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Adult Content

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Unfortunately, sexual images and pornography are easily and trivially accessed on the Internet. Much of it is freely available and much of it is "hardcore" in nature, depicting various forms of intercourse and fetish behavior. Still photographs as well as movies are available for streaming through various websites, meaning that not even a file download is necessary in order to consume such material. All one needs do is to visit a website and click on the play button. There is no standard of age verification necessary before such material can be consumed, and consequently, few sites take any meaningful precautions to prevent children from gaining entry. As well, most popular search engines index adult material, making it trivial for children to locate adult material. Given the ease with which youth can access adult media, concerned parents will want to put special precautions in place (described below) in order to limit their children's access to adult oriented material on the Internet.

The problem is not limited to photographic material either, but also includes youth's easy access to uncensored adult-oriented audio materials, including sexually explicit or violent rap or rock songs. The FCC regulates media that is broadcast over conventional television and radio airwaves but does not have jurisdiction over media broadcast over private cable or satellite services, or which is streamed over the Internet. Consequently, adult-oriented movies, television programs, and radio streams may be broadcast over such services. Parents may take steps to block youth's access to adult oriented videos but may not think about also taking care to restrict youth's access to uncensored radio feeds featuring inappropriate audio content. Uncensored versions of songs or "shock jock" talk radio broadcasts are sometimes broadcast over satellite and cable services for example. Parents need to be aware that their children may encounter undesirable music through such channels and take steps (described below) to limit children's access to such broadcasts.

Neither is it enough to think that only explicitly sexual programming need to be safeguarded. Even conventional dramatic and comedic programs may feature adult scenes not appropriate for children when broadcast over cable or satellite. Generally, such programs will be aired in the evening, after children are supposed to be asleep. In this age of DVR time-shifting, however, late-night airing is no protection, as children can simply record such shows and watch them after school. Television shows featuring such content can be determined and blocked based on their ratings (described here).

A final category of adult content parents should be thoughtful about youth consuming is the violent imagery contained in modern video games. As game display technology has improved dramatically the violent graphics accompanying games have become quite realistic and gruesome and may be quite inappropriate for younger children to view. Parents should be aware of the types of games their children want to play (see our section concerning Game Ratings) and consider withholding games that are not age-appropriate.

In addition to consuming adult media, some older youth will take it upon themselves to produce their own adult media. Teenagers and preteens are developing sexual desires and want to experiment. Just as unsupervised parties and dates can lead to early sexual experimentation youth aren't prepared for, unsupervised private communication via media like Internet-connected video cameras and cell phones with cameras may also allow children to experiment sexually in ways they are not prepared for. Children can and do use video cameras, cell phones, and text and instant messaging to engage in sexually explicit conversations. The sending of naked or otherwise explicit pictures via MMS text messaging or email has been termed "sexting". Children generally do not think about the easy permanency of these images and how they may become hurtful or harmful to reputation if they should spread to a wider audience than intended for, accidentally or on purpose.

 




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