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How internet porn is changing "the talk" with our kids

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Oversexed and underprepared

When in doubt, go ahead and blame everything on porn.

It was 1999 when I first stumbled upon internet porn as a 13-year-old. I was mostly horrified, but slightly intrigued by this hidden window into adult sexuality that I otherwise knew nothing about. By the age of 13, I still hadn't developed a chest, gotten my period or even had "the talk" with my mom, but I knew plenty about adult sexuality as a result of internet porn. What I knew wasn't particularly good.

Let's talk about sex

As a result of my young exposure to porn — which is pretty typical these days — I plan to have an early talk with my daughter, so she's prepared when she inevitably stumbles upon pixelated images as a tween or teen.

I'm not alone in my plan, either. According to a survey by online safety company AVG Technologies, the sex talk is happening earlier and more regularly in U.S. homes. Just one generation ago, 15 was the average age for a frank discussion about sexuality. That age is now 11. Moreover, nearly half of last generation's American homes completely neglected a sex talk, but a full 99 percent of parents now plan to hash out the basics of sexuality and porn with their children before they reach adulthood. In one generation, parents have completely altered their approach to the talk, and now see it as essential for the safety and healthy development of their children.

But is it really because of porn? Yes, it appears. The same AVG Technologies study found that 75 percent of parents believe internet porn is to blame for exposing children to adult themes far too early in life.

A multi-faceted approach to safety

Personally, I don't view an early talk with kids as a bad thing. Frank discussions about sex and porn are an important component of child safety and healthy development.

However, a candid sex talk with your kids isn't enough to protect them from the dangers of early porn exposure and other online safety hazards. Tony Anscombe, father of two and AVG's family online safety expert, says that parents also need to place limits and barriers on internet usage. "Have an agreement with your kids about acceptable internet usage, and set these boundaries from an early age," he says. "Monitor which sites they visit, either by using parental control software or looking at browser history." He also suggests that parents have ongoing discussions with kids about apps and websites, and even participate with kids in the apps they most enjoy, so kids won't perceive it as "weird" when internet usage comes up in conversation.

You may not be able to completely shield your children from porn and adult sexuality on the internet — but don't give up. In order to reduce their risks, talk with your kids early and often, both about sexuality and internet safety.

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