Posted: May 21, 2013 3:40 PM by Jacqueline Quynh - MTN News
MISSOULA - The flood of information available at our fingertips can sometimes be a scary thing, especially for young children online.
A word like "doggie" may mean one thing to child but something else to an adult. When it comes to searching for terms online, the Internet can't tell who's doing the search.
"Does that surprise you? No. No, it doesn't," Corrina Spelts said.
Spelts is a working wife and mother of two children, ages 6 and 10. Like many parents, she's afraid of what her kids may find online.
"Every once in a while you'll get something that pops up on the sidebar and it'll be nudity," Spelts said.
Some statistics estimate the average age kids are exposed to porn is as young as age 8.
"I have seen one younger child who got into that and was having great difficulty being able to stop," Dr. Cindy Miller observed.
She's a psychologist who has been practicing in Missoula for over 20 years, before the Internet even existed.
"Accidental exposure to pornography didn't happen so much prior to the Internet. Although, certainly, it did [like] kids discovering magazines that had been stashed," Dr. Miller said.
While most parents have had to worry about having the "birds and the bees" talk when kids came of age, the Internet and mobile devices have made it more difficult to wait.
"Unfortunately, in this generation, we have to have an Internet talk just like our parents had to have the bird and the bees talk," Spelts said.
Dr. Miller warns that there can be some serious psychological effects.
"It can also be a compulsion, that a child or a teenager has discovered through whatever means and feels like they have to keep on going back to it and that's a more difficult situation where a child feels like they don't have very good control over it."
Dr. Miller added that, typically, accidental discovery of inappropriate images does not require professional help.
A recent study shows that less than half of the kids told anyone what they had seen online and that's why Dr. Miller says changes in mood, sleep or appetite could be indicators that your child need intervention.
She also recommends parents keep communication open and that they take steps for prevention.
"So, I think as we encourage them, if you have a question you're not in trouble you're not gonna get scalded, just come and let's talk about it," Spelts said.
Officials with the Missoula Police Department agree with that assessment.
"It is difficult to monitor your children online but, it is that is the key ingredient to making sure your child is safe," Missoula Police Detective Chris Shermer said.
Police do have some advice to offer. They say to have access to passwords for all social media sites, monitor kids phone activity, bring computers and portable devices out to common areas and add filters
Click here to learn more about dangers lurking on the Internet from the Montana Department of Justice.