NEW YORK—Perhaps the first thing that leaps out regarding the article "So How Do We Talk About This?" in today's New York Times, if one reads both the print and online editions, is the fact that different photos accompany each version. In the online version, which can be found here, it's a bright, airy photo of a woman sitting at a table with her little girl and a laptop.
By contrast, the print version depicts the more common type of illustration on this subject: A mother, holding her son's shoulders and looking over one of them at a computer screen, showing concern, while the kid himself delivers a good imitation of the "crazy eyes" Michelle Bachmann photo that graced the cover of Newsweek a few months ago.
That dichotomy provides a good taste of the tenor of the article itself: Generally a "some say this, some say that" sort of story, but which subtly takes the position that while it's somehow dangerous for kids to look at porn, the parents' reaction to learning that little Johnny or Betty has surfed for sexual material is critical, and should be calm and supportive.
"If we flip out, freak out or go crazy about it, we’re giving a very set message," said Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a Rutgers University-based sex ed organization, with article author Amy O'Leary adding that a hysterical response "may prevent children from feeling they can ask their parents questions without being judged or punished."
More good advice is obtained from psychologist/sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein, who noted that the "porn conversation" is "so much easier if it's taking place not as the first conversation parents have about sex, but the 10th or the 20th."
Still, there are apparently plenty of people out there who still do freak out at the idea that their child may see something vaguely sexual on the internet, on TV, in a store or, really, anywhere.
"Patti Thomson, for example, said she believed that her duty as a mother was to shield her five children, ages 7 to 15, from explicit content," the article reports, "even if it meant hours spent poring over user manuals and access controls for the computers at her home in Reading, Mass."
Nowadays, it's insane," [Thompson] said, horrified at the range of pornographic material available online. "I want to really protect them until they're at an age when they can take it in."
Of course, one might suspect that someone who bore five children in eight years came from a strongly religious background, and that that might impact her appraisal of the "dangers" of explicit content—and why she would have the idea that anyone over the post-pubescent age of 12 or 13 needs "protection" from the material... but in any case, O'Leary reports that part of her horror was discovering that the kids could surf the Web using the iPod Touch devices she gave some of them for Christmas—so of course she took them back until she could find filtering software to install on them.
But what was somewhat over the top was the fact that she "called Apple to argue for a warning label on the box"! Yeah, she's sane about sex!
Still another part of the article that piqued our interest concerned "Chaz," a computer programmer with two kids—one of them a 12-year-old boy—who lives near Minneapolis. It's probably a good idea that O'Leary didn't provide more identifying information about Chaz, since after he found that his son had downloaded an app that showed 1,001 pictures of breasts, he set up filters to block most of the kid's access to porn on the internet, except...
"It's natural to be curious, he told his son, adding that if he planned to look for explicit content, he should stick to one particular site he had allowed his son access to, which had pictures of naked women that were not much racier than what might appear in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated."
"Others who assumed their children would eventually search for pornography said that they had tried to teach them to be, in effect, responsible consumers," the article continues. "[T]hey showed them how to be discreet, erase browsing histories and avoid malware, and they instructed them never to share pictures of themselves or explicit content with others, especially younger children. (Experts caution that showing minors sexually explicit material could, in some states, violate 'harmful to minors' laws.)"
Oh, really? Too bad nobody gave that advice to this guy!
Still, despite its flaws, kudos to The New York Times for printing a decently comprehensive article on how and why to talk to your kids about porn. Who knows? The semen stains you save might be your kid's!
Pictured: The illustration accompanying the print version of the New York Times article.