We're not in Kansas anymore

Posted: Aug 11, 2006 12:03 AM

Every parent experiences it. Every parent hears the stories from their friends about when they had it. And new parents always wonder when it will happen to them. There's no reason that any of us should be surprised by it, yet we are all when it finally happens to us.

It's the moment sexually explicit material finds its way in front of our children and we realize that we're not in Kansas anymore. Actually, even Kansas isn't safe zone anymore. Or Minnesota. Or Georgia.

The Internet has brought about the creation of many great things, but it has also pushed a whole new world of sexual content right into our homes. None of us are well-suited to defend against its 24-hour-a-day attacks.

The wake-up call to the dangers awaiting our children on the Internet is not new, but the dangers keep growing with each passing day and every technological breakthrough.

If you've been surfing the web much at all, you've no doubt made the unfortunate mistake of typing in a seemingly innocent word into Google only to find that the word has some obscure sexual reference. Pornography is everywhere. It's on the cable networks after midnight . It's on cell phones.

It is certainly nothing new for teenagers to stumble upon the occasional collection of vintage men's magazines being stored in a friend's father's closet—but let's face it—things have changed. While the rest of society's morals have been spiraling downward, the pornography industry was along for the ride, if not leading the charge.

The old excuse that certain pornography might be artistic or beautiful is out the window these days. Nothing is off limits and there's a lot more than just the birds and the bees.

Children in their teens are naturally curious, but a little curiosity about the birds and the bees taken to the world of the Internet might turn into a lesson you don't want them learning. Recent testimony by the Heritage Foundation before Congress, concerning the pornography and the family, was quite alarming in that it found several significant adverse and long-lasting effects of exposure to pornography during the teenage years including:

1. Lasting negative or traumatic emotional responses,

2. Earlier onset of first sexual intercourse, thereby increasing the risk of STD's over the lifespan,

3. The belief that superior sexual satisfaction is attainable without having affection for one's partner, thereby reinforcing the commoditization of sex and the objectification of humans.

4. The belief that being married or having a family are unattractive prospects;

5. Increased risk for developing sexual compulsions and addictive behavior,

6. Increased risk of exposure to incorrect information about human sexuality long before a minor is able to contextualize this information in ways an adult brain could.

7. And, overestimating the prevalence of less common practices (e.g., group sex, bestiality, or sadomasochistic activity).

This should be reason enough to monitor our children's access to the Internet, yet many parents I speak to still allow their children to have computers in their bedrooms.

Perhaps more risky than access to pornography, is the advent of social web sites such as Myspace and do-it-yourself video sites like YouTube.

Kids wear the number of connections they've made on these sites as a badge of honor. By clicking from one profile to the next, they add people to their network of friends.

This kind of little game or contest would be a cute idea for an activity at school, but put 14 year-olds together with adults in an online context, add in an unhealthy dose of anonymity, and you've got trouble just waiting to happen.

After all, one in five teens is approached online by a sexual predator, according to a recent study done by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Having your child posting their pictures or videos online only increases this risk.

You've certainly seen recent network television stings, which entice child predators through chat rooms on popular online services like America Online. With MySpace or YouTube, children are essentially innocently creating a version of an online dating profile or commercial accessible by their friends and plenty of sickos trolling the web for victims.

Kids use these sites to share their thoughts, interests, and personal information with friends. They often post pictures, hometown, school information, their interests, their sport activities, after school activities, and family issues.

It would be terrifyingly easy for a child predator to show up as your daughter's cheerleading practice ended, knowing what your daughter looks like, who her friends are, where she lives and act like a friend of yours who is doing a favor for you by picking up your kids after practice. It's the typical predator's story and the Internet has facilitated this evil practice.

Myspace isn't a brand new phenomenon but it certainly has been gaining speed and if you've got a teenager, it's on your doorstep. It might already be in the living room as well. If you haven't already, its time to talk to your children about the risks posed by seemingly innocuous web-surfing and chat rooms.

Many parents are hoping for laws or technology to solve all these issues but that is a foolish gamble. In the end, it comes down to parents taking control over the Internet in areas the community can't police – namely, their own homes. Take an extra minute tonight and double-check the web sites your son or daughter has been visiting. You might be surprised by what you find.