- - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Culture challenge of the week: Explicit content, everywhere

Even if you weren’t one of the 28.2 million Americans watching the Grammys last month, you probably caught wind of the controversy over Beyonce’s raunchy performance of her song “Drunk in Love,” featuring her husband, Jay-Z.

Perhaps it was her lingerie-style outfit or her chair dancing or the part where Jay-Z grasped her rear, but it was one of those moments when parents find themselves putting their hands over their children’s eyes — or flipping to another channel.

Beyonce, a mother of a 2-year-old, raked in tons of media attention. Some of the publicity was negative. The Daily Mail quoted parents who expressed disappointment via Twitter: “It’s a sad day when our kids can’t even watch the Grammys.” Forbes noted that Beyonce, a self-proclaimed feminist, “could have used her power to show that a woman doesn’t need to be a stripper to succeed.”

But an alarming number of articles defended Beyonce and showered accolades on her for flaunting her size-2 body. Think Progress even claimed that Beyonce and Jay-Z’s steamy performance is a case for marriage.

Think Progress writer Alyssa Rosenburg said: “[I]f marriage is a product that conservatives desperately want to sell, the smartest thing they could do right now is to hire Beyonce and Jay-Z as a product spokescouple.”

Claiming that public displays of sexual behavior will promote marriage is ridiculous. Children aren’t going to watch Beyonce and Jay-Z and think, “Gee, I can’t wait to get married.” They’re going to go out and try what’s been normalized on television.

Ms. Rosenburg, paradoxically, highlighted a Rand Corp. survey that found “heavy exposure to sexual content on television related strongly to teens’ initiation of intercourse or their progression to more advanced sexual activities (such as ‘making out’ or oral sex) apart from intercourse in the following year.”

Parents face an unfortunate reality: Teens drink in this kind of performance not only when it airs the first time but also when it’s replayed on YouTube or other websites. As a result, parents who monitor their children’s exposure to television’s mature content often find themselves at a loss to protect them from seeing the very same content on the Internet. A child who types “Beyonce” or “Miley Cyrus” into a search engine gains access to inappropriate TV content on the Internet.

How to save your family: Technology and talk

While parents have grown savvy about using Internet filters on home computers, smartphones and iPads put children within reach of a nearly infinite amount of sexually explicit or violent content.

Statistics show that 93 percent of children use the Internet, 75 percent of them have cellphones and 42.1 percent acknowledge to having seen porn online. Explicit or raunchy content is shared on user-generated sites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook.

Fortunately for parents, Internet safety features have moved from the home computer to mobile devices. Mobicip and Net Nanny offer mobile Web filters that give parents the power to keep kids safe. In particular, parents can control access to sites such as YouTube, as well as block inappropriate searches and websites through new “safe browser” features.

Best of all, these tools offer features such as remote management, multiple devices and the ability to personalize restrictions for multiple users.

Net Nanny Social even allows parents to monitor their children’s social media use, including their “friends,” photos and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and others. From one “dashboard,” parents can see discussions, photos and new friends — and be in a position to protect their children from bullying or inappropriate messaging.

Don’t be intimidated. Mobile access has changed everything — and the best providers have kept pace with technology and the changing nature of children’s communications. These tools are not the old, clunky filters that blocked harmless content while inadvertently allowing some really harmful content. Nor are they time-consuming and difficult to set up. Providers offer step-by-step videos to help parents install protections on their children’s devices and offer access to support services. Some cloud-based services, such as Net Nanny Social, require only account names and passwords — it couldn’t be simpler.

Of course, monitoring our children’s use of media is one stage of a process that aims to help our kids make safe, morally upright decisions about media for themselves. As parents, we must form our children’s hearts to desire what’s good and to avoid immorality, and teach them the practical steps that will protect them even as adults. How? Talk. And talk some more.

Find out what the popular social sites are in your children’s world. Open conversations about “what people say” online and the drama — and ruined reputations — that ensue. Hear what your children have to say about their own experiences — positive and negative. Listen first, and then teach. Most of all, let them know you love them and will be there for them, even if you discover they’ve made poor decisions.

Cyberspace isn’t getting smaller. The Internet already hosts 2 billion Web pages. Don’t let an innocent click leave your child with harmful memories that last a lifetime. Take action and protect your children today!

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at [email protected]

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