Protecting Your Kids Online Series: Pornography

October 18, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

This post is the fourth in my ongoing series about how parents can protect their children and teenagers from harmful people and things online. I am occasionally asked to speak on this topic from my perspective as an Orlando cyber crime criminal defense attorney. Today, I’d like to discuss pornography -- the kind depicting and intended for adults. (If you’re interested in reading about avoiding the kind of online predator who might be interested in making child pornography, I have a post on that subject here.)

Different parents have different approaches to explaining “the birds and the bees,” but most would agree that it’s better to hear it from a trusted adult -- not from a pornography website. Parents may want to control the messages that pornography might send about sex, or to be able to explain what’s going on so that kids and teens don’t make embarrassing assumptions and mistakes. The bad news is that pornography websites are extremely easy to find even by accident. They can also be very aggressive, popping up windows full of explicit pictures even after you thought you had left the site. Some even install “malware” that can keep pornography advertisements running all the time. The good news is that it’s your computer, and you have a lot of ways to control where it takes your kids.

As with other touchy issues, the best way to start is to be honest with your kids. Explain your concerns, at an age-appropriate level. You should also set down some ground rules about what you do and do not feel comfortable with your child doing. With younger children, you may want to make sure that computer use is always supervised. With older kids, that may not be feasible, but you can tell them to stay away from pornographic sites, or from certain sites that you’d rather they not see. You can also set and enforce time limits. Follow through, when necessary, with penalties such as taking away time online.

You don’t have to catch your kids in the act to see if they have been looking at pornography. You can review Web browsing histories or the browser’s cache to see what they have been up to. A guide to checking browsing history for different kinds of browsers is here. To view a cache, you will have to go into your computer’s file system; download a cache-viewing utility; or, in Firefox, type “about:cache” in the URL bar. For a family computer with multiple users, however, make sure that the kids really are the ones who went to those sites before you confront them. If your kids browse the Web with a mobile device, you may be able to review your bill or look through the device while it’s not in use.

If you don’t believe trust is enough to keep your kids away from porn -- or you’re not willing to take the chance -- you also have a variety of tools that can block content. Some Web browsers give you the option to block specific sites, and some sites, like Google or Flickr, allow you to set levels of content filtering. Your internet service provider (the company you pay for access to the Internet) may also offer a limited filtering service. And of course, there are software packages you can buy, which will give you the option to filter not only pornography and sex-related sites, but also sites with other types of objectionable content. Wikipedia has lists of such software here and here. There’s even filtering software for the iPhone. If you believe your child has found a way around filtering software, you can even take it a step further and purchase monitoring software that keeps track of every keystroke and command to tell you what your child has been doing online.

It’s worth noting that adults who send pornography to children are generally committing crimes. Here in Florida, and in other states, transmitting a sexual image to a minor is itself a crime. As a West Palm Beach cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I know this can cause problems for adults as well as children, especially if the child pretends to be an adult online Even more importantly, some law enforcement officers say that when adults knowingly send children pornography over the Internet, it can mean they want to open a sexual conversation or a sexual relationship with the child. All of this makes it very important for parents to be honest with their kids about their concerns with online pornography.

Seltzer Law, P.A., represents Floridians who are charged with crimes, including online crimes and crimes against minors. If your teen is in legal trouble because of something that happened online, Miami-Dade cyber crime criminal defense attorney David Seltzer has the experience and technical knowledge to help you get the best possible outcome. To learn more or set up a free consultation, please send us an email or call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333), 24 hours a day and seven days a week.