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IM, teenagers and porn

Help. My 14-yr-old son has a computer in his room, with internet access--stipulation has always been that I can look at anything he's done. Good thing, as I have found some disturbing sexual conversations using my trusty Google desktop search between "me"--whoever that is--and strangers through instant messaging.

Obviously I am floored by this and my first question is: is it possible that he got into some chat room and these conversations got downloaded onto his computer or would it definitely have to be him taking part in the conversations? I assume the worst but want to be prepared before I talk to him.

I'd appreciate any help in knowing if this stuff just comes through without being asked for or any advice on how to bring this up.

Thanks,

Gwen

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Packet Sniffing..
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IM will be taken off

Thanks, the google desktop actually brings up all the IM conversations so the monitoring is not the issue. The IM will be taken off of his computer and not a part of our lives anymore--a failed experiment in this household. The computer will be out of his room, too.

My problem is in handling this, before I speak to him, I need to know if he were to have gotten into a chat room, for example, could the conversations that were in the chat room somehow get recorded on his computer? Would all the conversations had to have been ones he took part in? I don't know how all these connections work. Could someone on his buddy list have connected him somehow?

I ask, not out of naivety that kids don't get into this, but some of the stuff I saw did not sound as if it came from someone his age, let alone him. He's a good kid, great student, involved in sports, etc. doesn't looked for trouble, actually fairly sheltered and in over his head due to my lapse in sanity letting him have a computer in his room to begin with.

I only see evidence through IM not from anywhere else, so I don't see that he actively searched this out. I think it came to him and he responded and I'm not sure if he was involved in all of the conversations. If he took part in one conversation, do others come swooping onto his computer without his knowledge?

Thanks,
Gwen

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reply to gwen

Dear Gwen,

I'm not entirely sure how you can google your son's conversations... But I assume you have some IM-monitoring software.

IM messages (especially MSN messenger), record by default the user's conversations. There are also some chat services such as IRC that provide the option to record conversations - in such cases, it is highly possible that your son might have not taken part. What I mean is, if you are monitoring his instant messenger conversations, then he is part of it - whereas if you are monitoring chatroom logs, with large parties of participants, then your son might not even be at the computer when the conversations occur - though it is possible he took part in some, and of course, if not all of them.

The issue at hand, is obviously mostly what you're going to do as a parent. I myself am a 17-year old computer technician, and yes, I do have a computer in my room. If you wish to approach your son on the matter, you might possibly want to hear the situation from a peer-of-his' perspective.

My parents, even if they had the remote capability of somehow controlling my computer - which they absolutely don't - wouldn't interfere. Gwen, the stuff you read in some of the conversations you found on your son's system, is only a fraction of things that go on in the cyberworld. Kids feel a sense of freedom and entertainment when they can say, whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. Therefore they can express their utmost perverted impulses without being harassed thereafter. What I'm getting at, is it is completely normal for your son to be engaged in some conversations that seem shocking to you. I can understand your point of few, Gwen, completely - but you must understand that teenagers, most who are going through their puberty stages, unleash their darkest and most perverted thoughts over the internet to strangers, sometimes to those they will never see again. Usually, the things they express are terrible indeed, but to themselves, they know they don't mean it, as well as the readers, know the writer is only using harsh language to express himself.

Myself, I have experienced countless amounts of conversations that would blow most parents away if they got their hands on it. Fortunately for me, I am not as ignorant as your son with my conversations - no offense of course. okay Gwen, I'll stop beating around the bush. Your son is almost definately engaging in some conversations that seem disgusting to you, based on your teenage experience. What I'm telling you, that what he's doing is the most normal thing that happens on the internet - and almost all kids still turn out fine - or better. My personal experience statistics say that at least 90% of teenagers with access to the internet have went through at least five conversations that would shock you. In addition, your son has aquired many online friends over IM system, and would be more than devasted if you took action in removing it. It may seem like the best thing you can do for your son, and I have no right to interfere - yet I wish to express my point of view to you, to maybe alter your views on his conversations. As I've said before, it is the most common thing for a teenager to go through in the modern day - and to take it away, in my view, will only make it worse. Basically what you're doing is taking away access to his friends, freedom, and relaxing entertainment. Countless amounts of teenagers log on to their IM service to have some fun, humorous, and sometimes perverted conversations - I cannot deny it happens. Maybe my view is biased as well, but I would recommend letting him continue his online friendships.

If you approach your son, letting him know you have been secretly monitoring all of his personal conversations, and since it is not up to your standards, you are restricting his access to his IM, and therefore his friends... The look in your son's eye will not hide temporary hatred for your parenting techniques - and it will stay thus for a very long time, since 95% of peers will be yapping in class about their own IM's.

In conclusion, irregardless of the fact that in my household, it is more likely for me to be monitoring my parent's activities rather than vice-versa, I am allowed my personal freedom to roam the gigantic web. And, it is that trust that has made me protective and careful of myself. Monitoring your kid's conversations, and having them know it, usually results in them feeling curageous and attempting to sneak around, and leads to even worse conversations, since they know how much it will "hurt you".

Well, I'm finished ranting off, and I honestly hope it works out for you. It is absolutely your decision, and nobody else's, but I thought you might want to know how absolutely normal it is.

Thank you for reading all the way down, I know it was a long message.

-AInTeL

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Internet freedom

I do appreciate hearing your point of view. I think you are right about a lot of what you say. No, I don't want to cut off access to his friends, be it phone, email or in person. He has had internet access and IM for a few years now. It's different now that the computer is in his room.

(By the way, Google Desktop is a google tool that searches the computer for whatever. It happens to bring up past instant messages. And it's free. And he knows I use it although he must forget that at times! I scan it for odd stuff, not conversations with his friends).

I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt that somehow most of these things got put on his computer without his knowledge. Of course he's taking part, and I have no problem at all with him thinking/saying outrageous sexual things. That's fine. What you say makes sense about saying things on the computer that you wouldn't normally (flip- side: the internet encourages it. I don't like that).

What disturbs me is having these conversations through IMing complete strangers named Lesbian7269 and Ilike2lick. Call me crazy but that's not acceptable in my book for a 14-yr-old. This may be common but I disagree that it's "normal."

Here is my philosophy--I think even putting a TV in a child's room is wrong. There needs to be a space for kids to learn to function without input from the world, to have quiet time to read, think--whatever, without the lure of electronics. They can have TV, etc. elsewhere without being deprived. I like to know that when he's in his room, I don't need to be worrying about monitoring anything. I could do worse things as a parent than giving him that space.

I see a computer in the bedroom as being even more of a problem than a TV. However, being the incredibly reasonable mother that I am, I looked at his past responsible behavior, his need for more freedom due to his age, but mostly his need for space away from his little brothers to do his homework in peace, which he needs his computer for.

He made an agreement that we would have full access to the computer and if we saw something inappropriate going on, that he would lose some privileges associated with it. This was not because I need to know what he and his friends say, but to protect him being taken advantage of. This is my job as his parent. I don't think it's right to drop this responsibilty in the lap of a 14-yr-old with no monitoring or no consequences anymore than I would drop him off in a big city by himself.

Your parents may not have a way of controlling your computer or the desire to, but I have a very easy way to control my son's. He just doesn't get one if he abuses his use of it. However, I don't want to go that far. I want to protect him appropriately and fairly for his age, not control him. I would prefer he just control it himself but apparently he can't, not without a little help--again, my job.

Now, you may think most kids turn out fine, or better but we don't know that. They may be alive and functioning but they also would be without the computer. Is the reverse true then, that we should never let them have it because they'll be fine without it? I know my son would never agree to that one!

You say sometimes they reveal their deep thoughts to these strangers who they'll never see again, true, but sometimes they do this with strangers they DO see again.

Last month was when I first saw something sexual, and it was minor. Not wanting to wait until it was major, I told him to uninstall AIM and we agreed to put it back after finals were done, with his suggestion to "lose it forever" if I found anything inappropriate again. He appears to be living up to that so far but a few days ago I happened to find that it had been much more involved than I previously thought, but only for a three day period. With four sons, I cannot possibly monitor this properly, although it wasn't "all of his personal conversations" and it wasn't secretly.

Your point about trust is well taken. I agree, and he has always been given a lot of rope, so to speak. But we're talking about sex and strangers and safety, not trust. There's a fine line involved here and he crossed over it. So did I, by giving him too much freedom too soon. The look in his eye does not rule here. I will just have to suffer it. My first obligation is to keep him safe.

The trick now will be to have a frank talk with him about what I've found while not embarrassing him. Listening to you, I may let him choose between IM with restricions, and having the computer in his room, not both. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your perspective on this. It has been very helpful in sorting this out.

Gwen

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another reply to gwen

Dear Gwen,

It has been a pleasure of mine to express my perspective on this touchy subject. I might even contemplate posting an article somewhere on the web, since so many parents and children have many arguments involving instant messaging and personal computers.

I completely understand your fears of your son's safety, and if you honestly believe your son is capable of scheduling a real-life meeting with "Lesbian7269", then by all means restrict his IM! Every single friend of mine, laughs at the idea of getting caught by an online-pedophilic stalker. Of course, I won't deny their existance, nono, but the way I see it is, everybody is aware of them, and noone in their right mind will schedule an appointment with "Lesbian7269" in the park after sundown, at least not without being completely sure of their identity, and the necessity/nature of the meeting. Sure some are taken advantage of, but the newspaper articles you see about internet-based kidnappers were directed mostly at young, vulnerable girls, who were going through some sort of temporary depression, and were foolish enough to meet a stranger. If this is the case with your son, and you honestly believe it's in him to make an appointment with "Ilike2lick", then I have absolutely no objection!

