Boy online search

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Q: My 12-year old son is insecure due to the fighting in our country, Syria. We’ve had to move several times and my son expresses concern over losing me or his father, but mostly me. If I am in another room for a while, he will call from his own room, just to hear my voice. Then, the other day I noticed in his internet search history that he had typed in “son and mother sex videos”. I was shocked and saddened to see it, and am unsure of what to do. Please help.
~ Loving Mother, On the Move

A: Dear Loving,

What your son needs most now is your understanding and support. Adolescence can be a difficult stage of development for any child, let alone one who has experienced the trauma of fear and dislocation that your family has. Although I cannot provide an assessment of your son without an in-person evaluation, I would recommend that you and he meet with a therapist, preferably one who practices with adolescents who have experienced trauma, to sort out what he is going through.

As part of his normal development as a 12-year-old boy, your son is starting to figure out and explore his sexuality. Unlike many children his age, he is doing so in the context of what he has seen and felt of the conflict in Syria, fleeing the security of his home, and having to adjust to multiple temporary waypoints. As part of your son’s transition into adolescence, in which he is sorting out which sex, behaviors, physical and emotional characteristics are attractive to him, he is quite naturally going to think about the most important female in his life, which is you, his mother. As a refugee, disconnected from his community and peers, he may have few, if any friends with whom to talk about what young people his age are thinking.

Your son’s use of the internet to seek information, whether it be to answer his questions about sex, to do his homework, to see and hear what is happening in Syria, or to make him laugh, is the norm for tweens. The internet is perceived (not entirely accurately) as a private and safe place to explore difficult or confusing issues. He is still working on developing his impulse control and future thinking, which would have helped an adult understand the implications of his internet search. That said, searching for anything to do with sex online, when he is seeking to learn what is normal, can lead him to extreme and unhealthy ideas and images, including pornography. Since most pornography is objectifying, exploitative, and too frequently coercive, even violent in nature, what he finds may be confusing and quite possibly further traumatizing to him.

Lead with your love, understanding and support for what he is struggling with, rather than your concern or shock at his behavior. Seek out counseling for him and for your family. You have endured, and continue to endure, much. You may benefit from available support services for refugees, including individual psychological counseling and community gatherings at which you can connect with others who have experienced trauma and dislocation. With the help of a therapist, reassure your son that his curiosity is normal, but that there are healthier ways of learning about sex than seeking information online. This would be a good time to reinforce a positive relationship with his father and any other healthy adult males in his life. He may be ashamed and will certainly be reluctant to talk about his sexual questions, so as parents, the best you and his father can do is to make yourself available to talk, should he choose to do so. A therapist can help him work though his anxiety and guide him toward healthier sex education. Point your son toward evidence-based, trustworthy resources such as Young Men’s Health, and let him know that you love and support him in growing up to be the best he can be – a caring, productive, secure, and happy citizen of the world.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~The Mediatrician

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