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Parents, Kids, and Pornography on the Internet:
A SuperKids Special Report

Andrew Maisel

Is there really that much pornography (or other objectionable content) on the Internet? Unless you've been living under a rock, the availability of porn on the Net is very old news. And while it is also common knowledge among technical demographers that porn producers are frequently among the earliest adopters of new distribution mechanisms, it is somewhat surprising to see that after an earlier slowdown in relative growth, the subject has resumed it's early high growth rates.

Here's a quick look at four snapshots in time: 1999 using AltaVista, one of the then largest search engines, and 2004, 2009, and 2012 using Google.

  Number of pages
Subject 1999 2004 2009 2012 3-yr Growth
sex 14,896,710 347,000,000 755,000,000 3,800,000,000 403%
politics 2,996,060 62,900,000 486,000,000 1,000,000,000 106%
wine 2,324,620 57,000,000 244,000,000 921,000,000 277%
dogs 1,893,440 35,600,000 176,000,000 692,000,000 293%

Clearly, there are a lot of sources for someone seeking pornographic materials on the Internet. Nonetheless, many parents trust their children not to go looking for this material. "Oh, my kids wouldn't be interested in looking for that," was a common reaction among the parents we spoke with. A debatable point, according to some of our teenage reviewers.

But what was not debatable was the reaction we found among a group of parents SuperKids recently invited to search the Web. Most expressed significant surprise -- not at the availability of pornography on the Net -- but at the frequency of unintentional exposures any Web searcher or surfer will receive.

How easy is it to accidentally encounter pornography?

Although there is an incredible amount of content available on the web that contains sexual content -- over 755 million pages according to Google -- the likelihood of truly accidentally encountering it, has declined.

For example, in 1999 a shopper's search for young boys clothes on Excite! produced four objectionable sites in the top ten search results. Click here to see an example of what we encountered. Similar results were obtained using all the other then-leading search engines we tried: AltaVista, HotBot, Infoseek, and WebCrawler.

OK, you say. But my kids aren't likely to look up "young boys clothes." Another reasonable search for a young student -- zoo animals produced a result on HotBot that was even more(!) objectionable than our previous search.

The same searches conducted today on Google, produced no unintentional porn-containing pages for these previously scary searches, when conducted early in 2009. Progress? Clearly.

But what of the inquisitive child? A recent British study determined that the average teen there spent 87 hours/year, looking at porn on the Internet. That's an hour and 40 minutes a week.

What should parents do?

  • Banning all access to the Internet is one solution. Unfortunately, this draconian approach carries with it a huge educational disadvantage; the Internet today is the greatest single educational reference resource available. More information, from more sources, is available here than in any library in the world.

  • Personally supervising all Internet access is another solution. This is great, if you have the time.

  • Installing a software filter, to provide a technology fix, is another possiblity. SuperKids has reviewed a selection of the these programs. They range in effectiveness from near-total, with programs that limit access to sites pre-selected by parents (e.g. KidDesk Internet Safe), to programs that screen all website addresses against massive lists of known objectionable sites (Cyber Patrol, Surf Watch), to one that uses heuristics to analyze a page's characteristics (WebChaperone).

  • Government regulation is another possiblity. Twice in the last 10 years, the Federal Government has passed laws trying to prevent minors from accessing pornographic materials on the Internet. These attempts, however, have been ruled by the courts to violate the First Amendment to the Constitution. An injunction was issued on February 1, 1999, blocking the most recent attempt, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), and the injunction was upheld by the Supreme Courth in 2002 and again in 2004. and 2007. In January 2009, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear appeals of the lower court decision, ending this regulatory attempt.
Bottom-line:

There is a vast amount of pornographic material easily available on the Internet. At a minimum, make sure your children know your feelings about it, and what your expectations are for their behavior.

Perhaps more importantly for most parents, is the reality that frequent unintentional exposure to pornographic sites is unavoidable. Once again, making sure your children know how to handle this is crucial. If you have young children, you may want to seriously consider using one of the software filters SuperKids has reviewed.

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