time remained unchanged
AppDetox allows users to define rules that limit their usage of specific apps.
PreventDark detects and prevents the problematic usage of smartphones in the dark. Using vibrations instead of notifications to limit app usage has also been found to be effective.
Further, researchers have found group-based interventions that rely on users sharing their limiting behaviors with others to be effective.
First of all, depression is a medical illness that adversely influences people in emotion, imagination, and action. It is the common word related to the mental problem that everyone might have heard. It is the symptom that people possess a lot offline, however, the number of people gets in online these days. Second, social isolation is the lack of interaction between individuals and society. If the communications are just done by the message on the phone, the conversation with face-to-face would no more happen and the offline real-life friends would not be made or resisted anymore.
People might think they are happy and satisfying their life, however, only online. Therefore, they would end up people feel lonely and isolated from the world when they are in real life. Lastly, low self-esteem and anxiety are a lack of confidence and feeling negative about oneself. People check the reaction to their posts and care about likes, comments, and other’s posts, which decreases self-esteem. Furthermore, even when we are with friends, we check our SNS updates instead of having a conversation. We reply to another friend’s message even we are with other friends and check our phone even the notifications were not on. These connect to anxiety; caring for other’s reactions to show off themselves, checking phones frequently for no reason.
Depressive symptoms, in particular, are some of the most serious psychological problems in adolescents; the relationship between depressive symptoms and mobile phone addiction is a critical issue because such symptoms may lead to substance abuse, school failure, and even suicide. Depression caused by phone addiction can result in failure of the entire life. For example, if the person is diagnosed with depression, they start to compare themselves with others. They might think everyone expects him or herself is happy and lucky. Then, the person will start to curse all the people and hate him or herself. Furthermore, the person will remind their selves that they might fail in everything they try because they cannot succeed.
Their suicide rate rose by 65% in those five years and the number of girls with severe depression rose by 58%. Moreover, About 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phones—a lot of time by any measure—had thought about suicide or made plans for it, vs. 28% of those who spent only one hour per day on their phones, which was able to see how phone addiction is, directly and indirectly, affecting humans and how the majority of humans are already affected by it and the rate is still increasing. Depression can be defined as a broad symptom of phone addiction, which includes isolation, anxiety, or self-esteem.
The increase of mobile phone addiction levels would increase user’s social isolation from a decrease of face-to-face social interactions, then users would face much more interpersonal problems. The phone stops the conversation and interaction between humans. If the communications are just done by the message on the phone, the conversation with face-to-face would no more happen and offline real-life friends would not be made or resisted anymore. People might think they are happy and satisfying their life, however, only online. Therefore, they would end up people feel lonely and isolated from the world when they are in real life. Furthermore, Phone addiction not only makes the people who are addicted to phone isolated but also makes the people around them feel isolated.
Low self-esteem and anxiety
The other psychological symptoms that are caused by phone addiction are self-esteem and anxiety. Social Network Service (SNS) is one of the main streams in the world these days, therefore it dissolved a lot in daily life too. Studies have consistently shown that there are significant relationships between high extraversion, high anxiety, and teenagers’ low self-esteem with the mobile phone, and the stronger the young person’s mobile phone addiction, the more likely is that individual to have high mobile phone call time, the excessive number of calls and text messages. When we communicate with friends, we use SNS or message to contact.
Anxious people more easily perceive certain normal life matters as pressure. To reduce this stress might result in even more addictive behaviors and females are more likely to use mobile phones to maintain social relations.
When we see cool things or want to show something to others, we open our Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter to post it. After, people check the reaction to their posts and care about likes, comments, and other’s posts, which decreases self-esteem. Furthermore, even we are with friends, we check our SNS updates instead of having a conversation. We reply to another friend’s message even we are with other friends and check our phone even the notifications were not on.
These connect to anxiety; caring for other’s reactions to show off themselves, checking phones frequently for no reason. In other words, it is called, “Forecast error” that keeps us coming back, even though it often has a negative effect on our mental health. And this cycle sounds eerily like a classic addiction.
Moreover, online, under the name anonymous, people utilize it in bad ways like the cyberbully or spread rumors. People also force their opinions and post bad comments that might hurt others too. All of these examples would result in people by having a symptom of anxiety and low self-esteem that connects to depression.
I have had a number of calls recently from parents worried about their teen, trying to figure out whether their teen is just having growing pains, or is in a real depression. Teens love to dump on their parents, giving them their most angry, their most sad, their most anxious and fearful feelings. This is the good news. Think of it as colic. When the bad stuff gets expelled, then sleep and peace can come…until the next time.
Teens are feeling their feelings in ways they have never experienced them before. The intensity comes from an adolescent brain that is over activated in the area responsible for emotion, and literally from having some of these feelings for the first time. Without experience and a history that would have given them a game plan to deal with these feelings that are overwhelming, they are vulnerable to feeling like they might never go away. The first break-up, a humiliation on a soccer field, or a stage, the embarrassment of doing something or saying something impulsively stupid in front of your peers, the disappointment that someone you like doesn’t like you back, the worry that they are disappointing you in some way, or any one of a million other things can feel like a catastrophe.
So your kid comes to you in a rage, in a tantrum, sobbing uncontrollably and you feel helpless. But they are coming to you. Like a sponge, you absorb every drop of emotion. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you live with a pit in your stomach that your kid is in pain. But here is the thing, now that they have dumped it all on you and you have so graciously sopped it all up, they are free to go out and enjoy life again. Rinse and repeat!
When is it time to worry? The dumping is a good sign. The emotion is a good sign. They are working it out. It may be hard on you, but at least they have an outlet. The worry should start, if they are not talking, isolating themselves, and really seem to have lost the up and down nature of teen life. Up and down is good. Staying down is not. If you see your teen spending increasing amounts of time alone, in their room, avoiding family and friends, you might say something like this: ” I have noticed recently that you seem more down than usual. You seem to be spending a lot of alone time in your room away from us and your friends. I get life can be complicated and difficult and sometimes overwhelming, and you might like just getting away from it all. I used to do that to sometimes. But I worry that you are not giving yourself a chance to talk about it. If you don’t want to talk to us, I understand, maybe it would be helpful to talk to a counselor. I don’t want to bug you, but I love you, and want you to work out what seems to be bothering you. I’ll check back in with you in a few days, and we can talk about a plan.” You will probably get a “leave me alone!” but don’t let that deter you. Keep checking in, and letting them know that you are concerned. Eventually, you may just have to make an appointment and make them get in the car.
Seeing your teen be in pain is the worst. Giving them a safe haven to express it is a gift.
There are concerns that some mobile phone users incur considerable debt, and that mobile phones are being used to violate privacy and harass others. In particular, there is increasing evidence that mobile phones are being used as a tool by children to bully other children.
There is a large amount of research on mobile phone use, and its positive and negative influence on the human’s psychological mind and social communication. Mobile phone users may encounter stress, sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression, especially young adults.
Consistent phone use can cause a chain reaction, affecting one aspect of a user’s life and expanding to contaminate the rest. It usually starts with social disorders, which can lead to depression and stress and ultimately affect lifestyle habits such as sleeping right and eating right.
According to research done by Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, there is a correlation between mobile phone overuse and depression. According to Twenge and her colleagues, at the same time that smartphones were on the rise, there was also an increase seen in depressive symptoms and even suicides among adolescents in 2010.
The theory behind this research is that adolescents who are being raised as a generation of avid smartphone users are spending so much time on these devices that they forgo actual human interaction which is seen as essential to mental health, “The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.”
While children used to spend their free time outdoors with others, with the advancement of technology, this free time is seemingly now being spent more on mobile devices.
Psychologist Nancy Colier has argued that people have lost sight of what is truly important to them in life. She says that people have become “disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.”
People’s addiction to technology has deterred neurological and relationship development because tech is being introduced to people at a very young age. People have become so addicted to their phones that they are almost dependent on them. Humans are not meant to be constantly staring at a screen as time is needed to relax their eyes and more importantly their minds. Colier states: “Without open spaces and downtime, the nervous system never shuts down—it’s in constant fight-or-flight mode. We’re wired and tired all the time. Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it.”
