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"But why can't I go on that web site?"

By Betsy Brown Braun

Your grandfather worried that your dad would find his Playboy (his guilty pleasure) tucked under his mattress. Hah! Would that it were still that uncomplicated, just a few breast sightings. Not in today's world!

The world wide web—the Internet—might be making life easier in many respects, but it is also making the job of raising kids a whole lot more complicated and challenging.

In a cold panic, a client called me: "My ten year old son has been surfing porn.  What do I do?"

This first part is easy. There are many effective parental controls available to place on household computers, as well as imposing limits and restrictions on kids' usage. It was the second part that stumped this mom: "How do I answer him when he asks me why he can't see that stuff?"

Many a parent has let loose with the statement: That's just not appropriate for you to see. In fact, parents throw out the word "appropriate" so often that kids honestly don't know what it really means. To them it just means they blew it, and what they did, said, saw, or tried wasn't okay.

Explaining to a child why he should not be exposed to certain content is imperative, and isn't as hard as it may seem.  And when you respect him by giving a sound reason and not cliches, he is actually more likely to abide by your rules.

Young children are just that…young. Not only are their bodies young, but so are their brains and their feelings. Neither have they had much life experience that gives a context for understanding what they may see.

In order to process what they see on the Internet a child needs to have the framework for understanding it: "While you are growing up—your body and your feelings are maturing—it takes a long time for a child's understanding to develop.  Being able to make sense of things you see that are meant for adults,  like pornography or violence, comes with age, maturity and experience in the world. Otherwise it is confusing, sometimes worrisome or scary, sometimes just gross."

You can continue: "Just like it is my job to keep you safe, to take care of you, to teach you good habits of all kinds, it is also my job to protect you from things for which you are not yet mature enough."

Real answers usually quench a child's curiosity – and they make sense!

Betsy Brown Braun, best-selling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents (HarperCollins), is a child development and behavior specialist, parent educator, multiple birth parenting consultant and founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc. She is also the mom of adult triplets and is an occasional guest columnist for The Online Mom.

Comment by PhilA, posted 3/10/2010, 10:24 PM:

It's amazing how common sense is not so common. Great write up and suggestions.
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