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How can I Protect My Child?

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pro_und_age_dots Age-Based Tips for Internet Use
pro_und_arrow2_blank Setting Rules for Internet Use
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Tools for Safety
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UNDERSTANDING MATURITY AND VULNERABILITY

From the time they’re born until they reach legal age, children pass through a wide range of developmental stages. Therefore, the impact of any one piece of sexually explicit material probably varies widely with a child’s age or, more importantly, maturity level.

Age usually affects how well children can both understand the dangers of the Internet and behave safely. Experience also plays a role. Children’s experiences, including those of sexually active adolescents, can influence how sexually based content affects them.


Dimensions of Development
The approach that you adopt to protect your children should take into account the characteristics of their level of maturity. Common sense tells us that younger children need more supervision on the computer than do older children, and more restricted access. Tweens and adolescents can gradually earn trust and require less supervision.

The following developmental guide might help you to understand how children process information at different ages. This guide, along with some age-based tips for Internet use, can help you tailor activities and establish rules. Remember, however, that all children vary in their development. As a parent, you’re the person most qualified to gauge your child’s level of maturity.


Infancy: Birth to 2 Years
Early Childhood: 3 to 5 Years
Childhood: 6 to 9 Years
Preadolescence: 10 to 12 Years
Early Adolescence: 13 to 15 Years
Late Adolescence: 16 to 18 Years


Infancy: Birth to 2 Years

  • Preverbal and early language skills are emerging.
  • The child lacks a framework for assimilating and understanding sexual concepts.
  • Information needs can generally be met by primary caregivers and others in the child’s immediate environment.

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Early Childhood: 3 to 5 Years

  • The child finds it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality and is more easily frightened by “scary things.”
  • The child continues to lack a cognitive framework for assimilating and understanding sexual concepts, although sexual behavior such as masturbation might occur.
  • Information needs can generally be met by those in the child’s environment and easily accessible resources such as children’s books.
  • The child begins to feel empathy for others.

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Childhood: 6 to 9 Years

  • The ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is increasing.
  • Typing and writing skills are emerging, but they’re poor at younger ages (for example, misspelling is common).
  • Decision-making skills on the Internet—as in many areas of life—are not yet well developed.
  • Emerging information needs, such as school projects, require reference materials.

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Preadolescence: 10 to 12 Years

  • The child is much better able to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
  • Inferential reasoning skills are improving.
  • Decision-making skills are developing in more abstract ways.
  • Typing and spelling skills are still problematic.
  • Sexual development is beginning for many, or at least for their peers. Sexuality becomes more interesting, so it’s probably a sensitive period for exposure to sexual content.
  • Information needs are expanding. Increasingly, a child needs materials that aren’t physically on hand.

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Early Adolescence: 13 to 15 Years

  • Abstract cognitive skills similar to those of adults are in place, although the skill set is not fully developed.
  • Decision-making and reasoning skills are better developed than in preadolescence, but the child is often swayed by impulse. A child’s faith in his or her own decision-making skills—especially in the face of parental positions—might exceed the child’s actual skill.
  • Puberty brings a growing awareness of sexual development and great curiosity about the child's own sexuality. Some children become sexually active with intercourse; most have some kind of sexual experience, such as kissing.
  • Information needs are broader and relate to the world at large, so the availability of some external information source is important.

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Late Adolescence: 16 to 18 Years

  • The young person is highly aware of sexual issues and might well be sexually active (eighty percent have intercourse by age 20; the mean age of first intercourse is currently about 17.5 years.)
  • Decision-making and reasoning skills are better than in early adolescence.
  • The person is physically and cognitively mature.
  • Legal rights are approaching those of adults, although rights can vary by state.
  • Historically, many people were married and having children at this age.
  • Information needs are extensive in scope and depth and often require access to a wide range of resources beyond the immediate environment.


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