The amount of time spent on screens appears to have a correlation with happiness levels. A nationally representative study of American 12th graders funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse titled Monitoring the Future Survey found that “teens who spent more time than average on-screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.” One of the most important findings of this study is how the amount of time spent on non-screen activities versus on-screen activities affects the happiness levels of teenagers.
However, while it is easy to see a correlation between cell phone overuse and these symptoms of depression, anxiety, and isolation, it is much harder to prove that cell phones themselves cause these issues. Studies of correlations cannot prove causation because there are multiple other factors that increase depression in people today. Although parents and other figures share these concerns, according to Peter Etchells, a psychologist at Bath Spa University in England, other possible variables must be reviewed as well. Etchells proposes two possible alternative theories: depression could cause teens to use iPhones more or teens could be more open to discussing the topic of depression in this day and age.
A survey done by a group of independent opticians reviled that 43% of people under the age of 25 experienced anxiety or even irritation when they were not able to access their phone whenever they wanted. This survey shows the psychological effect that cell phones have on people, specifically young people. Checking a cell phone has become a normal daily event for many people over the years just as getting dressed in the morning is, people, don’t feel right when they don’t do it.
Internet addiction disorder (IAD) also known as problematic internet use or pathological internet use is generally defined as problematic, compulsive use of the internet, which results in significant impairment in an individual’s function in various life domains over a prolonged period of time. This and other relationships between digital media use and mental health have been under considerable research, debate, and discussion amongst experts in several disciplines, and have generated controversy from the medical, scientific and technological communities. Such disorders can be diagnosed when an individual engages in online activities at the cost of fulfilling daily responsibilities or pursuing other interests, and without regard for the negative consequences.
As adolescents (12–19 years) and emerging adults (20–29 years) access the Internet more than any other age group and undertake a higher risk of overuse of the Internet, the problem of Internet addiction disorder is most relevant to young people.
Signs and symptoms
Mental health consequences
A longitudinal study of Chinese high school students (2010) suggests that individuals with moderate to severe risk of Internet addiction are 2.5 times more likely to develop depressive symptoms than their IAD-free counterparts.
The best-documented evidence of Internet addiction so far is time-disruption, which subsequently results in interference with regular social life, including academic, professional performance and daily routines. Some studies also reveal that IAD can lead to disruption of social relationships in Europe and Taiwan. It is, however, also noted by others that IAD is beneficial for peer relations in Taiwan.
Dr. Keith W. Beard (2005) states that “an individual is addicted when an individual’s psychological state, which includes both mental and emotional states, as well as their scholastic, occupational and social interactions, is impaired by the overuse of [Internet]”.
As a result of its complex nature, some scholars do not provide a definition of Internet addiction disorder and throughout time, different terms are used to describe the same phenomenon of excessive Internet use. Internet addiction disorder is used interchangeably with problematic Internet use, pathological Internet use, and Internet addictive disorder. In some cases, this behavior is also referred to as Internet overuse, problematic computer use, compulsive Internet use, Internet abuse, harmful use of the Internet, and Internet dependency.
Physical symptoms include a weakened immune system due to lack of sleep, loss of exercise, and increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome and eye and back strain.
Symptoms of withdrawal might include agitation, depression, anger, and anxiety when the person is away from technology. These psychological symptoms might even turn into physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, tense shoulders and shortness of breath.
It is argued that interpersonal difficulties such as introversion, social problems, and poor face-to-face communication skills, often lead to internet addiction. Internet-based relationships offer a safe alternative for people with the aforementioned difficulties to escape from the potential rejections and anxieties of interpersonal real-life contact.
Individuals who lack sufficient social connection and social support are found to run a higher risk of Internet addiction. They resort to virtual relationships and support to alleviate their loneliness. As a matter of fact, the most prevalent applications among internet addicts are chat rooms, interactive games, instant messaging, or social media. Some empirical studies reveal that conflict between parents and children and not living with the mother significantly associated with IA after one year. Protective factors such as quality communication between parents and children and positive youth development are demonstrated, in turn, to reduce the risk of IA.
