What to Do If You’re Worried About Your Child and Online Sexual Activity

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If you’re a parent and you’re worried about your child’s online sexual behavior, you may want to consider an Internet filtering and monitoring software. Don’t, however, install one of these products without first telling your child, making sure he or she knows that you’ll be monitoring his or her online activity, and that you’re doing this not to cause embarrassment but because you care about his or her safety. (For more information about these products, see this link.)

That said, it is important that you understand and accept that you can’t protect your child from everything the online world has to offer, even if you install a top-tier filtering and monitoring software. After all, what your kid can’t access on his or her own digital devices can be accessed on a friend’s device, at the library, or on a digital device that he or she purchases and uses in secret. So, much as it is with drugs and alcohol, the best thing you can do, if you’re worried about your child’s online sexual behavior, is to talk to your child in a nonjudgmental way, encouraging an open and honest discussion about all aspects of adolescent sexuality, including the use of online pornography, chat rooms, hookup apps, social media, and the like.

The biggest challenge you are likely to face when dealing with this type of issue is overreacting to fear and discomfort about your child’s online life. It is easy to become overly angry, punitive, dismissive, or anxious after learning about your child’s online sexual behavior. As such, it is best to work through your feelings about the issue first, and to then determine the discussion/outcome path you want to pursue – keeping in mind that fear and anger-based responses tend to drive away potentially valuable growth opportunities.

Again, the best thing you can do is talk to your child in a nonjudgmental way. There’s a big difference between saying, “This morning I noticed some porn on your computer and it makes me uncomfortable,” and saying, “Oh my god, I cannot believe you are looking at that awful crap. You can forget about using the car this month, and we’re taking you to a therapist this very instant.”

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is for you to work through your own reactions before talking to your child. Having done that, you should then try to learn the extent and purpose of your child’s online sexual activity. If the behavior seems extreme (multiple times daily, for hours at a time, etc.) or if it’s being engaged in as an escape/avoidance mechanism (the child seems isolated, the child is avoiding social/dating settings), then it might be wise to seek the help of an adolescent sexual addiction treatment specialist.

If you think an adolescent in your life may be suffering from sex or porn addiction, please contact us so we can direct you toward appropriate treatment.