Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Porn Trap: Law Enforcement and Sex Offender Status

Many a teen has clicked here and there, while exploring porn on the net, and found themselves on a child porn site. This often happens inch by inch -- curiosity leads to looking at girls who appear to be same age peers and then comes another click of the mouse and low and behold there is a younger child. The process of exploring quickly turns into to a crime as various law enforcement agencies are either monitoring these web sites or they have created a child porn site to catch those who are down loading porn or creating porn.

Once enforcement is alerted they typically will raid the house of the teen -- guns drawn, ready to seize all property that my contain child porn images: computer, smart phone, Ipod, camera, I pad. District attorneys are not only very determined to prosecute teen cases, but part of their strategy is to ask the Courts to require the teen to register for the remainder of their lives as a sex offender.

To be sure the work of law enforcement to find those who traffic in child porn is critical to public safety -- but the problem for the Courts is how to properly punish a teen who has viewed child porn images who is not a pedophile. The consequences of a teen viewing child porn will be the subject of another blog -- what is important to think about now is the risk that teens take whenever they explore sexual images on the net. This is why it is crucial to have clear guidelines about porn and to enforce these guidelines every day by monitoring where teens are traveling on the net -- computer, smart phone, Ipad, etc.

It is also very important for teens to understand that law enforcement agencies are "out there" in "cyber space" and one of many negative consequences may be a life time registration as a sex offender. Click, click, click, crime. It is that easy!

Bottom line: check where your child "is" on the net everytime they are on the net.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"But what will he do instead?"

When I discuss setting limits on access to the internet and video gaming with parents, the vast majority recognize limits are needed. However, when the discussion shifts to "How much time is too much time?" most parents become overwhelmed  because they can't see what the alternative is to being "plugged in."

Understandably, parents ask: "What will my child do INSTEAD of being on the net or gaming?"  The short answer is: "Anything outdoors!" Such as, hiking, walking, biking, swimming, gardening, washing the car, walking the dog, painting the fence, building a bird bath, collecting sea shells, flying a kite, fishing, sledding, boogie boarding, building sand castles, catching frogs, and so on and so forth.

It is crucial to understand up front that NO activity will replace the pleasue derived from the net or gaming. So, the challenge is introducing options/choices that will be rejected as boring (because they are boring relative to the net and gaming). But parents have to get past this comparison (between electronic pleasure and non electromic pleasure) and begin to etsablish new routines and patterns that will improve fitness, social skills, and provide options for increased self-esteem.

As has been suggested in previous posts, begin by gathering data. For a priod of one week, log every minute your child/teens in "plugged in." After you know what your baseline number is (20 hours, 30 hours, or more per week) then you can begin to fashion a cut down plan. You might start with media free days or media free zones (e.g., no internet or gaming Sunday through Thursday). One change is always a good idea: no computers or gaming systems in a child/teen's bedroom.

The key is to take back control of access to computers and gaming systems and there are various ways to do this -- which depend on your child/teen and your family. For more information on how to set limits, check out Video Games and Your Kids (by Hilarie Cash and Kim McDaniel).

Or, feel free to contact me at this blog or via phone: 310/287-1640.

Friday, January 14, 2011

24 hours without any media: a study led by International Center for Media and the Public Agenda

The University of Maryland's International Center for Media and the Public Agenda teamed with the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change to study the effects of a 24-hour hiatus on media. The study included students at 10 universities worldwide. The study asked students to go for a period of 24 hours without Internet, cell phone, e-mail, or any other form of media.

According to this study, most college students are not simply unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world. What were the study's top five highlights?

1) Students used literal terms of addiction to characterize their dependence on media. Students stated "although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely." By 2 PM I began to feel the urgent need to check my e-mail, and even thought of a million ideas of why I had to check my e-mail. I felt like a person on a deserted island. I noticed physically, but I began to fidget, as if I were addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am."

2) Students had a profoundly negative reaction to going without their media. In their world, going without media  felt as if they were without friends and family. Students wrote "texting and instant messaging my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two ways of communicating, I felt alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable."

3) Students showed no significant loyalty to news programs, news personalities, or news platforms. Students have only casual relationships to the originators of news and, in fact, do not make distinctions between news and more personal information. They acquire news in a  "disaggregated" manner, often via their friends. Students wrote "although I will admit I do not actively keep up with breaking news everyday I do get a lot of information on a daily basis through social networking, text messaging, and websites such as Gmail, where it does have headlines on the homepage.

4) 18 to 21-year-old college students are constantly texting and on Facebook--with calling an e-mail a distant second as ways of staying in touch, especially with friends. Students wrote "texting and Facebook allow me to make plans to meet up and act socially, whereas without these two devices I had no easy way of making plans unless I happened to run into the person I wanted to do something with."