Prior to addictive or psychiatric history are found to influence the likelihood of being addicted to the Internet. Some individuals with prior psychiatric problems such as depression and anxiety turn to compulsive behaviors to avoid the unpleasant emotions and situations of their psychiatric problems and regard being addicted to the Internet a safer alternative to substance addictive tendencies. But it is generally unclear from existing research which is the cause and which is the effect partially due to the fact that comorbidity is common among Internet addicts.
The most common co-morbidities that have been linked to IAD are major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The rate of ADHD and IAD associating is as high as 51.6%.
Internet addicts with no previous significant addictive or psychiatric history are argued to develop an addiction to some of the features of Internet use: anonymity, easy accessibility, and its interactive nature.
Parental educational level, age at first use of the Internet, and the frequency of using social networking sites and gaming sites are found to be positively associated with excessive Internet use among adolescents in some European countries, as well as in the USA.
As many scholars have pointed out, the Internet serves merely as a medium through which tasks of divergent nature can be accomplished. Treating disparate addictive behaviors under the same umbrella term is highly problematic.
Dr. Kimberly S. Young (1999) asserts that Internet addiction is a broad term which can be decomposed into several subtypes of behavior and impulse control problems, namely,
Cybersexual addiction: compulsive use of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn;
Younger kids access stuff out there that isn’t exactly 100% porn or isn’t so intense that it seems to be really bad. That leads them into thinking porn isn’t so bad and eventually looking at a lot of hardcore porn. – A 21-year-old student
As the quote above indicates, we really do need to develop a culture in our homes where we commonly discuss what all members are exposed to and encounter. Parents who do not allow their children to have smartphones may lull themselves into believing they don’t need to talk with their kids about sexual content. That is simply not true.
There are so many ways and places a child can be exposed to illicit sexual material today that we simply must prepare our children to know how to respond when they are exposed.
1. Other Illicit Content in Your House
I was sitting with some guys at school and someone asked, “Do you watch Game of Thrones?” And this other kid said, “Naw, I watch enough porn already.” — A 15-year-old boy
There are many shows that have highly sexualized content on them. Even on standard television, where there are much stricter rules about what can be shown, programs often promote porn use as normal and even desirable.
The wildly popular Big Bang Theory portrays young people who use porn as a matter of course, and if anything, find it humorous. Children are aware of such programs even if they don’t watch them at home. The message they receive is, “Watching porn is what young people do.”
That aside shows like Big Bang Theory also promotes viewing women as sex objects, which is one of the most harmful things that exposure to pornography does to children. If we do not speak into our culture’s messaging about sexualizing people, our children will believe what media teaches. I am not saying we prevent our children from watching TV, I am saying we have to talk about what TV is saying to us.
Things get much dicier once we get into the world of smart televisions, streaming apps, and cable TV. There are fewer rules about what can be shown in those arenas and full nudity and sex scenes are common. These media channels do provide outright pornographic images, but they also provide content that may not specifically be porn but still show pretty much the same thing.
Apps for memes are made to look innocent, but once opened, a password often opens up sexual content. — A 19-year-old girl
We must be aware that smart TVs have the same apps found on a smartphone or apps of different names that do the same thing. Anything a kid could do on a smartphone they can do on a smart TV if that is not carefully protected.
There is nothing new about media promoting porn use as normal or funny. The old movie, The World According to Garth, opens showing three grade-school-aged boys looking at pornography and apparently masturbating while talking about how much they like looking at naked women. A woman catches the boys in the act, but instead of trying to protect them, she only scolds them for hiding their pornographic magazine under her baby’s mattress. The scene is passed off as humorous. Movies have long portrayed pornography use by children as normal and funny, and our children know it.
Nothing has changed. In a recent interview with the three child actors from the newly released movie, Good Boys, the boys joked that they are not legally old enough to view the movie they acted in unaccompanied. The movie apparently shows the boys using pornography, practicing kissing a sex doll, and playing with various sex toys, all while passing it off as humorous. Even though these scenes supposedly portray the boys as innocent and not really understanding what they are doing, young viewers will understand it is encouraging their interest in pornographic scenarios.
