How do we protect
our children from
internet pornography?

by Julie Medlin, Ph.D. & Steven Knauts, Ph.D.


Eight-year-old Cindy was playing around on her mother’s computer in the afternoon after school. She was looking up websites about her favorite cartoon, “Pokemon.” Towards the bottom of one search page she noticed a link that said “Pokemon Porn.” Curious, she clicked on the link and saw pictures of her beloved cartoon characters doing strange things with each other. Cindy was shocked at first, but became fascinated with the pictures. The website had links to other sites, and she began clicking on the links, this time finding videos of real people having sex. Cindy felt like she had discovered a secret adult world and she wanted to try the things she saw. She decided that when her friend Amy came over that weekend, she would show her the videos and ask her if she wanted to try it...

Just imagine your child in this situation. Unfortunately, this situation can happen very easily and does in fact happen quite frequently. A recent survey estimated that 90% of children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed Internet pornography, most frequently while doing their homework. It’s important to understand that we’re way beyond the days of sneaking a peak at your Dad’s Playboy. Internet porn is extraordinarily graphic, and covers every variation of sexual behavior known to man, including the deviant and abnormal. 

Research has shown that exposure to Internet pornography has a host of negative effects on children. For example, children exposed to pornography learn distorted views of sex and relationships, and they become sexually active at an earlier age.  Like Cindy, many of them try to act out the sexual behaviors they see in the pornography and some of them develop sexual problems that end up requiring specialized treatment. The negative effects can also extend into adulthood, as children who view pornography are more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunctions as an adult.

How then can parents shield their children from pornography? Here are a few basic steps:

Lock up any porn you have in the house – If you have pornographic magazines or DVDs, make sure they are locked away where your children do not have access to them.  Many children come across pornography accidentally while rooting around in their parents’ bedroom.

If you have a personal computer, create a separate user account for your children – When you buy a computer and take it home, the first account that gets created has “administrator” privileges, which basically means you can make any changes to the computer you like and access whatever you want. If you let your children get on the computer using your account, they will be able to access anything online. Instead:

  • Create a separate user account for your children. You can have one account for all the children, or separate ones for each child. Make sure the child’s account does not have administrator privileges – the operating system will give you a clear yes/no choice about this.
  • Put filtering software on the child’s account. Microsoft offers a free program online called Family Safety Live, which blocks inappropriate websites. There are also programs offered by independent companies such as NetNanny.
  • Make sure your child does not know the password to your user account! Don’t write it down on a slip of paper and put it near the computer, or anywhere your child might look (including your purse).
  • Regularly check the history for your child’s web browser. Filtering software typically keeps separate lists of the web sites visited by the child, which cannot be deleted.

Block web browsers on any game systems your child has access to – Many game systems – including the Wii and PS3, have web browsers. Portable gaming devices like the PSP and DSi also have web browsers. These browsers can be used to access pornographic websites. Unlike the web browser on a computer, these browsers typically cannot have filtering software installed.  So the only thing to do is to block access to the browser entirely. You can use the parental controls on these systems to create a PIN number that must be entered to grant access to the browser. Just make sure not to make the PIN “0000,” “1234,” or any other number the child might guess (such as the year of your birth).

If your child has access to an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad – Each of these devices has web browsers that can be used to access porn. However, you can use the “restrictions” option to block access to the web browser. It can get tricky, however. Follow these steps:

  • Tap the “Settings” icon, and then tap the “General” option. Then tap the “Restrictions” option. You will see a button named “Enable Restrictions.” Tap it, and you will be prompted to create a 4-digit PIN number. Make sure to follow the same guidelines for PIN numbers mentioned above.
  • Turn off access to the “Safari” application, which is the device’s default web browser.  You can also turn off access to YouTube, the device’s camera, and the “FaceTime” application that enables video chatting. Once you do this, the icons for those applications will simply disappear from the device’s screen.
  • When you are in restrictions, make sure you also turn off the app store. If you don’t, your child will be able to simply download a third-party browser (many of which are available for free), and use that browser to get online.
  • The app store does offer web browsers that are “kid safe” and block inappropriate web sites. Examples of such browsers include the “K9 Web Protection Browser” and “AVG Family Safety.” You can download that browser first, and then follow the instructions above to disable the original browser.

If your child has a cell phone – Many cell phones these days have web browsers. If your child’s phone is an iPhone, you can use the steps above to disable the browser.  With other phones, you may be able to prevent access by making sure the phone’s account does not include web access – this is typically marketed as a separate service that costs extra.  If you want your child to have web access, but want to monitor what they are doing with their phone, you can install software such as “Mobistealth,” which is a service that keeps track of web sites visited on the phone. Mobistealth also keeps track of all text messages and emails.

Be mindful of other ways your child might have access to online porn – Many children have accessed pornography at school, at libraries, and at friends’ homes. A responsible parent can tear their hair out trying to block access in their own home, only to have their child defeat their best efforts by going across the street. However, there are some steps a parent can take to address this problem:

  • Talk to your child’s school to find out what steps they have taken to keep children from accessing inappropriate material. Do their computers have Internet access? If so, do they have filtering software installed?
  • If your child visits the library, find out if they have filtering software on their computers. Many libraries do not, and in fact the American Library Association has openly opposed the use of such software on library computers (on the grounds that it limits access to information).
  • When it comes to other peoples’ homes, things can get sticky. Many parents will not want to question other parents about such things as parental controls, for fear of coming across as judgmental and overprotective. With younger children, it may be enough to ask the other parents not to let your children get online or play video games. If your child already has a problem with online pornography, however, it may be necessary to explain to the other parents why it is important to limit his or her access.

For additional information about protecting children from pornography, including several “how to” videos that show how to put parental controls on various devices, visit our website at


© Julie Medlin, Ph.D. & Steven Knauts, Ph.D.
Authors, Avoiding Sexual Dangers: A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Child

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem