The Internet is an open system. Sites with pornographic materials cannot determine if a viewer is 8 or 50. Most all sites with overtly sexual materials restrict viewing to persons who are 18 or older.
Because of the proliferation of demand for pornographic videos, there are thousands of sites displaying explicitly sexual graphics. Parents are often stunned to discover that their 10 year old son or daughter has been viewing what seems like a great deal of pornographic material on their smart phone, tablet, or computer. This is not addiction. In fact, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) has recently released a statement that such behavior is not an addictive process, but rather a compulsive, and sometimes out of control, behavior.
So a child or adolescent cannot become “addicted” to pornography. In most all instances, this is a normal developmental process, a form of curiosity about our sexual self. If a child/teen is directed to a site by a peer, or stumbles upon adult material while doing searches on his own computer, this can lead to what seems like a great deal of time spent watching porn. In our interviews with parents and children or early teens, searching in the “history” section of our child’s computer looks like a lot of effort has been spent seeking adult sexual material. Looked at more closely, however, this furtive behavior often does not take up much actual time. If a child or teen has been spending a significant amount of energy on such sites, such that it is getting in the way of school achievement or peer relationships, then therapy might be needed. Such compulsive behavior with children and teens, however, is quite rare as a stand alone psychological problem.
The problem is not with pornography, which is as endemic as salad, but with access. And access can be monitored by parents in a number of ways. There are technological fixes, which are not foolproof, and there are family processes. Families can set rules for appropriate behavior, just as parents can set rules around computer use. Once discovered, parents can explain that the viewing of adult videos is inappropriate and forbidden. This explanation needs to be articulated in such a way as to distinguish between sex as a positive part of our lives, and the viewing of pornography as not age appropriate. Parents can choose to explain to their children that their computer use will be monitored, and that, just like with other family rules around gaming or television viewing, there will be escalating consequences for breaking family rules.
Rather than panicking around a misperception of addiction, which fosters guilt and shame, parents can see their child’s normal sexual development as an opportunity to continue an ongoing discussion about sexuality as a positive force in our lives.
Stephen Duclos and Dr. Holly Richmond, Family and Sex Therapists