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You won’t believe how many kids under 10 are watching porn

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Here's how you can protect your kids from being one of them.

Everyone knows that porn is ubiquitous online, a danger to be aware of and avoid vigilantly. But what you might not know is that your 8-year-old could be finding it accidentally — in fact, new research says that 1 in 10 visitors to graphic porn sites are under 10 years old.

“According to research by security technology company Bitdefender, kids under the age of 10 now account for 22 percent of online porn consumption among those under 18 years old. Internal intelligence from Bitdefender’s parental control feature revealed that the under-10 age group is now accounting for one in 10 of the visitors to porn video sites. Even more unsettling, the sites most visited by children under 10 include porn mega sites which feature categories such as ‘extreme brutal gang bang,’ ‘sleep assault,’ ‘domestic discipline,’ and ‘crying in pain.’” 

This is horrifying stuff. No one, no matter what they think about adult porn consumption, thinks it’s okay for kids to learn what “brutal gang bang” is before they learn to multiply. It’s not.

And yet, everywhere I go there are kids on tablets. Including my own kitchen.

For years, we eschewed devices in our own home and forbade their use in others’ homes. But now my kids have assigned homework in various apps — and I actually like the apps, the formats, and the fact that the kids enjoy doing homework on the tablet. But I know that Reading Plus is one or two accidental clicks away from graphic porn, and I have five kids. I can’t be there every minute, watching every move on the tablet. So what’s a parent to do?

First, don’t freak out and despair. It’s tempting to want to find a way to roll back time and give your kids a bucolic, device-free childhood, but that’s not always possible … and it might not be preferable. Technology isn’t going anywhere, and while our use of it might change, devices are going to be a fact of life for your kids at some point. Might as well figure out how to deal with the bad along with the good to help your children navigate this brave new world of tech.

Luckily, there is some pretty awesome parental control software available in 2017. PCMag ranked them all in January, so you can compare the various options yourself. But my top choice is Net Nanny, which comes with a family pass that allows you to filter and track content across all devices (including cell phones). The filtering is great for younger kids, and the social media tracking is perfect for teenagers. It also features cross-device internet time allowance, which lets you set limits for kids and enforces them for you.

I would encourage you to invest in filtering software if your kids have their own devices. Changing the settings on the device itself is insufficient — kids are 20 times more tech savvy than their parents are (ask me how I learned that you can organize apps into folders on the iPhone) and they can change those settings to what they want and back with you none the wiser. It’s also not enough to block mobile data on one phone line — any smartphone is capable of picking up wifi signals from anywhere and everywhere, and kids know how to take advantage of that. If you choose not to get filtering software but still want to be able to call your child, go totally old-school and get a Nokia flip-phone or a Verizon GizmoPal. Most flip phones just call and text, and the GizmoPal only sends and receives calls to approved phone numbers.

Of course, if you’ve got a truly tech-savvy kid, any amount of blocking and filtering can be undone or worked around. That’s why it’s important to be honest with your kids about what kind of stuff they might encounter online, why it’s so bad for them, and why you are trying to protect them from seeing it. Don’t have one internet safety talk and think you’re done, either — this should be an ongoing conversation, where your kids feel free to ask you questions and vice-versa, and one that happens often enough that they are comfortable bringing up something they might have seen that’s upset them.

Do be gentle, too — remember that kids don’t go looking for porn in the beginning, it comes looking for them. They need protection, but they also need to be taught how and why to protect themselves from pervasive and destructive sexual images. And there’s no software for that … just plain, old-fashioned parenting.

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