5) Students could live without television and newspapers, but said they could not survive without their iPods. Students wrote "it was really hard for me to go without listening to my iPod during the day because it's kind of my way to zone out of everything and everyone. It gets in my mind. Listening to music before I go to class to take an exam is my way of getting amped up like a football player before a game."

The advantages of unplugging?

Effectively all those who succeeded in their studying said that without the distraction of Facebook, text messages and videos they spent more time on their coursework.Students reported "my morning routine was completely different. I couldn't check my phone, e-mail, weather, or watch SportsCenter. My morning was not rushed. It was quiet and seemed slow. It was actually somewhat peaceful. Classes went better since I couldn't text or get on the Internet. I took better notes and was more focused."

Several students noted their surprise at how productive they were during this 24 hour hiatus. One student wrote "over my 24 hours without media, I finished an entire novel and started a second novel."

The study demonstrated that students who use laptops in class are generally multitasking. While keeping one year tuned to the professor, they are simultaneously checking e-mails, updating Facebook pages, and chatting with friends via instant messengers.

Although the assignment of being media free for 24 hours stunned most of the students, at the end many found a kind of equanimity with the outcome of their media free day. There were students who expressed feeling relaxed, care-free, peaceful, and serene.

Students wrote "this assignment allowed me to take a step back and reflect. I probably had more thinking time that day than any other day I spent at college. As the hiatus made both laptops and cell phones off limits in other classes, students said that without the temptation of their computers and cell phones they were able to accomplish more during class.

One student wrote "I found that I was able to pay more attention in class, instead of checking my BlackBerry constantly to see if I got any messages or e-mails, and not having my computer in class was less distracting since I was not tempted to check my Facebook page every second."

Multiple students observed that they unexpectedly became aware of aspects of their life which they had been oblivious to. Some students reflected on their media free period by saying they caught up with their priorities and spend more quality time with their loved ones.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cybersex: The Great Accelerator

Patrick Carnes, perhaps the world's leading authority on sex addiction, refers to cyber sex as the "great accelerator" of sexually compulsive behavior in his book Facing The Shadow. Carnes states that cybersex is "transforming our sexuality" and believes that cybersex has the capacity to go "beyond our biological limits."

Carnes says that "no partner can compete with the internet." Sex online creates so many options and allows men and women to become involved in sexual behavior that they otherwise would never have explored  -- in a way that is strictly about their own needs and fantasies (not connected to a partner).
Carnes writes: " Online, you can go back and explore that which you always wondered about. So it is with all forms of sexual expression that is strange, forbidden, or beyond reach."

Carnes also states sexual addiction, using cybersex, can escalate quickly and escalates to behavior that the "addict has never done before or maybe never new existed."

Carnes also informs his reader that "cybersex is now the number one profit center on the internet" and is "the number one activity for kids while they do their homework."

For any parent who is wondering about the potential down side of internet porn for teens, it is important to realize that the scope and intensity of the images can quickly lead to compulsive behavior -- that a little time viewing porn here and there can create a long term pattern of impulsive-compulsive behavior the is very difficult to change. For more information please feel free to contact me at 310/287-1640 or at

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nature Deficit Disorder?

Richard Louv coined the terms "nature deficit disorder" to describe the growing alienation between children and nature. Louv is a journalist and author of 7 books about the connection between family, nature, and community. In an interview Louv said (10/10) that there is a growing body of research that shows how important direct contact with nature is to healthy child development -- including childhood obesity, stress, creativity, and cognitive functioning. Louv's most recent book is called "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from nature deficit disorder."

Needless to say, children and teens who are logging heavy time on computers and video game consoles (and TV, smartphones, etc.) are at increased risk to never connect with the natural world and all of the amazing challenges and discoveries contained in nature.

Throwing the computer and video games out the window isn't Louv's message. Rather, he wants to promote awareness of creating balance in the lives of children and teens. For those children and teens who simply will not move out of the house, balance may only be achieved by a complete hiatus from any and every device plugged in to a wall or run on batteries (detox, if you will).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Parents Alarmed by Teen Ranking on Facebook

In an article written by Christine Hager of CBS Boston (12/9/10) local middle school girls are posting photos of themselves to be ranked by peers.

They tween and teens are generally using a 1 to 5  scale where kids vote on pictures posted, such as who is the "hottest" and "funniest." The ranking sites are called "Facebook's Finest." There are all kinds of problems with a public ranking system, not the least of which are girls competing to present the most sexually provocative photo or posting a photos of a student at school and then creating a "low score" as a form of bullying and humiliation.

Parents really need to get on Facebook and check out what's going on -- even though tweens and teens may object.  Without any adult supervision it seems that girls in middle and high school are gravitating to social rankings and photo posting that could be dangerous to themselves and others.