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Let’s rethink how we protect our kids online

Column: The old tricks aren’t working, so Tara Paterson has drafted some new ones.

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Spencer Lachance-Guyette works on a computer at the new recreational facility in Derby, Vt.

Toby Talbot/AP/File

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The news about a study released this week that concluded that teens who watch TV shows with high sexual content were twice as likely to become pregnant in their teenage years came as no surprise to me.

I’ve always thought that entertainment industry executives who argue that TV shows, movies, and commercials have no effect on kids were just talking through their hats. While parents still have the most effect on their children, this new study by the RAND Corp. addresses some obvious questions:

How can kids who watch endless hours of television every day not be affected by what they see? If TV really has no effect on us, why would advertisers bother spending millions of dollars on commercials?

And if TV has such power over children, imagine how they can be influenced by the Internet, a medium in which they don’t just passively watch, but often actively interact with what’s on screen or with other Internet users.

That’s why I like what Tara Paterson has to say about parents, children, and the Internet: “Kids are so smart on computers,” she says. “They can be doing bad stuff or looking at inappropriate images when you’re only standing a few feet away.”

As she points out, seven out of 10 youths have been exposed to some form on inappropriate content and 79 percent of it is viewed in the home.

Ms. Paterson, a nationally known parenting coach, and I agree that a lot of what we’re doing right now to keep inappropriate material away from our kids isn’t working.

Paterson likes to use a quote from Benjamin Spock: “In automobile terms, the child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.”

And when it comes to the Internet, that means you need to know what you’re talking about. For instance, Paterson says that the idea that you can just put the computer in a family room and you’re protected because you’re always around just doesn’t work.

Paterson has been trying to help parents understand what their kids are doing online. But reducing access to violent or inappropriate images is only part of the solution.

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