3 Steps to Give Kids an Internal Filter
Originally published on our website on October 15, 2015 and updated on February 28, 2023.
You've set up internet filters and parental controls. You've established rules around technology use. You've delayed access to smartphones. But as soon as you think you've got everything set up for safe internet use, along comes an update that resets everything or a new device or a new app or your kid finds a way around all those safety measures. Keeping kids safe on the internet requires constant vigilance and it's exhausting.
And after all that, kids are still exposed to pornography and other inappropriate content through loopholes or devices away from home.
The biggest mistake parents make when setting up internet filters and parental controls is this: They think they’ve done enough.
So if a parent has already installed internet filters, what else can they do to protect their kids?
The answer: Teach them to install their own internal filter.
What’s an Internal Filter?
When it comes to pornography, limiting exposure is important. But we also need to understand that kids will still be exposed to it, despite our best efforts. Kids who have an internal filter will reject pornography when they encounter it.
To build an internal filter, every kid needs three things: a definition, a warning, and a plan.
Here are our 3 Steps to Give Kids an Internal Filter:
- Define the word pornography in an age-appropriate way.
- Explain that viewing pornography can hurt their brain (just like drugs).
- Give them an action plan to use when they see sexually explicit media.
1. Define pornography
Some parents shy away from even saying the word pornography, but that just gives it more power. Jill Manning, PhD, author of What's the Big Deal About Pornography? A Guide for the Internet Generation and an expert who has testified before Congress on the dangers of pornography, advises parents to define the term so kids are clear about what we want them to avoid.
“Being clear on what pornography is and how to recognize it is the first step to protecting ourselves.” -Jill Manning
It can feel awkward to start this conversation, but the Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of books can help you define pornography for your kids in comfortable, age appropriate ways.
Related: How to Talk to Kids about Porn: Research Reveals 5 Obstacles to Overcome
2. Pornography can hurt the brain
More and more brain research is demonstrating what mental health practitioners already know: viewing pornography can lead to a lifelong addiction that can be more difficult to overcome than addictions to drugs, alcohol or tobacco. And because kids have easy access to the internet, these addictions are beginning younger and younger.
Valerie Voon from Cambridge University published the results of a study which showed that pornography addiction leads to the same brain activity as alcoholism or drug abuse. Another study done in Germany documented brain shrinkage in people addicted to pornography. These and many others studies are beginning to show that pornography can damage the brain just like drugs do.
What do your young kids need to know? That just like other drugs, viewing pornography can lead to brain damage and addiction. Kids are fascinated by learning about the brain, so this is a very natural conversation. The read-aloud book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids explains in kid-friendly terms how our brain's reward system works and how addiction hijacks that reward system.
- Can Using Porn Physically Change the Brain? Neurosurgeon Breaks It Down
- How Porn Corrupts the Brain’s Reward System: Neurosurgeon Explains
3. Give your kids an action plan!
This is where you get to help your kids with some specific strategies. Answer these questions to help you devise your family’s porn exposure action plan:
- When they see it, what should they do immediately?
- Who should they tell if they are ever exposed to pornography?
- How can they deal with the memories of the porn exposure that keep popping up?
The Good Pictures Bad Pictures read-aloud books provide kids with an age appropriate plan that is easy to remember.
No kid deserves to face the porn industry alone
Don't let your kid be caught off guard. Helping kids build an internal filter empowers them to reject pornography when they encounter it.
Good Pictures Bad Pictures
"I really like the no-shame approach the author takes. It's so much more than just 'don't watch or look at porn.' It gave my children a real understanding about the brain and its natural response to pornography, how it can affect you if you look at it, and how to be prepared when you do come across it (since, let's face it... it's gonna happen at some point)." -Amazon Review by D.O.