Saturday 22 November 2014

I caught my teen watching internet porn

Susan Gately

Published 08/02/2012 | 06:00

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Anyone who has ever caught a teenager looking at porn on the internet knows the feeling of shock and disbelief.

Anita (not her real name) woke up to the dangers of internet porn when by chance she checked the 'history' to find a website she had visited a week earlier, only to discover a plethora of porn sites.

"I nearly died. I clicked through to see exactly what my teenage boy had been watching. It was just disgusting. Threesomes. Oral sex. Masturbation. Videos. Hard core pictures. I was absolutely horrified."

Anita thought she was a savvy parent. She and her husband, a teacher, were both determined to control the Net. At an early stage, they tied up the children's computer. When their eldest daughter got her own PC, they took over the administrator level and installed security software. She would not be able to access or download adult content without their consent. She complained: "It's my computer!" They parried: "It's our internet!".

Their two boys, aged 14 and 12, were into different things: one, sport; the other, stock car racing on Youtube. Soon competition over the shared computer became a major issue.

"Can I use your computer to check homework on the internet?" her elder son asked Anita one evening. She agreed.

"I forgot something very important. There were no parental controls on my machine. I had purposely taken them off so it would work faster," said Anita.

It became a habit for her son to use her computer, first for his homework, and then after a while for checking his facebook account. At Christmas time, as Anita looked at the list of XXX sites on the history, she realised that wasn't all he had been accessing.

That night, Anita and her husband confronted their son and he admitted he'd been looking at porn for months.

"I just went with a gut reaction, and said to him: 'Would you like to see me doing those kind of things, or your sister? They are real people.' I was very cross and upset. I heard after from Parentline that you shouldn't get emotional. I'm afraid I did," admitted Anita.

There is an infinity of porn on the internet, and more and more children are viewing it.

A UNICEF online survey of 509 young people (November 2011), showed over half (54pc) had watched porn on the internet, with a significant percentage (36pc) believing that what they saw was "accurate and/or educational".

Another survey found 45pc of 15- to 16-year-olds had seen "obvious sexual images" in the last year. The survey 'Risks and Safety for Children on the Internet: The Ireland Report', shows younger children on the internet for an hour on average each day, and older teens for 80 minutes. Of these older children, half use the internet in a private space.

Most people will admit that at some stage in their life they looked at porn. Is it really harmful or just a natural stage in growing up?

Dr Martin O'Sullivan specialises in the area of adolescent psychiatry. He says viewing pornography is a hidden issue. "While adolescent males were always exposed to porn, there is a different order of exposure now and we don't know what impact that will have in the long run."

He says pornography is "highly addictive", and through it, he fears, many men will retreat into a "virtual world".

"Far from helping them to form relationships, excessive porn use is likely to deaden the impulse to form meaningful relationships which require patience, consideration and growth."

Professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin, Patricia Casey, says the danger of looking at porn is that it can initiate teenagers into early sexual behaviour. "It also gives them a distorted image of women as sexual objects," she says.

While the area of sex addiction is "controversial and unclear", for children who do not have other "healthy outlets" the lure of porn can be "compelling", she says. It can also be an indicator of early sexualisation and abuse.

In Britain, such is the concern about the early sexualisation of children that last October internet service providers BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin announced they would offer the option of blocking adult content.

These "network-level filters" are by far the best protection for families, says Simon Grehan from the National Centre for Technology in Education, one of the authors of the Ireland report, but "there is nothing like this in Ireland".

TalkTalk, for example, has a free 'home safe' system that is easy to set up, although Grehan adds that "no filter is completely foolproof".

When it comes to the internet, parents must be vigilant, says Rita O'Reilly, CEO of Parentline.

It is part of our parental responsibility, adds Stephen Cardy from Focus on the Family. "We have good reason to protect our children from getting into danger. When they are adults and want to have children of their own, we don't want them to have regrets and reasons why they can't connect and have proper relationships."

Irish Independent

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