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How can I Protect My Child?

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SOMETHING HAPPENED! NOW WHAT?

In 1999, one in four children experienced at least one accidental exposure to sexually explicit images. (Most occurrences involved kids aged 15 or older.) It’s likely that from time to time kids will come across materials that you don’t want them to see.

If you’re here because you know or suspect that your child has accessed or received off-limits content or has been harassed or approached in an inappropriate manner online, don’t panic. Instead, consider the situation thoroughly in order to take the right action.

What Are the Circumstances?
How Will My Child React?
What’s the Impact of Exposure?
Who Should Be Contacted?

What Are the Circumstances?
Try to determine the nature of the occurrence. Knowing whether the incident—such as accessing an off-limits adult Web site—was accidental or deliberate should factor into how you handle the situation. Did your child just accidentally misspell a URL and land on an adult-oriented site or did he or she participate in a chat room looking for content?

Pay especially close attention to whether a specific person has been providing your child with content or has engaged your child in inappropriate discussions. Get more information about sexual predators.

Sometimes the line between deliberate access and accidental exposure becomes blurred. Your child might run a harmless search, turn up links to sexually explicit pages, and then proceed, knowing, or guessing, what the content will be.

If you suspect that your child has actively sought off-limits material, remember that it’s common and normal for kids to be curious about sex—especially as they get older. It’s important for kids to learn about their bodies and become informed about the changes that they will undergo as they grow older. The Internet provides a wealth of accurate and appropriate information about such topics and allows children to seek it out without embarrassment.

Your careful guidance can be essential to helping your children understand themselves and what they find on the Internet.

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How Will My Child React?
Being aware of how children might react in a given Internet situation can help minimize whatever negative effects might occur and help them cope with the experience.

A child who is upset might seek out an adult, such as a parent or teacher, for help. If your child comes to you, it’s important that he or she is not penalized for doing so. Some children interviewed for Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, the source report for this Web site, stated that they were more concerned about the potential overreactions of their parents than they were about the scenes they saw on the Web.

Be sensitive to the possibility that inappropriate material might have some connection to a predator who might be “grooming” your child. It’s critical that you keep communication channels open so that your child is not afraid to talk about experiences or feelings associated with viewing offensive material. You’ll also have to be sensitive to the fact that if the materials came from someone directly, your child might also feel guilty about telling on an online “friend.”

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What’s the Impact of Exposure?
Many parents wonder what would happen if their children did view inappropriate sexual content. It’s probably frustrating to hear this, but there’s no clear consensus among experts and little reliable research that tells us just how much damage exposure to sexually explicit materials can cause.

In any case, learning more about the issue and the potential threats will go a long way to keeping your children safe. This includes knowing how to communicate with your kids—especially adolescents who are busy discovering their own identity and might be at their least talkative stages with you. If you’re having a hard time approaching your kids, seek help and advice. Talk to other parents, teachers, counselors, or religious leaders, or find Web sites, books, or other resources that offer tips on family communication and coping strategies for children who were or might have been exposed to inappropriate material.

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Who Should Be Contacted?
If children have been instructed on how to report offensive material before an incident occurs, they’ll probably feel less victimized if something does come their way.

If you believe that an incident warrants further action, don’t take matters into your own hands by responding to or retaliating against the source. Retain any pertinent information that’s in text form, such as e-mails or instant message chats. Contact your Internet service provider (ISP) or the source ISP. If online activities have moved offline with harassing phone calls or letters or any other such activity, immediately contact your local law-enforcement agency or local FBI office.

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