On the other hand, your son probably understands the situation, and how online-attackers work. You also probably underestimate your son's responibility. 14 years of age is not a hopeless child, as most parents would think. You also must accept the fact that very soon, your control over your son's life will be dimishing with alarming speed. I'm terribly sorry for being so frank with you, Gwen, and you will probably deny the fact, yet in the upcomming months, you will realize the truth in what I'm saying.

In my opinion, the strongest thing at the moment that you can do, without being completely blunt about your son's behavior online, is to approach him at a quiet time, such as dinner, with only the two of you present. Tell him you're serious, and you're afraid for his safety. Explain to him of your knowledge of the online dangers, and that you're aware he's been doing something the two of you agreed he won't do.

As to restricting his access due to lack of homework completion, or schoolwork, that's an entirely different subject. My parents, though may seem careless to you due to my previous statement, do restrict my computer access if I bring in terrible marks. It has happened once before, and it has taught me to prioritize. Surely your son can reach the same conclusion. Whether you remove the computer from his room, restrict his AIM, or both, is completely up to you and your son, but I'm sure there's a way of making both parties satisfied without enforcing either option.

I'm still pondering on how to go about explaining the "ILike2Lick" and "Lesbian7269". Personally, I was laughing when you got around to expressing it. There is definately nothing funny about your situation, Gwen, but I can only imagine what it seems like to you. Let me put it this way, a person's IM alias means quite a bit, as it is public and suggest's the person's personality. Since every kid in his early teens is seeking acceptance by his peers and society, having an alias such as "ILike2Lick" suggests the kid's stage in physical and mental development. Having a diverse sexual life, sort of brings respect and status amongst peers that age. This may seem like a totally absurd statement, and is probably one of the first time someone has put it into words, as well as the fact that most immature teenagers who would read this would call me an ******* for saying it, I'm being as frank as I can - creating conclusions from my vast personal experience with online chatting.

In addition, I'd also like to add that there are ways in using the computer in his room to your advantage as a parent. For example, having the computer there indicates that it is available to him in the privacy of his own room (little does he know how private it really is), though he must satisfy your expectations beforehand. For instance, my parents used to make me read a certain amount of pages of a book, before the computer was available to me. I could always turn my head and see the computer beside me, and know that if I finish these last few pages, I can have my salvation. For years now, this rule has not been enforced by my parents, since I now read an average of two well-sized internationally classical books per week on my own.

I honestly hope it works out for the best for your household. I am by no means attempting to make it easier for your son by aiding him in his battle against his parent's control, I am simply letting you know of my perspective on your situation, to try to help you understand your son's motives and circumstances.

Please do not hesitate to let me know how things work out, if you wish, or inquire on anything else. I am more than willing to try to help. Either in this post, sometime soon, before it disappears, or contact me at Eugo555@hotmail.com

Thanks again for taking my views into consideration, I really appreciate it.

-AInTeL (Eugene)

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instant messaging

Oh, I realize he'll be out of my control soon, but that's a good thing--it's what you're supposed to aim for as a parent. And I don't think your parents are careless at all--just meant that if any parent really wants to control the computer the option is there to take it away completely. Apparently you are responsible about your use--and you're 17, not 14.

It would be naive of me or any parent to think their children are above making poor judgments or mistakes along the way, and I do have basically good kids (well, there's one...).

I think after hearing what you have said and reading other threads about this here on CNET, that the best route is to monitor but tell them first, set time usage limits, and keep the computer out of the bedroom and make the consequences clear if the rules are broken.

At this point, it will be difficult to get the computer out of his room, especially because he shares with a brother who has a laptop (no internet) so I'm thinking about giving him the option of moving it downstairs or losing the IM. That way, the IM will get out of the bedroom one way or another. But first, I will ask him what solution he thinks would be fair.

I like your advice of how to approach him. I don't want him to know exactly what I saw because the embarassment will probably traumatize him for life, especially if some of it really wasn't from him. He's pretty open with both his dad and me, but it is better with just one parent so he doesn't feel ganged up on.

Thanks for all the inside info. It is truly appreciated.

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final reply to gwen

Dear Gwen,

It's been no trouble at all, and I'm glad you've decided on a firm course of action.

I hope everything works out for the best, and your are satisfied with your son's online behavior.

It's been a pleasure in conversing this topic with you, Gwendolyn, I hope you have a nice life, as this is probably going to be my last post to you Happy

-AInTeL (Eugene)

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