3. Interactive Illicit Media
A number of video games show nudity and sex happening. Even if it’s not super graphic, some of them have the player act out sexual scenes with his or her character. — A 21-year-old student
Any app that allows people to talk privately to each other opens the door to forms of sexting. — A 17-year-old girl
I was using an app for streaming music and I found out that I could follow other people and communicate with them. I met a girl this way and we started having text conversations about sex acts. We didn’t really think much about it until her dad found out and got really mad because they had no idea if I was really a kid or not. I never thought about how dangerous that could be so I told my dad and he helped me stop. — A 16-year-old boy
More than ever before in human history, children are playing out sexual themes with other real people through technology. They may or may not know the other person they are interacting with. Children typically view such behavior as “not real” and do not imagine anyone could get hurt through such communication. Such behavior feeds the mindset that other people exist primarily for our sexual gratification. Taking part in the sexual scenarios, rather than just watching it, affects children’s mental health quite profoundly.
Apps come out so frequently that it is not possible to list them all here. Instead, we need to have the kind of relationship with our child that allows the child to feel safe letting us know all of the technology, apps, and media they have access to.
Remember that our children can access technology in places other than our homes. This is a conversation all of us need to have with our children, even children who are homeschooled.
Let’s keep in mind that a child does not need a smartphone to be involved in sexting. Sending texts to each other about highly sexualized fantasies can be done on any flip phone and sending nude images is also possible through simple text tools. It is good for parents to wait to give a child a smartphone until they are older, but giving a child any phone requires that we start talking about what they do with that phone.
We sometimes forget that the internet was not the first source of pornography, and it is still not the only source. While old school pornographic magazines are far less prevalent today than in my childhood, print media is no safer than when I was young. Comic books, Magna, and graphic novels continue to grow in popularity and can be found in any library or bookstore. Many of these carry sexual themes and some even depict nudity and graphic sex. Kids can still access these and hide them under their mattress just like when I was a kid. The difference is, a kid today can pick one up at an innocent-looking bookstore or library without needing to be eighteen.
I am not trying to be alarmist. Most of these forms of print media are safe and can contain very appropriate and positive content. However, hidden in the bookshelves between positive magazines and books, we will often find extremely graphic examples. Just like accidentally coming across pornography online, a child can come across a pornographic Magna book or magazine by accident as well. Once again, we need to know what our kids are doing and we need to talk frequently with them about what they are coming across.
What Can a Parent Do?
I do not want parents to come away from reading this post feeling overly frightened and worried. Even if our kids are exposed to this kind of content we can still help them process the experience and create safeguards around future exposure. Hope is not lost. Here are some conversation starters, listed in the order a parent might use them:
1. Start talking more openly about suggestive or even illicit content you come across as a parent.
Don’t start by asking what your child may have been exposed to before you prove to them that in your house it is safe to be honest about what we are seeing. We can start out saying something to the effect of, “I came across something yesterday that I wasn’t expecting…” Sharing our own stories encourages our kids to share theirs.
2. Help your children know it is human to sometimes be attracted to something that is not good for us.
We can start with examples of non-sexual things, which are easier to talk about. In my case, excessive amounts of key lime pie is an example. We can talk as a family about how not everything we want or are attracted to is good for us and sometimes we have to say “no” to ourselves.
3. Be honest ourselves as parents how it makes us feel when we come across suggestive content.
Our kids are wondering if we know what it feels like to be attracted to sexual content. If we won’t admit that we find some sexual content appealing, they will never admit the same to us. My children knew I sometimes found pornography attractive and had to take measures not to access it before they reached middle school. That did not make them think I was creepy, it helped them feel normal when they entered puberty and felt the same way.
4. Ask your children what they hear other kids are doing related to watching content with nudity in it or talking about sex with each other.
You could say, “I hear that kids today are _____. Is that really true?” It’s a lot easier for our children to answer this question than to admit what they are doing themselves.
5. Ask your child what they think of what other kids are doing.
They may never have considered what they think about it and this is good practice for them. Then you will also have a better idea of what your child is thinking and know better how to help them if help is needed.
6. Finally, after doing all of the above several times over at least two weeks, you can ask your child, “So, what have you seen?”
It is better to take our time rather than rush this. Even if we feel a sudden panic realizing our child might have been exposed to more than we realize, it is better to proceed slowly and gain their trust. Otherwise, our children will feel interrogated and will be less likely to be honest.
