Jen is a full-time blogger at Muminthemadhouse.com. She lives in the North East of England with her husband and their two teenage sons.
Jen shares her challenges of helping her teenage sons avoid seeing adult content and ways to support them if they do.
As a blogger, Jen is a huge technology enthusiast, and both of her boys have grown up using technology. “We’re early adopters and we have tablets, mobile phones, smart TVs and smart devices in almost every room,” says Jen. “At 14, my eldest son uses technology for pretty much everything!”
Jen and her husband have gradually relaxed the rules around technology as the boys have grown up and believed it’s inevitable that children will stumble upon inappropriate content. “They’ll either Google it or find it by accident, so I think it’s essential that it’s something you’ve discussed,” she says. “We’ve always talked about it in an age-appropriate way. If you come across something that’s worrying or not appropriate, then you come and tell us.”
Both boys know that they will not be punished for finding something inappropriate, but there are consequences for actively seeking it out! “It’s so easy for kids to just find adult content, through things like YouTube’s up next and auto-play features,” Jen says. “Plus there are so many apps like Instagram and Snapchat where they might search for content and find something they weren’t expecting.”
Recently, Jen’s eldest son, Max, was shown pornography on a mobile device by a school friend. “It made him feel really uncomfortable, and thankfully he came home and told us,” says Jen.
The family responded by putting in place new rules that meant Max wouldn’t be exposed to adult content in that way again. Jen and her husband also role-played situations with Max, to help him feel more comfortable telling peers that something wasn’t appropriate for him. Lastly, Jen had a chat with the parent of the other child involved.
“It was difficult and embarrassing for everyone,” Jen admits. “I hope it doesn’t prevent him from coming to me again in the future. My fear sometimes is that it won’t stop the issues, but rather encourage him to be sneakier about how he does it. As much as I can control things at home, our teenagers have access to technology at school and friend’s houses.”
Jen feels that 14+ is a really difficult age to set appropriate parental controls. “In some ways, we are happy for him to access age 15 content like films and games. And we do feel that we want him to feel that we trust him to use his judgment,” she says. “But that’s balanced with regular spot checks, looking at browser history and so on. If we need to, then the ultimate punishment is taking away data and Wi-Fi access and removing technology.”
Although Jen’s family talks openly about these issues, Jen does feel that Internet providers should take a level of responsibility, too. “I think companies need to be responsible for what can be seen on their platforms. As a parent, I do what I can, but I’d like to see an equivalent of the television watershed for the Internet.”
Jen says she is delighted the government is taking a proactive approach to age verification for porn. “Part of me used to think that stumbling across pornography was a rite of passage, but Internet porn is very different to adult magazines, and I believe it can rewire the male mind. I don’t want my boys to have unrealistic expectations of women and sex, which online pornography can give.”
Realistically, Jen knows this is an issue she is going to continue to deal with over the coming years. “My best advice is to keep the lines of communication open and set realistic boundaries.” Jen also thinks it’s important for parents to attend e-safety evenings at school, and spend some time researching the apps and platforms that teenagers are using. “It’s also great to talk to older teens in the family and ask their advice.”
If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your children stay safe online, here are some great resources: