1 of 2
DepositPhotos
According to a new academic study, “99.5 percent of whether a young person encountered online sexual material had to do with factors beside their caregiver’s use of internet filtering technology.”

As parents, we do all we can to help our kids avoid inappropriate content online. For many of us, that includes placing parental controls on devices to limit access to the seedier aspects of the internet.

As it turns out, it’s not working.

A study from the Oxford Internet Institute published last month found these filtering tools are ineffective when it comes to preventing teens from seeing pornography.

Dr. Victoria Nash, the study's co-author, says filtering tools simply can’t keep up with the constant innovation in the ways pornographers share content.

The study had caregivers and adolescents from Europe and the United Kingdom self-report about internet filtering and exposure to sexual content, respectively.

Researchers found only small and inconsistent effects of using internet filtering, finding that “99.5 percent of whether a young person encountered online sexual material had to do with factors beside their caregiver’s use of internet filtering technology.”

The researchers also wanted to find out how many households would have to use internet filtering to prevent one young person, who would otherwise see sexual material online, from encountering it over a 12-month period.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, another co-author, said, “somewhere between 17 and 77 households would need to use internet filtering tools in order to prevent a single young person from accessing sexual content.” The study found the protective effect was too low to be practically significant.

So what can parents do?

As a mother, I must say that a .5 percent chance of keeping sexual content away from my kids is better than zero percent. It doesn’t prevent access to most inappropriate content, but it can’t hurt. I know a lot of people will say if kids want to view pornography, they will find a way. I believe that is true, but I’d like to do my part to make sure I don’t make it easier for them. Most browsers and devices have simple ways to enable filtering, and Apple and Google have specifics that parents should check out if they haven’t already.

Talk with kids early on about what inappropriate things they might find online. Younger children should never have unsupervised access to search engines or YouTube. Parents are better off downloading games and apps they trust and limiting their kids' access beyond that. As soon as you decide your child is ready for unsupervised internet access, the conversation about inappropriate content should start. Make it an ongoing discussion with more details involved in the conversation as the child matures. And it’s always a good idea to make sure their internet searches take place in common areas, not alone behind closed doors.

Have a plan for when children do see pornography. If a child accidentally views sexual content, they should know to immediately leave the device and find a parent. This gives parents the opportunity to find out why and how the child stumbled upon the content. Parents should listen carefully to the child to find out what they saw and what questions they have.

Never shame a child or make them feel it was their fault. This is a great opportunity to talk with them about why it’s important they follow guidelines the family has set for being online.

5 comments on this story

If you find a child has purposely sought out sexual content, I like the following suggested conversation starter from NetNanny: “It seems that you’ve been spending a lot of time on your tablet lately and by the history, it looks like some of that time has been on sites with adult content. I want to talk with you about some of the risks associated with viewing this material.” If parents need more information on those risks, Fight the New Drug also has a great breakdown.

Click here to watch Amy Iverson discuss this study on the newest episode of KSL's "Studio 5."