Where This Leaves Us
Being aware of the dangers to our children does not mean we react out of fear. Locking our children away until they are eighteen is not a solution. That only puts off teaching them what they need to know to be safe to a time they don’t have to listen to us anymore. Our children need to learn how to be safe in the world they were born into. We need to learn how to protect them from a world that is different than what we grew up in. We are all going to have to do this together.
It is perfectly fine to admit to our children if we don’t really know what all they need protection from. They may already know more than we do of what to be careful of. The truth is, our children are more likely to be willing to try to be safe if we invite them to help us determine how that can be done. Children are no different than adults in wanting to be needed.
You are going to make mistakes. Your children are going to make mistakes. All of that is okay as long as you are working together toward the same goal. That will be easier to achieve a home where it is safe to admit mistakes.
The big takeaway is it is time to start talking now. You have a list of conversations but the first one is to share things you have come across recently that are suggestive or illicitly sexual. You don’t need to give details to share with your family what you saw. Prove to your children that your house is a safe place to be honest.
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One of the major tasks of Adolescence is to develop a personal identity; what are my values, my interests, my passions, what are the qualities I look for in friends and lovers, what is my sexual identity, what are my goals? etc. Part of this process is also to look closely at the people who raised them, and analyze how they are both different and the same from them. I always say that having a teen in the house is like having your own personal therapist. With this new brain of theirs, they are able to really look at you without the cloud of perfection that hovered over you in their childhood. Why the hell do these kids have to grow up?????? They are now free to share with you their thoughts and ideas about you! Unfortunately much of what they share is the stuff we already don’t like about ourselves. Having them be so honest can be very uncomfortable. But if you can listen without hurt or defensiveness, you might learn something new and potentially useful about yourself. More importantly it is part of the process of figuring out who they are.
As teens start thinking for themselves, they might start to go down paths that parents aren’t comfortable with. I’m not talking about unsafe or risky behavior, but life choices about what they like to do, where they might want to go to college, and ultimately what they want to do with their life. Most parents have dreams for their kids. In healthy families, parents keep those dreams to themselves waiting to see what path their children seem most interested in, even if it means parents giving up their own dreams for their kids. In some families, parent’s dreams for their kids is more of a requirement than an option. We call that Identity foreclosure, when the option of choosing one’s own identity is taken away from them. The following paragraphs are answers to a question on the final exam I gave last week, asking students to choose the identity type that most describes their experience with this process. These students have answered identity foreclosure.
Food for thought:
“My parents forced me to go to all elite catholic schools form kindergarten to college. I was never allowed to get anything below a B or I would be in serious trouble. I am now not a catholic.”
“My parents picked nursing school for me. they said they would only pay for college if I went for nursing. My mom graduated from a nursing program and really wanted me to go.”
“My parents control most if not all decisions made in my life. If they think that this is the best decision for my future they will push me toward that path without acknowledging my concerns.”
“Everyone in my family is in the medical field and my parents urged me to become a nurse. I was pushed to pursue this.
It was heartening to read and watch this young woman come to terms with how destructive this social media game can become, and to take steps to turn her experience around and help younger teens avoid falling into the kinds of popularity traps that she did. Having said that, I have mixed feelings about having young teen girls especially, watch this video. My fear is that they will pay more attention to how beautiful those photos/videos are, and how many likes/attention/money/popularity/celebrity she did get for posting them. Older teens, like Essena may have the maturity to see through the addictive qualities of Essena’s life, and weigh the issues of popularity VS anxiety and depression. Younger teens like her own “12 year old self” might not. So think about that before you show this to your teen. Older teens 16 and up developmentally have the ability to be more self aware and introspective and might heed Essena’s message.
Regardless of whether you choose to watch this with your daughter, heed the message she shares!!! The only way to curb the obsession with popularity is to limit the opportunity to make it one in the first place!!!! If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a million times, your younger teens DO NOT need access to their phones 24/7. Treat the phone/ipad as you would have done with TV when they were four years old. ” No you can not watch cartoons all day!!!! Addictive behaviors develop when the brain chemical dopamine surges when you do something pleasurable, and you seek to replicate that pleasurable feeling over and over again until the brain stops producing the dopamine and lets the outside stimuli do the work. Getting that “high” takes more and more effort. Hence the need to obsessively check instagram for likes. As Essena described quite accurately, 100,000 likes wasn’t enough, she needed 200,000 for that “high,” or taking 100 selfies to get just that perfect shot!!
