Q: We recently discovered that our 12-year-old has been visiting pornography sites of all sorts on the Internet. When we caught him red-handed, he began crying and said he is addicted. Apparently, a friend of his got him involved. Our son has assured us it’s not going to happen again, but we really don’t know how to handle this. Should we punish him? Take him to a therapist? Have our pastor talk with him? We’re hoping you have some advice. We’re more worried and upset than we’ve ever been.

A: As a father and grandfather, I can certainly appreciate your worry and distress. As you may know, the problem of pre-teen and teen boys visiting porn sites on the Internet is huge. Visits to such online venues can lead to participation in chat rooms where teen boys (and girls) often end up being solicited by adults looking to exploit their naivete and need for attention.

There is no easy answer to the question of how parents should deal with a situation of this sort. Obviously, your son needs some reality education. He needs to be frankly informed as to the potentially dangerous straits he put himself in. He also needs to be told how pornography can adversely affect his attitude toward sexuality and females in particular. It needs to be emphasized to him that truly healthy sexual relations take place only in committed, loving relationships. The best person to have this conversation with him is his father, but its effectiveness will depend largely on the quality of that relationship. It goes without saying that the better the relationship, the more your son looks up to his father, the more of a positive impact this talk is going to have.

I definitely do not recommend punishment. It was surely punishment enough that you caught him. Given that you probably intervened before the proverbial snowball had rolled very far downhill, I would be reluctant to use words like rebellious, defiant, disrespectful — words that describe behaviors deserving of punishment. If your pastor feels comfortable having a conversation with your son concerning this issue, and your son has a good relationship with him, that might be productive. I would not, at this point, have your son talk to a person he doesn’t already know, trust, and feel comfortable with, even a therapist.

There’s no way to ascertain whether your son is addicted to pornography or not. Using that terminology may be an attempt on his part to throw you off. As for his assurance that he’s not going to porn sites again, I am reminded of the old saw, “How do you keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen Paree?” You are going to have to be on guard to make sure that he does not experience this sort of temptation again.

For the benefit of all my readers, these are my four top recommendations when it comes to boys and internet pornography:

• Do not allow children private access to the Internet. Parents should be in a position, always, to provide direct Internet supervision to any child younger than age 18.

• Instead of giving children and teens “smart” phones that can access the Internet, give phones that make calls, receive calls, and text. These are available through Wal-Mart and other box stores.

• Talk to your children about the very real threat of pedophilia and how to deal assertively with a sexual advance from an adult.

• Be informed and current concerning any sexuality-education at your child’s school. Such programs, however well-intentioned, involve the very real risk of stimulating sexual curiosity.

Personally, if I was raising children today, I would not entrust this education to anyone but myself.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions at parentguru.com.

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