‘No child immune’ from dangers posed by online predators, porncomment (0)
June 13, 2013
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
Jeff Cargile was 4 years old when he first saw a pornographic magazine, a Playboy he found in a barn loft. Forty-three years later, he can still close his eyes and recall the illicit images he saw that day.
Many adults can relate to Cargile’s experience. Before the days of the Internet, magazines were the primary way children were exposed to pornography. That is not true today.
Today’s kids have access to the Internet at school and at home. Those who carry a cellphone with a data plan are connected everywhere they go. With such connectivity comes great risk, perhaps none as great as the dangers of pornography and predators.
“In the last 10 years, technology has improved and social media has become much easier for people to use and navigate,” said Randy Christian, chief deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
Combine the ease of use with the fact that young children and even toddlers now use phones and computers daily and the dangers to children and teens are multiplied.
Without proper supervision, children can stumble onto pornographic websites or post personal information to social media sites where child predators lurk, Christian said.
Explicit online content is a big concern for parents, said Blake Kersey, minister to children at First Baptist Church, Trussville.
Kersey regularly hears from parents whose children have seen profanity posted on Facebook or have followed a link to a pornographic website. Parents are worried that their children are maturing too fast and want to protect them, Kersey said, which is why First, Trussville, recently hosted an Internet safety seminar led by Cargile, a member of the church and an informational technology specialist, to address the topic.
“The problem in the past might have been that kids were finding things online that they weren’t even looking for,” Kersey said. “Now pornographic sites are looking for children by placing ads on sites that children visit.”
Pornography is big business in the U.S., according to Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. Stetzer has written extensively about online pornography, and in his article “The Pornification of American Culture,” he cites statistics gathered by the consumer electronics weblog Gizmodo that highlight the pervasive access of Americans to online pornography.
According to Gizmodo, pornography is a $13 billion business, and 89 percent of all pornographic Web pages are produced in the U.S.
Some 40 million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites, and 70 percent of men aged 18–24 visit porn sites monthly, Stetzer writes.
The average age of first exposure to online pornography? Eleven.
While parents want to protect their children’s innocence, the implications of such widespread availability of pornographic material go beyond simple choices of right and wrong, especially for boys, according to William B. Struthers, professor of psychology at Wheaton College and author of the book “Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain” (InterVarsity, 2009). Struthers writes that regular exposure to pornography rewires the male brain to be “over-sexualized” and fixated on sex rather than intimacy.
“All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men,” Struthers writes. “They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image.”
The dangers are more than mental and spiritual, however. Though perhaps not as prevalent as media depictions might lead parents to believe, adults do sometimes use chat rooms and social networking sites to initiate contact with teenagers, according to the website of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Adult offenders seek out teens on these sites and develop relationships with them online that lead to face-to-face meetings. Often these meetings involve sexual encounters between the adults and teens, primarily teen girls.
According to a study published in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, 75 percent of victims in Internet-initiated sexual exploitation cases were 13–15 years old and 75 percent of those victims were girls. The study also found that with both boys and girls, the offenders were most likely to be males older than 25 who did not hide their interest in a sexual relationship from the victims.
These statistics suggest that insecure teens are vulnerable to the false promises of online relationships and pornography — what Struthers calls the “lie of sexual fulfillment and freedom.” Parental involvement is the key to protecting children from these online dangers, Kersey said.
“Ignorance is no longer an excuse to be wide open with technology,” Kersey said. “We want to show parents the reality of what’s out there and to equip them with simple programs and parameters so they have a grasp of what they need to do to protect their children.”
Cargile recommends that parents set up Web filters and parental controls on all computers, and for portable devices like Apple iPods, iPads and iPhones, Cargile recommends that parents replace the Safari browser with the free K-9 Web Protection Browser to block objectionable content.
Parents also should monitor all computers and electronic devices to evaluate the messages their kids are sending and receiving and the websites they are visiting, Kersey said. This includes tracking texts and Facebook posts, as well as who kids are following (and who is following them) on Twitter. If kids are deleting texts or covering their tracks online, Kersey said parents must respond immediately, even if it means taking the technology away.
“Our message to parents is that you own that computer, you own that phone,” Kersey said. “You need to be checking that device daily and your kids need to know the dangers online that you are protecting them from.”
Cargile believes no child is immune from the dangers online, even though many parents believe they are.
Kersey said the issue is about a parent’s responsibility to guard their child’s heart and mind.
“Once a child’s innocence is stolen, they can’t get it back. Parents have to guard it like a hawk and teach kids how to protect themselves as well.”
Parent's guide to protecting children online
What you must tell your children
1. Never give out personal information.
Talk to your children about how seemingly harmless information like names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as names of parents or guardians, schools, sports teams, sports fields and friends can be used to figure out a child’s identity.
2. Never call or meet anyone in person that you met online.
Talk to your children about sex, romance and autonomy. Explain to them why adults should not be seeking relationships with teenagers and children and tell them that not everyone tells the truth online.
3. Never send anyone a photo online without checking first with a parent or guardian.
Talk to your children about healthy Internet interactions as well as the dangers of online sexual predators, chat rooms, social networking sites and pornography. Be suspicious of mail, gifts or packages addressed to your child from unfamiliar names and addresses.
4. Never ignore messages or photographs that make you feel uncomfortable.
Encourage your children to tell you immediately if they receive any emails or messages that include inappropriate language and/or images. Place computers in common areas of your home and use filtering software to block undesirable content.
NetSmartz Workshop, a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, is a website offering information and interactive tutorials about online safety. The site includes information and tutorials for specific target audiences, including parents, educators, law enforcement, teens, tweens and kids. Visit www.netsmartz.org for more information.
The War Against Pornography will take the movement nationwide with a goal of 1 million men taking a public stand against pornography and the support of 1 million women praying for them and their families.
For more information, visit www.join1millionmen.org. (BP)