Donna Rice Hughes is president and CEO of Enough is Enough and an internationally-known internet safety expert, author, and speaker. Following is an excerpt from a FamilyLife Today series on “Internet Safety 101.”
Donna Rice Hughes: There is a whole new language that kids are using [in the cyber world]. One of the reasons is texting, because you’re limited to a certain number of letters, and words, and sentences in a text, and even less on Twitter. So you have to be able to say it quickly and everything else.
There are lots of these that we have in our book because there are hundreds and hundreds of just normal ones, but we put some of the trickier ones that we want parents to know. If they see some of these things that look really benign, then they need to go, “Oh, my goodness!” Some of them I can’t even really say.
Dennis Rainey: Are you saying that an average teenager would know what most of these are?
Donna: Oh, yes!
There’s one that is “lmirl” – “Let’s meet in real life”; “nifoc” – “Nude in front of camera”; “p911” – “Parent alert”; “pal” – “Parents are listening”; “paw” – “Parents are watching”
“Pron” is “porn” because some of the filters will catch “porn” but not “p-r-o-n.”
You’ve got very savvy kids. You’ve got savvy predators. You’ve got savvy pornographers, and unsavvy parents!
So what we’re trying to do in our program is get that good parent to become a good cyber-savvy parent … they know what their kids are doing and they understand the dangers. They’re going to be able to parent these kids online during these tough years—junior high and high school. You know, the kids are just really sitting ducks for some big problems with the misuse of technology.
Dennis: I think the average parent realizes there’s a danger; but there’s a tendency to go to sleep at the stick and just kind of get lulled into a sense of, “You know what, we’ve got it covered. We’re protected.”
You tell a story about a mother who had a little boy—only 11 years of age—who started finding porn sites; and in a matter of days was exposed to unimaginable images?
Donna: Rene is a friend of mine, and she is a law professor. … Rene’s husband found all this pornography [on their computer]. … They found out it was their 11-year-old son who had stumbled into pornography and had become very highly addicted almost immediately. They found hundreds of pictures. He is still struggling today. He’s a young man, but he’s doing a lot better. Thank goodness he was in a Christian home, and they’ve done everything that they can.
The point is that this material is toxic.
One young man that I interviewed said, “Even if you’re not looking for it, it will find you.” Another young girl, Courtney, talks about how these young women, especially who get into this material, start wanting to act and behave like the girls in pornography. When they’re in sexual relationships, the guys expect them to perform this way.
One young man also shared how he got so hooked on it that it wasn’t about sex anymore. It was about just having sex with as many girls as he could. It was just meaningless.
The reason that we share these stories is that we want people to realize this material is harmful. You know, you can never erase it from your mind. It’s so easily assessable by these kids, and younger and younger kids are getting exposed all the time.
The thing that parents need to realize is that their children can get tripped up into this, not looking for it; and then it’s very hard to get out. Our whole theme is prevention. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Bob Lepine: Donna, there are some of our listeners who are driving along, listening right now; and a mom is thinking to herself, “Boy, I am glad I have girls because if I had boys, I would really have to worry about this; but with daughters, it’s not an issue.”
Donna: Well, it is an issue. There was a study just in 2009 of kids aged 12 to 15 years old. Fifty-three percent of the boys said that they’re using graphic pornography, depicting genital contact. Twenty-eight percent of the girls in that age range were doing the same. These kids were surveyed from 14 public schools in the Southeast United States of America.
And you have to understand that what pornography teaches is the counterfeit of healthy sexuality the way God designed it. Maybe your daughter isn’t using it, but what about the boy she might be dating?
Dennis: How do you see all of this impacting these young people as they start dating and then later on get married? How is that impacting their marriage relationship?
Donna: Well, one of the things that we do know about pornography and its harms is that it really impedes intimacy, whether it’s adults who are dealing with this or young people as they’re becoming adults. It can really defile the marriage bed in a lot of ways. This is where accountability is so important.
Dennis: What’s a parent to do if they find out that their child has stumbled onto a site or has visited a site repeatedly? How should they handle that?
Donna: The very first thing you have to remember is not to overreact, because what you want to be is a trusted place where that child can come and not feel shame. Some of the kids we interviewed said, “I could talk to my parents about my drug use, or my alcohol use, or even if I was having sex or something like that.” But when it comes to pornography, there’s a lot of shame around that because it is often done in secret. It’s very difficult for these kids to talk to their parents.
What the parent can be is a place for it to come into the light—where there’s not that judgment, there’s that unconditional love of Jesus. And recognizing that there is hope. The kids can come out of it. In some cases, it may require a lot of counseling for a long time.
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