Monday 23 October 2017

Dear David: My daughter is shocked after googling 'naked ladies'

Is your child a 'net genius'?
Is your child a 'net genius'?
David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical pyschologist David Coleman gives advice on how to deal with a child seeing explicit images on the internet and a four-year-old boy who wanders off on his parents.

Question: My eight-year-old daughter Googled "naked ladies" the other day. She came to my husband, crying, because she felt she'd done something really bold. Once she explained what happened it was very clear that she was shocked and upset at what she saw. I later checked the same Google search and the first website that appears is very sexually explicit. The pictures I saw were awful and would be worse for a kid to take in. I don't want this to have a major impact on her and would really like to get some guidance on how to deal with it.

David replies: There can be any number of reasons why children search for terms like "naked ladies" on the internet. Curiosity is probably the prime reason, and sometimes they will be trying to gather information or experiences to "fit in" with their friends.

Eight-year-olds are very curious about their own bodies and about other people's bodies. Before the availability of the internet, children would routinely try to satisfy that curiosity by looking in books or asking their parents or their friends.

There can be inappropriate information available for children
There can be inappropriate information available for children

With such easy access to information now, however, children often bypass their parents and go straight to internet search engines to find out what they want to know, as, indeed, do most of us these days.

Your daughter's experience is a salutary lesson for all of us with young children, to be alert to the frightening, and at times inappropriate, breadth and depth of information that is at their fingertips.

I frequently advise parents not to give their children unrestricted access to things like phones and tablets that are connected to the internet, for exactly the reasons that you have discovered.

As I am sure you are aware, in retrospect, there are really good software packages that restrict the kind of information and websites that children can be exposed to. So, if you must give your child a tablet, or access to a laptop, then use internet filtering software.

Most people have some kind of virus protection software installed, and if you check, you will discover that most of the premium virus protection packages also have parental control software built in.

There are also dedicated filtering software packages available, of which Net Nanny is probably the most well known.

Even though your daughter did see some inappropriate and distressing images online, it is comforting that the first thing she did was come to your husband. It seems like she got a real fright and knew that whatever she was looking at was "wrong".

Even though she may have expected a very negative or angry response from her dad, she still had the courage and conviction to come and tell him what she had done. That suggests that she knew that she could trust her parents to sort out the situation.

The more calm and solid you and your husband appear to be about the issue, the more reassured your daughter will be that she isn't a "bold" child, and that sex and sexuality are not "bad" things.

The key message you need to give her is that while she may have made a "mistake" in looking up "naked ladies" online, she isn't a bad person for being curious or for trying to satisfy that curiosity.

She also needs to know that you and her dad are, in fact, the best sources of information and guidance if she continues to be curious. Indeed, it is important that you explore, with your daughter, what sense she made of the images she saw.

Even though she is only eight, she may have further questions, or anxieties about what she saw. If you show an openness to discussing these, like sharing your own response to the images, then it will make it easier for her to broach her own feelings or queries.

Children Playing
Children Playing

If you bring up the subject, occasionally, you can reassure her that you understand that what she saw was upsetting for her, but that you and her dad are always willing to talk with her about sex or sexual things.

By having further conversations about these issues, you can bring your family values about sex, sexuality and relationships into the mix. This gives her a further, important, context within which she can process whatever she witnessed.

My four-year-old son wanders off and no matter what I say he is always likely to do it again

Question: I need some advice about how to handle the behaviour of my four-year-old son. He wanders. Yesterday he just left the house and walked a kilometre, across a main road, before I found him. As you can imagine I was frantic and I gave him a severe telling off. His wandering is part of a wider problem of him being wilful and not doing as he is asked. I try to stay calm but, at times, I do lose my temper and shout at him. I think because I shout at him, he's becoming immune, so I'm not sure if my scolding hits home with him?

David replies: Many four-year-olds are wilful and disobedient. This is not necessarily because they are "bold" but is because they are exploring their world and testing lots of new experiences.

Of course, some of their exploration and experimentation is dangerous (for them or others), or makes a mess, or is inconvenient for us, or becomes frustrating for them if they can't achieve what they are attempting to do.

This is often why we end up getting cross, or punishing them. But our responses to them can set up a pattern of interaction that becomes very negative.

Children at play - a review is underway of support for childcare costs. Photo: Getty Images.
Children at play - a review is underway of support for childcare costs. Photo: Getty Images.

If we always seem cross and/or punitive, we may find that some of their behaviour is indeed intended as a challenge to us. Even though they may not consciously be trying to get their own back on us, it can seem that way.

Shouting and roaring at children, alone, tends to be ineffective in helping them to manage their behaviour. Initially, a shout from an adult might be frightening, and might stop them in their tracks.

But, over time, they will come to ignore our shouting, or may just try to meet it with their own shouting, screaming and resistance.

So, while we do need to sound stern and even cross with children, on occasion, we need to back up our stern admonitions with a little bit of action. We have to actively prevent them from doing what we are telling them to stop doing, for example.

When we show children that what we say is consistent with what we do, we become reliable and predictable. Once children have learned that we mean what we say, they will be more likely to respond to just what we say.

So, when we say "no" and our children know that we mean "no", they are less likely to challenge us. Your calm, firm and stern responses to your four-year-old son are much more likely to influence his behaviour, positively, than the times that you end up shouting at him.

Four-year-olds need lots of guidance and direction. It is good for parents to structure their small children's world and to determine a lot of what is good for them to do and not to do. Enforcing that, however, requires lots of patience and also lots of supervision.

We have to be very physically present with young children. Left to their own devices they can make terrible and dangerous choices. So we need to be around to "head them off at the pass" when they are about to do something dangerous, or "bold".

That said, I'd guess that you are indeed frantic when he goes wandering. It is terrifying to think of the many dangers that a four-year-old faces, unsupervised, in the wider world. I'd imagine your biggest fears were of him being abducted or knocked down and killed.

Your son sounds like he needs lots of supervision and lots of forethought, on your part, in managing the environments that he is in.

So, for example, you may need to consider locking your external doors when he is in the house, so that he can't easily leave. If he is playing outside then you, or some other adult, needs to keep him in view all the time.

There is no quick-fix, or easy solution, for managing the behaviour of four-year-olds. They do require us to have patience and foresight, to prevent them getting into some harm.

Then if and when they do get into bother we have to be firm, but kind, in reprimanding them and steering them into better or more appropriate behaviour.

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