Q: What is the best way I can block websites with sexual content that appear through Web searches on my 15 year old’s iPad and still let him use the Internet for safe sites? The built-in controls are a blunt instrument and block too much or all content.
–Seeking Better Blocking, in Nashville, TN
A: Dear Seeking,
As you’re finding, software controls aren’t very effective at blocking sexual content. They may allow sites that are creatively named while blocking innocuous sites on, say, breast cancer awareness. Also, if your son wants to get around them, he will. That’s why the best software for protecting your son is the knowledge in his head.
First, know that it’s natural and healthy for him to be curious about sex. But as you imply, the world of sex online is a minefield: The images he sees there are likely to be unrealistic, dehumanizing, and treating sex as a commodity—as something to buy and sell rather than an intimate expression of love and trust. That can affect his understanding of sex.
That’s where you come in. As a parent, you can direct him toward online information that will support him in developing positive sexuality (take a look at Scarleteen and GoAskAlice). You can also help him interpret the negative portrayals he sees online by having a candid conversation with him. Ask questions like, “What is really going on there?”, “How do you think that makes her feel?” and “Is that the kind of relationship you want to have?”
The more that his sexual education can occur out in the open and in contact with you, the less of an impact the schoolyard or Internet “sex ed” will have.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,