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Porn in the Family: Filtering/Blocking Software vs. Tracking/Monitoring Software

As I wrote a few weeks ago in a post to Psychology Today, accessing pornography used to be difficult. Then technology happened. First, we got softcore on cable. Next, we got hardcore on VHS tapes rented from the local video store. Then we got the internet. Suddenly, pretty much anyone who wanted to look at porn could do so – anytime, anywhere, free of charge. In today’s world, we’ve got porn sites with images and videos of every ilk imaginable, along with sexualized web chat, virtual reality sexual encounters, and more. All of which can be easily and anonymously accessed by anyone who’s interested, including your happily married spouse and (mostly) innocent kids.

The question is: What should you and your family do about this?

First and foremost, your family needs to set boundaries. You need to talk about what is and is not acceptable when using digital devices. Sexual technology (aka, sexnology) is an area where the term ‘family values’ actually means something. What does your family value? Is it OK for an adult to occasionally look at porn? If so, are there limitations on that? Is it OK for a teen to explore his or her sexuality online? If so, to what extent? Do the teen’s parents need to know about this behavior so they can discuss with the teen what was viewed and what that imagery might mean? And for everyone in the household, how much online privacy is enough vs. too much?

Just for the record, your kids will sexually explore online, just as previous generations of kids engaged in sexual exploration behind the barn, in the backseat of the car, at a neighbor’s house, and wherever else they could manage it. If you’re a parent, I suggest that you wrap your head around this fact and be OK with it before you have the ‘online porn, webcams, and sexting conversation’ with your family. Because kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do, and there’s very little you can do to stop them. Ignoring it and hoping it will go away does not work. Helicopter parenting does not work. Usually, the best you can do is inform your kids about what they might be getting into. Hence the need for family conversations about online sexual behavior.

In addition to nonjudgmental conversations about sexnology, you might want to think about installing some type of parental control software on your family’s digital devices (laptops, pads, tablets, phones, etc.) These products are referred to as ‘parental control’ software because they were originally designed to protect young people from inappropriate/unwanted content and contacts. Over the years, these products have evolved, and they are now useful for adults too, but the parental control moniker remains.

Installation of parental control software is best done in conjunction with the type of family conversation described above, with everyone in the family having input about the proper type of software to use and how to best use it.

WARNING: Do not install parental control software on your kids’ devices without telling them you’re doing it and why (i.e., not to spy but to help them stay safe). Nothing will encourage your child to circumvent your attempts at protection more than trying to sneak it past them. And believe me, you will not sneak it past them. Your kids are far more tech-savvy than you are, and they will quickly and easily notice any alterations you try to make to their digital devices.

Generally, there are two types of parental control software protection: (1) filtering/blocking, and (2) tracking/monitoring. These protective categories are exactly what they sound like. Filtering and blocking features prevent access to inappropriate/unwanted content and contacts. Tracking and monitoring features don’t block users from doing anything online, but they do keep track of where users go, when they go there, and what they do there – with that information available to an accountability partner (a parent, spouse, 12-step sponsor, or anyone else who is granted access).

With young children, filtering/blocking tends to work best. You don’t want your 8-year-old to inadvertently stumble across porn or a sexualized webcam chat site, do you? So it’s best to just block the opportunity for that to happen. As kids get older, however, they will want more freedom both at home and online. In such cases, a lighter form of filtering/blocking coupled with a light form of tracking/monitoring may be the best option. They’re free to explore what the internet offers, with a few restrictions and a little monitoring. Or they’re free to explore whatever they want, but only with the knowledge that you will be notified if they cross certain boundaries.

With adults, the choice of filtering/blocking vs. tracking/monitoring may depend on the situation. Typically, with adults I recommend tracking/monitoring more than filtering/blocking because accountability is needed more than prevention. Basically, if an adult knows that his or her actions are being tracked and reported on, he or she is far more likely to behave within agreed-upon parameters.

In all cases, it is wise to remember that no parental control software, no matter how good it is, guarantees compliance with your family’s boundaries around porn use and other sexnologies. In fact, a tech-savvy child (or adult) can nearly always find ways to circumvent even the best of these programs. And if a person is truly stumped by the software, he or she can just go out and buy a new digital device that does not have the protection and use that device in secret. Thus, protective software products should not be viewed as the enforcer of your family’s boundaries. Instead, they should be looked at as a tool that, in conjunction with nonjudgmental, free-flowing, open-ended conversations, can help your family come together and reach agreement on a difficult, scary, occasionally shame-filled topic.

Porn in the Family: Filtering/Blocking Software vs. Tracking/Monitoring Software


Robert Weiss PhD, MSW

Robert Weiss PhD, MSW is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex/porn/relationship addictions along with co-occurring drug/sex addiction. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, Dr. Rob frequently serves as a subject matter expert for major media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others. Dr. Rob is the author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Out of the Doghouse, Sex Addiction 101, and Cruise Control, among other books. He blogs regularly for Psychology Today and Psych Central. His podcast, Sex, Love, & Addiction, is rated as a Top 10 Addiction Podcast for 2019. He also hosts a weekly live no cost Webinar with Q&A on SexandRelationshipHealing.com. A skilled clinical educator, Dr. Rob routinely provides training to therapists, hospitals, psychiatric organizations, and even the US military. Over the years, he has created and overseen nearly a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities across the globe. For more information or to reach Dr. Rob, visit SeekingIntegrity.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).


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APA Reference
Weiss PhD, R. (2019). Porn in the Family: Filtering/Blocking Software vs. Tracking/Monitoring Software. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2019/07/porn-in-the-family-filtering-blocking-software-vs-tracking-monitoring-software/

 

Last updated: 23 Jul 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.