As anyone who reads this column knows, I’m not exactly a card-carrying member of the Moral Majority. In fact, to read my hate mail, one might think I’m some menopausal version of the Anti-Christ. But putting stereotypes aside, I would like to sound an alarm around the country. Get those chastity belts out Dorothy – we’re not in Kansas anymore.
I was an adolescent in the ’60s and ’70s, so I didn’t exactly fall off the turnip truck yesterday. My formative years were laced with numerous opportunities for sex and drugs, but neither was “on demand,” nor pumped into my living room or on my desktop after school. The other day I was at the gym at 4:30 p.m. mindlessly ticking off those calories one by painful one when I read the VH1 trailer, “Coming up next: Celebrity Sex.” The program proceeded to show various ill-gotten photos and videos of celebrities gearing up for, having or having just engaged in sexual activity. VH1 then showed the audience of little monsters how to search for and click onto these videos and photos from their own computers.
VH1 is not exactly a porn channel, but they must understand that pornography is big business. There are more porn Web pages than there are Americans in this country. Yet we have hardly heard a peep out of the usual self-anointed suspects. Tom DeLay, Jerry Falwell, Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, James Dobson – to name a few – are so focused on making a mountain out of a molehill with regard to gay Americans that they are getting crushed by an avalanche of what my mother used to call, “debauchery.”
This Sunday’s edition of my home-town newspaper, the Plain Dealer, had an article titled, “Are kids addicted to Web porn? Easily accessed sex sites prompt troubling trend, experts say.” The article makes a clear case that yes, “Teenage boys are particularly susceptible to porn’s pull.” The article stated there is not yet conclusive evidence to suggest that pornography is linked to sexual misconduct, but the statistics do show an increase in sexual behavior in the schools, an increase in teen pregnancy and an increase in sexual child abuse. Georgette Constantinou, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, was quoted in the article and said viewing pornography at that age “puts boys into a constant hyper-sexualized state.” “Do you want someone who is like that baby-sitting your children or sitting next to your daughter in school?” she asked.
The article reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who lectures at New York University on the social impact of technology in our society. She said the students – particularly the girls – said that Internet pornography had changed everything for them with regard to their relationships with males. They said that they “couldn’t measure up.” Pornography has raised the bar too high in terms of looks, compliance and performance. Obviously, this statement was coming from a co-ed classroom of legal-aged adults, and while it is a sad commentary on relationships in America, it is not something that would send a father to retrieve his shotgun.
The potential need for the shotgun comes earlier in the development of the child. I was talking with a man the other day who said he was moving his family out to the country and away from a large southern metropolitan city. I asked him why. He said the decision was partly due to economic reasons, but most of it had to do with his daughter. He said that an 11-year-old boy had propositioned his 8-year-old to daughter to have oral sex during recess. I spoke with some teachers who said that there is an “oral sex epidemic in the middle schools these days.”
What about Internet filters? Most kids I have interviewed say the only thing those filters do is keep their parents from looking at porn. I do, however, know of one innovative company that has successfully put the parent back in the loop. CornerPost Software has a product called Chaperon that puts the powerful “fear of being caught” back into the deterrent equation.
Chaperon blocks most inappropriate categories as selected by the parent – which may include chat, gambling, and pornography – but the key feature is an instant e-mail notification to the parent if the child attempts to search for websites in a prohibited category … or if the child beats the filter.
So you might be thinking that CornerPost Software is rolling in dough? No. Actually, they just launched a home application they are trying to sell through school fund-raising programs. The kids hid the fliers and the parents who did get to see the Chaperon offer said, “My Johnny is a good boy.” Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It exists in the homes of many parents.
We would do well to remember that even good boys are boys. Name an adolescent who did not look at a Playboy at least once while growing up in the last 40 years. Now imagine what that same child has access to now on demand with streaming video? It’s time parents got back in the loop. VH1 may not be the best baby-sitter in the neighborhood.