The Sunday Times says

No leaving kids to their own devices

Pubescent interest in sex, like the grip of teenage acne, is something that parents might like to think affects other kids more than their own. But when nine in 10 teen boys here have accessed sexually explicit content within the past year, as a Touch Cyber Wellness survey showed, the sordid reality should hit home. Teenage interests could be disconcertingly off-kilter if they are dwelling excessively on seamy Web offerings. Girls, however, seem to be more circumspect, with only one in 10 admitting to such behaviour.

When porn can be accessed via a mobile phone and tablet, it would be a vain hope to expect teens to maintain saintly imperviousness. The heavy accent on sex in popular entertainment and the indiscretions of newsmakers might prompt the young to take a peek at unsavoury links popping up online and teasers circulating in social media. It would be beyond many parents' scope to prevent that, although there are Web filters one can install on a child's phone, including monitoring apps like Mobicip and ScreenTime. What one should guard against is exposure at an early age - in some cases, even among pre-school kids - and prolonged exposure, whatever one's age.

The attitudes of children towards sex and male-female roles, views of relationships and love, and their body confidence might all be distorted by unwholesome content. If obsessions set in, that could lead to experimentation with strangers or sex-related offences. Hence, it would be folly to leave children to their own devices. Parents must step in, but adopting a moralistic tone alone won't do. Instead, harm should be signalled and false notions must be nailed. By building an atmosphere of trust, they can encourage children to raise sex-related subjects with them. First, of course, parents must get over their own discomfort with sex, and acknowledge that smut is more prevalent than they might imagine.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'No leaving kids to their own devices'. Print Edition | Subscribe