QUESTION: Our 14-year-old granddaughter was recently staying with us. After she left, I looked at the history on our Internet browser and realized that she had been visiting porn sites and sexually explicit chat rooms. What do I do with this information?
JULI: I'm so sorry to hear about your discovery! Unfortunately, we hear stories like yours on a daily basis. Young teens, both male and female, are falling prey to Internet pornography. It represents a lethal combination of excitement and sexual curiosity that can quickly become addictive.
As difficult as it may be, I recommend that you talk to your granddaughter about what you discovered, ideally in person. It is really important that you approach her with a spirit of love and concern, wanting to help without judgment. She probably already feels a lot of shame about what she is doing. She is in over her head and doesn't know how to stop. Offer to help her in any way that you can. Encourage her to share her struggle with her parents. If she is unwilling to tell her parents, tell her that, out of love, you will share the information with them.
Some might argue that viewing porn has become an accepted norm for teens in our culture, so why make a big deal about it? Remember, just because so many teens view pornography doesn't make it any less dangerous to your granddaughter. It poses a serious threat to her mental health, emerging identity and future relationships. Her parents need to be involved in installing home Internet filters and helping her process what she has seen, perhaps through counseling.
QUESTION: Should my husband and I talk to our kids about drugs? We have a third-grader and a sixth-grader, and we're not sure whether their schools' drug education programs will be sufficient. But we don't even know how to begin to broach the subject at home.
JIM: For many parents, this is a topic that's almost as scary as the dreaded discussion about "the birds and the bees." Nevertheless, you need to have this talk with your kids. No school program or curriculum will carry the weight of your wise counsel and example. Joseph A. Califano Jr., a former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, put it best when he said, "The severe problem of substance abuse in this country will not be solved in courtrooms or government chambers, but in living rooms and across kitchen tables."
And yes, this ongoing dialogue should begin before your children reach adolescence. My friend Glenn Williams, who co-authored "How to Drug-Proof Your Kids" curriculum, says: "Would you wait until your child is past puberty to discuss with him the realities and responsibilities of sex? Would you wait until your child turns 16 and drives the family car onto the highway to teach him how to drive? No, of course not. And neither should you let your child get to the point of greatest vulnerability to drugs and alcohol before presenting the topic in the way you want your child to learn it."
Our boys are both under the age of 10, so drug abuse might not be an issue in their school yet. But that day is coming sooner than my wife and I would like to think. That's why we are seeking out resources that will help us tackle this important subject proactively. I believe it's critical that every parent do the same. You might start by visiting focusonthefamily.com, which offers a range of helpful articles and other materials on this issue.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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