Friday, May 10, 2013

The Free but Dangerous World of the Internet

Children, as young as 10 years of age, are watching porn sites. It has a disturbing impact on them

By Shevlin Sebastian

Anil George was in Class 7 in a co-educational school in Kochi. One morning, before classes began, he rubbed his body against Seena Das. Seena complained to Miss Fatima, the class teacher. Fatima took Anil aside and asked him what had happened. It took some time before Anil told the teacher that he saw this action on a porn site on the Internet.

Fatima told Anil she would be informing his parents. “This is a serious issue,” she said. Anil immediately said, “My parents will get very angry. I don't know how I will be able to enter the house.”

When the parents came to know, Anil’s father, Mathew, understandably got angry and upset. However, he decided it would be best for his son to talk to a counsellor. That is how psychiatrist Dr. Janaki Sankaran came into the picture. “I had three sessions with Anil where he spoke about peer pressure about watching porn sites and the impact it had on him on seeing these images,” she says.

A patient Janaki explained to Anil that not everything that one sees on the Internet is good. She also made him understand why his parents were so upset.

During the third session, Anil felt comfortable enough to allow his father to come inside. As soon as Mathew sat down, Anil just flung his arms around his father's neck and started crying.

Appa,” he said. “I am sorry. It will never happen again.”

Janaki says, “This was one case which had a happy ending.”

Not many parents are aware, but children as young as 10 are able to access pornographic sites on the Internet. “If the parent has a smart phone, the child will take it, go to another room and access porn sites,” says psychiatrist Sitalakshmi George. “It is difficult to monitor them. They will say that they are talking to a friend.”

Unfortunately, it is very easy to go to a porn site. “Even when you move from one cartoon site to another, you might end up at a porn site,” says Sitalakshmi.

Another way is to go to Internet cafes under the excuse of doing class project work. “Children might go singly or in a group, to check out the forbidden sites,” says Sitalakshmi. “At school, there is a lot of discussion between the children themselves about the various porn sites.”

However Janaki says that nowadays some cafĂ© owners have become cautious. “If children are wearing uniforms and especially if it is after school hours, they will insist that there is an adult present,” she says. But there are also many who look the other way.”

So what is the impact of seeing these images on a child? “It is variable,” says Sitalakshmi. “For some children it is very disturbing. They get very upset. Then there are some who get curious. They want to see more. For others, their studies get affected. Those images keep coming to their mind and it becomes like an obsession. They are unable to concentrate.”

There are instances when boys develop sexual feelings for their mothers and sisters. “They might try touching their mother or sister,” says Sitalakshmi. “Even in their interactions with their female classmates they take liberties and try to touch them.”

Another impact is a sense of guilt. “This could be lifelong,” says Janaki. “The feeling of ‘I am doing something wrong’ will always be associated with sex, even when they have grown up and married.”

So what is the way to ensure that children do not access pornography at a vulnerable age? “I tell parents that they have to keep an eye on the child,” says Sitalakshmi. “They should be aware of who their friends are. They should know where the child is going, at all times. Parents and children should be talking to each other frequently.”

Parents and counsellors also have to explain to children that what they are watching on the net is not what happens in daily life. Children do not know that the actors in the films are doing it for the money or maybe they are being forced to do it,” says Janaki. “Children have to be told that the sexual violence that is shown is morally wrong.”

The practical suggestions include keeping the computer in a public area of the house where everybody can see the screen. “Parents should insist that the children can use the computer only when there is an adult around,” says Janaki. “Also, parents should encourage their children to do outdoor activities, instead of being cooped up in front of the computer whenever they have free time.”

A frank discussion about sex will also help. “Children have a lot of doubts,” says Sitalakshmi. “So, parents should encourage the child to voice their opinions and explain everything honestly and sincerely.” 

Some parents do find it difficult to talk about these topics. “Then they should consult a child psychologist or psychiatrist who can easily explain these matters to the youngsters,” says Sitalakshmi.

But perhaps the most important is the need for sex education in the schools. “Classes should be given where not just scientific facts are presented but the children are encouraged to look at societal norms, gender issues, clarify their own attitudes and values and learn how to stand up to peer pressure and have the confidence to report abuse,” says Janaki. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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