Respect and trust for the bare truth
WHAT would you do if you found your 11-year-old son had been downloading pictures of naked women from the internet?Ignore it? Seek professional help? Yell and scream? Shut him in his room for a week? Show him how to find the best porn sites?There are probably as many possible reactions as there are parents of 11-year-old boys, but if you have a son and an internet connection, it's a near-certainty the question will arise in some form.
WHAT would you do if you found your 11-year-old son had been downloading pictures of naked women from the internet?
Ignore it? Seek professional help? Yell and scream? Shut him in his room for a week? Show him how to find the best porn sites?
There are probably as many possible reactions as there are parents of 11-year-old boys, but if you have a son and an internet connection, it's a near-certainty the question will arise in some form.
All the same, some friends of mine were totally unprepared when they faced it this week. Instinctively, they hit on what was probably the best possible reaction.
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They had a jolly good laugh.
This, of course, is not quite the end of the matter. The next question is, what steps should be taken from here?
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Young Arnold (name changed to protect the no-longer-quite-so-innocent) has an internet PC in his room.
It is already equipped with every available parental control, which is why he was using his parents' machine for his sneaky peeks at the forbidden adult world.
Should mum and dad now get tough? Should they slap a ban on him using their computer?
What exactly would that achieve?
The reality is, of course, that men have always liked looking at pictures of women and always will. In boys, the inevitable element of healthy curiosity is added to that of arousal.
I was about Arnold's age when I got my first pack of pornographic playing cards.
The pictures weren't much more lurid than you see today in every red-top tabloid, but they seemed a big deal at the time.
I don't know how my parents would have reacted if they'd found them.
The grown-up who in fact discovered my dirty secret was my woodwork teacher - and I reckon I was pretty lucky there.
Picking the cards up from the floor, where they had fallen from my pocket, Mr Corbett said mildly: “Quite nice. I don't fancy that one much, though.”
Then he offered a piece of gentle advice: “I'd be careful which teachers see those, if I were you.” Nice man.
Looking back, those seem innocent days. Now you are never more than a few mouse clicks away from much more graphic, and perhaps disturbing, images than I ever saw at an impressionable age.
After much careful thought, my friends decided the best way to deal with Arnold - after embarrassing him with their laughter - was to let his fingers roam where they will, but keep an eye on what he views.
Sensible discussion can then take place when necessary about the meaning and significance of whatever he finds. It boils down to a matter of trust.
Show a child a bit of trust and they are much more likely to prove trustworthy. Show them you don't trust them and you risk losing their trust in return - and with it any chance of keeping track of their behaviour. It is essentially the same with drugs.
It is now possible for parents to buy a home drug-testing kit. Dip a credit-card sized piece of prepared card in a urine sample and it will reveal any use of a range of substances from cannabis to cocaine.
Control-freak parents will leap on this as a new method of keeping their offspring in check.
But think about it for a moment. How would you react if someone - maybe your boss - asked you for a wee sample to see if you'd been smoking dope?
You would be outraged - rightly. As would any self-respecting teenager. Self-respect is important - as is respect between parents and children.
Threaten your kids with a drug-testing kit and it's the end of trust and respect. In fact, if you're the kind of parent who would seriously consider drug-testing your kids, the chances are you lost their trust long ago anyway.