One of the major concerns parents have about letting their children use the internet unsupervised is that they’ll come across age-inappropriate content, especially pornographic content. It’s a valid concern: the porn industry is growing exponentially due to various technological advancements, from pornographic live streams to VR porn. As such, there is a slough of inappropriate content that parents need to be ready to anticipate and protect their children from.

It would be difficult enough for parents if they just had to worry about their children seeking it out themselves, but the porn industry didn’t become as massive as it by just waiting for willing customers to find them. Porn producers are now able to use algorithms to target potential consumers, and while one can debate if they’re intentionally targeting children, it’s hard to deny that their efforts make it easier for kids to find pornography without actually seeking it out. In order for parents to keep their kids safe online, they need to be aware of the strategies used to reach out to their kids and how to counteract them.

How Online Porn Finds Its Targets

While pornography has been around in some form or another for centuries, it was generally harder to come by unless you were actively seeking it out. For older generations, porn was hidden behind curtains in the video store or inside brown bags on newsstands. Now you can type a few keywords into a search engine and find pages upon pages of pornographic material. Once a young person realizes this, it can be difficult to keep them away from such material.

Of course, the internet has also made it easier for children to stumble across pornography without meaning to as well. Even if you have SafeSearch features activated, there is no guarantee that explicit material will be excluded completely. There are plenty of cases of kids looking up their favorite cartoons and television shows, only to find pornographic materials depicting its characters, or even just unrelated porn. There are thankfully many tools out there to limit this possibility (include CleanInternet), but those that go unprotected could run into such “accidents.”

Additionally, the porn industry is finding all sorts of new ways to reach audiences, including in spaces where children can easily stumble upon them. For instance, Twitch and other streaming video platforms are popular with kids, as its hosts musicians, pro gamers, and other fun content. However, while Twitch and many of these other services have banned explicit sexual content, plenty of users find ways to walk the line, such as wearing skimpy outfits or encouraging viewers to do compromising things. Similar issues pop up on social media services like TikTok and Snapchat, which are full of age-inappropriate content and have relatively lax parental controls.

Why It’s a Serious Problem

According to some sources, the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11 years old, which means that kids are experiencing porn at a very impressionable period of their lives. Pornography exists within a broad context in which stereotypes about gender, sexism, sexual objectification, so when kids are exposed to porn, it can foster misinformation on sex and romance, which in can harm their own relationships later in life. Among young boys, pornography tends to negatively impact how they view women, seeing them more as sexual outlets rather than multi-faceted human beings. Porn can be equally damaging to young girls, damaging their self-esteem and leaving them questioning their desirability.

Along with twisting one’s perception of what sexual relationships look like, excessive exposure to pornography can also encourage teenagers and children to engage in sexual behavior at a younger age. This is especially true if they come across illegal under-aged porn, as it can normalize the idea of having sex before turning 18. This can have serious consequences, leading to increased risks of teen pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. It can also make teenagers more susceptible to online grooming and sexual predators, as it can normalize many of the scenarios that predators are looking to engage in.

How to Address the Issue

If you think your child has been exposed to pornographic content or worry that they might sometime in the future, you should be proactive and take some steps to create a safer online environment for them.

  • Set your parental controls. Most web-capable devices, browsers, or apps have some form of parental control that can limit access to inappropriate content. Whenever possible, set a password so that your kids can’t tamper with the settings. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s an additional layer of protection.
  • Use Google as your Search Engine: Google has the strongest content blocking options of any search engine, so make that your default search engine on your computer and other internet-capable devices.
  • Investing in online filtering software. CleanInternet is built around creating a family-friendly online experience, filtering out pornography other explicit materials entirely.
  • Talk to your kids. When an older child goes looking for porn, it’s often because they have questions about sex and sexuality that need to be answered. Answering them yourself can address the issue before it gets started.
  • Be understanding. Research shows that if young children stumble across sexually explicit material, seeing the material itself is less upsetting than their fear that you’ll be angry at them for seeing it, so keep a cool head when confronting them about it.

Porn is a near-constant problem for parents, but if you are mindful of the danger and proactive about the potential solutions, you can mitigate the problem and help steer your child away from inappropriate content.