Please use parental controls either directly on your teen’s phone/ipad or go to this website for information. No phone during school; a few hours after school; and an hour in the evening. Anymore than that, and you will be aiding and abetting the possible kind of addiction you see this articulate 19 year describe
Joani’s Top Ten Parenting Tips
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Adolescent Psychology: The Parent Version
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Learn Effective strategies for arguing-The Four Ways Of Fighting.
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Sexting. Texting and Social Networking: What’s A Parent To Do?
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Learn strategies to monitor and set limits around phone and internet use
Learn how your own behavior with phones and computers can positively and negatively influence your teen.
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Audience: parents of 4thgraders through High school
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“I first saw pornography when I was 6 when I found a pornographic video in my older brother’s room. I kept watching pornography here and there from that point on. My parents didn’t sit me down to talk about pornography until I was 13. That one talk helped for a little while, but it didn’t prepare me to resist pornography when I moved out. Then, it all started over again and got a lot worse.”—Tim, age 23, 2019
When to Start the Conversation
Many parents approach the topic of pornography only when they find out that their child has been viewing pornography. Other parents wait until their child enters the teen years. In today’s world, neither approach is a good solution, because children are being exposed to pornography at increasingly younger ages.
The goal as a parent-ally is to prepare our children to know what to do when they encounter pornography before they are exposed. According to college student surveys in 2009, one-half of boys and nearly forty percent of girls have seen pornography by the age of twelve.
Today, young children need to know what to do when they encounter pornography before it’s too late.
How Often to Discuss Pornography
Even after starting the discussion, parents often worry that they might be encouraging a child to seek out pornography if it is talked about too often. Our experience, however, is that it is usually what our children hear from other children that makes them curious. A parent/child conversation about porn does not usually create that kind of enticement.
Throughout the year, children in schools practice what to do in the case of a fire or earthquake. This is to ensure that they react quickly and correctly in case of a real emergency.
Likewise, we want our children to have enough practice to react appropriately when they see pornography. That can only happen with repeated training. Like any other safety training for children, discussions about pornography need to happen several times a year.
What to Say About Pornography
Define it. We first have to explain, in very simple and non-graphic terms, what we are talking about. Here are some examples of what that might look like:
“Pornography is pictures of people with no clothes on.” This is a simple definition and may be the easiest for younger children to understand. However, some parents may decide this is too broad and can include things that are not actually pornography.
“Pornography is pictures of people with few or no clothes on that make you feel embarrassed, sick to your stomach, or excited.” This provides a way to help slightly older children differentiate an immodest image from pornography. This is slightly more precise but removes the need to talk about pornography’s intent on sexually stimulating the viewer.
“Our bodies are good, but certain parts of them are special and private. Pornography is when someone takes naked pictures or videos of people that should be private and shares them with everyone.” This is a great way to connect conversations between the dangers of pornography and personal privacy.
“Pornography can include any image or video that is sexual or sexually suggestive.” As our children reach adolescence, they are ready to identify pornography by its intent, not just the fact that some skin may be showing. We also have to recognize that for some children, any partially nude image may be erotic and affect them in similar ways that hard-core pornography does.
“Pornography is any writing, imagery or video that was created to intensify sexual feelings.” This broadens the category of pornography for adolescents and teenagers. By this age, they understand sexual feelings and can use them to help them identify if something they encounter is pornographic to them.
Explain why pornography is harmful. We are not talking about scare tactics, which don’t work well with most kids. However, if we want kids to reject pornography, they need a few reasons why they should. After all, without reasons to avoid it, pornography will become too enticing for most kids to resist in adolescence.
“Pornography takes what was meant to be private and makes it public.” This may help younger children understand how harmful pornography really is. Young children learn what private means as we teach them to protect their bodies. We can expand those lessons by explaining how pornography is a violation of such privacy.
“Many people depicted in pornography didn’t really want pictures of themselves shared like this. It is not fair to look at pictures of people who didn’t want to be shown naked.” This is a slightly more detailed explanation for middle school-age children to help them have empathy for people exploited through pornography. It is true that many of the people depicted in pornography were coerced or forced to participate. Children deserve to know this when they are old enough to understand.
“Pornography teaches us that sex is about taking. Using people for sex is abuse and not something we should support or watch.” A very high percentage of modern porn portrays and promotes unhealthy sexual attitudes, outright abuse, and assault. Adolescents are old enough to have such a conversation with. They need to understand that pornography should be rejected because of the harm it does to those it portrays, as well as the attitudes it reinforces.
“Pornography treats people like sex objects who have no feelings. This is not how we treat people.” Our adolescents need to understand that most pornography is little more than third party sex trafficking. Adolescents are capable of great empathy, and for some, this will give them very high motivation to resist pornography.
Train children how to react. Once our children understand what pornography is, we need to help them know what to do when they see it. They need instructions that are simple and perfectly clear.
“Close your eyes.” The first reaction is to stop looking. Closing their eyes is the fastest way to do that.
“Get away.” They need to get away from the source of pornography immediately, no matter where they are.
“Come tell me.” If they are older and have a phone, you might tell them to text or call you. For situations where a child cannot reach you, we might teach them to tell the nearest, safe adult. Then, they should tell you as soon as they can.
Remember, we shouldn’t teach these tactics just once. From time to time, we ask as a reminder, “What do we do when we see pornography?”
Here is a real story of how this works.
“My dad taught me what pornography was and what to do when I saw it when I was eight. The first time I encountered pornography was age nine at a sleepover with a boy from church who lived down the street. When I realized what he was trying to show me I knew exactly what to do. I got up and walked home, even though it was night.” —Jason, age 36
Talk about what happens around us. We want to help our children think through what they see happening around them in regard to pornography use. This helps them to avoid being pulled into the false belief that pornography use is normal or unavoidable. Here are some conversation starters to help.
“We’ve talked about pornography before. What do you hear other kids saying about that kind of thing?” Notice we don’t ask if they have heard kids talking about pornography. Asking “what do you hear” makes it clear that you will not be surprised at what your child tells you.
“What do you think about that?” This is a follow up question to the previous one. This is also a good question to ask if we are with our kids and we see a sexual or suggestive ad or scene somewhere. We are not trying to just get information out of them, but to help them think through how pornography affects people. Make them stop and think a little.
“What false messages is that teaching?” This is a question to ask anytime we are discussing something our child has seen or heard others talk about. It helps them think through the false messages that pornography tries to teach.
“It is not true that all kids look at pornography on purpose.” While all kids probably are exposed to pornography—usually by accident—that does not mean they all keep going back to find more. Our kids need to understand that in spite of what some of their friends may say, they are not guaranteed to develop a compulsive need to keep viewing pornography.
“If you have questions about sex, please ask me, instead of trying to look up the answer.” I can’t tell you how many young adults tell me their first exposure to pornography was trying to find the answer to a question they had about sex when they were a child. To save our children from searching online for answers, we have to get over the discomfort of talking with our kids. Even if you don’t give your child Internet access, they usually know how to access the Internet from other places than home. Kids often ask their friends about sex when their parents have not told them. A common way children teach each other about sex is to show each other porn. Kids need to know that it is okay to ask us about sex.
“What questions do you have about sex?” Sometimes we just need to be blunt and ask. By the time a child is twelve (at the very latest), we should ask this question. In a culture where we hear the word “sex” all the time, most kids probably have questions at an even younger age. An excellent way to start these conversations is to select a good resource to teach your child age-appropriate sex education (see suggested resources below!)
These conversations need to start when our children are very young, probably between ages 7 and 9. As our children grow older, we must continue talking about the dangers of pornography, increasing the level of conversation as they are old enough to understand. These discussions should happen several times a year to keep our kids ready to resist pornography when they come across it.
Remember, these do not need to be long, drawn out conversations that make our children dread the subject of pornography or sex. We just need to briefly review these topics on a consistent basis. We should try to become our children’s most trusted source of information about sex so that they don’t need pornography for that purpose.
Suggested Resources to Help Parents Talk to Their Kids About Sex: