Educate Yourself


It is important that everyone have some background knowledge, its also important to know when to seek help if you need it. This section is written by professionals in Sex Addiction it will contain clinical terms as well as great modern knowledge in the field.

Addiction

It is important to understand Addiction and why it can alter behavior, also how different kinds of addiction feed off of each other and why many addicts have multiple addictions. This may help shine some light on why you or a loved one cannot seem to help themselves.

What is Addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

 

In plain words, addiction is a disease that involves areas of the brain where we feel pleasure, where motivation is triggered, and the memory of how all that happened.  Imagine a pathway, like the Oregon trail: the end of the trail represents the goal or pleasurable feeling, the wagon represents the problematic behavior, and the path represents the brain.  Over time, an addict’s brain begins associating “feel-good” feelings, like love and happiness, with certain behaviors (such as masturbation, orgasm, drinking, or winning a hand of poker).  He or she keeps repeating those behaviors, driving the wagon over and over the same path causing deep indentions by the wheels.  With each repeated behavior, the ability of the brain (or the path) to be adjusted to go a different direction becomes harder and harder to do until those repeated behaviors are the only way to achieve pleasure.  This is when a behavior becomes an addiction.

What is Sex Addiction?

Using the definition above, sex addiction is a disease of the brain where a person can only feel pleasurable feelings when performing some type of sexual behavior.  It is a repeated pattern of behaviors that change a person’s entire existence, shifting his or her belief systems into an entirely separate reality.  At its very core, sex addiction is division of the self.  The person you were before before the addiction is no longer the same and it’s as if a new person has taken over.  This person begins to exist in a world where he or she adopts the following core beliefs:

  1. I am basically a bad, unworthy person.
  2. No one would love me as I am.
  3. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others.
  4. Sex is my most important need.

“Most people have problems because they believe that there are only certain options – usually self-defeating – open to them” (pg. 154, Out of the Shadows).  In order to enter a life of recovery, addicts must alter these core beliefs.  Therapists that have attended the Certified Sex Addiction Therapist training have been taught specific ways to address these dysfunctional beliefs systems in a way that does not cause shame, that validates an addict’s experiences, and allows for hope and healing from within.

Addiction Interaction

In my work with young adults who suffer from problematic Internet use, I’ve found that they usually use many different aspects of the Internet and, often, are also using drugs and alcohol to enhance the high or relief they seek from their online activities. For many of them, their love of digital media began with early hand-held video games, and then progressed to online multiplayer games. However, once they were spending time online, they were captivated by all sorts of online content. For boys, porn use begins, on average, by age 10; for girls (who tend to be less interested in porn), their interests are captured by social media at an equally early age.
As more families give their children hand-held devices at younger and younger ages, we are likely to see digital media use becoming a serious problem at younger and younger ages. One of the things I’ve found most intriguing about the young adults I work with (mainly men, ages 18-30) is the high degree to which their identities are formed by their online activities, especially gaming. When they come for help, this is the thing that is most difficult for them to overcome. Because they’ve invested years of their lives in gaming and enjoy recognition in their game communities, they cannot easily imagine being able to develop the same kind of achievement and community out in the world. For many of them, the friends they’ve made online feel more real to them than any other relationships. This can be another stumbling block in therapy. Many of them lack confidence in themselves socially. Many have never dated, or, if
they have, it’s been just hook-up sex rather than real relationships. While their healthier peers were learning how to flirt and date, the Internet addicts were side-tracked by easy online access to porn, using that as an outlet for their sexual drive, often getting hooked on that porn, as well as being hooked on gaming, e-sports, fantasy sports, online poker, online socializing, and other online activities. Whatever the content, excessive computer use can lead to an internet addiction. And, that Internet addiction can get mixed together with other addictive behaviors.

There is a new disorder proposed for inclusion in the future Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM). Internet Gaming Disorder would be diagnosed in someone who showed 5 or more of the following symptoms within a year:

1. A preoccupation or obsession with Internet games
2. Withdrawal symptoms when not playing (such as irritability, anger, anxiety, restlessness, depression)
3. A buildup of tolerance to video gaming, requiring more or new content to achieve the desired effect
4. Failed attempts to stop
5. Loss of interest in other activities
6. Use in spite of negative consequences
7. Lying about use
8. Use to relieve painful feelings
9. The person has lost or put at risk an opportunity or relationship because of gaming

If you or someone you know shows signs of an addiction (Internet or otherwise) know that there is help out there. IITAP has trained hundreds of therapists in the treatment not only of Sex and Love addiction, but other behavioral addictions, as well. These therapists have earned the title of Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) and Certified Multiple Addiction Therapists (CMAT) and they can be found in every state.
Please check out the list of books published by IITAP to find one that addresses your concerns.

Sex Addiction and Eating Disorders

To cope with trauma, some people get stuck in unhealthy and addictive behaviors, to the extent that they lose awareness of themselves. Others may do just the opposite and begin focusing on the self and holding their own bodies in contempt. This is when eating disorders and body image issues surface or resurface.

Dieting, counting calories, body checking and excessive exercise provide a false sense of security. Bypassing hunger then creates an internal feeling of deprivation and lack of safety. Needs and wants become unacceptable and self-soothing cannot be achieved. Bingeing and compulsive overeating can become a defense to avoid feelings of inner emptiness.

This is a time when self-kindness is most important. I work with partners to create necessary strategies to heal from the trauma of betrayal and discovery of sex addiction. I use a psychobiological approach to treating relational trauma. As a CSAT and CSAT Supervisor, I integrate many tasks and tools to address addiction interaction, shame resilience, emotional dysregulation, trauma resolution, cultivating self-kindness, rebuilding trust and intimacy, managing stress, interpersonal effectiveness and instilling hope and happiness.

Written by: Stacy Korfist, LMFT, CSAT-S, CEDS-S

Financial Disorders

Did you know that money and work issues are the most commonly cited causes for relationship disagreements that often lead to divorce or separation?

Money and work issues (also referred to as financial disorders) are unhealthy beliefs and behaviors involving money and work that negatively impact ones financial, emotional, spiritual and relational well-being. These behaviors are often persistent and longstanding patterns that overtime become more self-destructive. These behaviors can include:

  • Financial Infidelity/Sexual Infidelity
    Compulsive work
    Money Obsession
    Hidden financial information
    Financial Incest
    Overspending/shopping
    Under/Over valuing of self
    Financial deprivation

Whether you struggle with a fear of “not having enough” or “not being good enough” there is help! Therapists, like Debra L. Kaplan (Faculty for IITAP) train other therapists to help you uncover hidden and self-destructive behaviors. Books such as, For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships looks at the overlay of self-worth, sexual and financial infidelity and offers help to those who need guidance and direction!

Sex Addiction Criteria

There are 10 criteria of sex addiction that have been identified. Addict’s may have as few as one or two behaviors, or as many as all ten. There is not a definitive number of “yes” answers that indicate the presence of addiction. It is highly recommended that, if you are concerned, you reach out to an IITAP-trained therapist that can do a thorough assessment and help you determine the best treatment plan.

 

  1. Loss of Control – doing more specific behaviors than you intend or want.
  2. Compulsive Behavior – a pattern of out of control behavior over a period of time.
  3. Efforts to Stop – repeated, specific attempts to stop the behavior, which fail.
  4. Loss of Time – significant amounts of time lost doing and/or recovering from the behavior.
  5. Preoccupation – obsessing about or obsessing because of the behavior.
  6. Inability to Fulfill Obligations – the behavior interferes with your roles at work, at school, with family, and/or with friends.
  7. Continuation Despite Consequences – failure to stop the behavior even though you have problems because of it (social, legal, financial, and/or physical).
  8. Escalation – the need to make the behavior more intense, more frequent, and/or more risky over time.
  9. Losses – losing, limiting, or sacrificing valued parts of life because of the behaviors (hobbies, family, relationships, and/or work).
  10. Withdrawal – stopping the behavior causes considerable distress, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and/or physical discomfort.

 

Addiction Interaction

 

Addicts have personality traits that can lure them into addiction, multiple addictions in many cases. With sex addiction we have identified many Addiction Interactions that feed off of each other, creating a cycle of addiction making it harder to stop. These are some of the Addiction Interactions, there are more added every year.

Money and Work

Did you know that money and work issues are the most commonly cited causes for relationship disagreements that often lead to divorce or separation?*

Money and work issues (also referred to as financial disorders) are unhealthy beliefs and behaviors involving money and work that negatively impact ones financial, emotional, spiritual and relational well-being. These behaviors are often persistent and longstanding patterns that overtime become more self-destructive. These behaviors can include:

  • Financial Infidelity/Sexual Infidelity
  • Compulsive work
  • Money Obsession
  • Hidden financial information
  • Financial Incest
  • Overspending/shopping
  • Under/Over valuing of self
  • Financial deprivation

Whether you struggle with a fear of “not having enough” or “not being good enough” there is help! IITAP therapists are provided specific training to help you uncover hidden and self-destructive behaviors. Books such as, For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships looks at the overlay of self-worth, sexual and financial infidelity and offers help to those who need guidance and direction! Contributed by: Debra Kaplan, LPC, CMAT & CSAT Supervisor

* 2012 TODAY/Self Magazine.com survey of 23,000 participants

 

Drugs and Alcohol

Addiction Interaction: Drug/Alcohol Dependency Can you relate to any of these situations?

  • Getting high and compulsively looking at pornography
  • Cheating on your spouse when drinking or using drugs
  • Soliciting sex in order to get money for drugs
  • Now that you are drug and alcohol free, you find yourself being sexually compulsive or unusually needy for attention in a sexual relationship
  • Needing to act out sexually to increase the intoxicating effect of drugs and alcohol on your mood

If your answer is yes, then you may have what has become known as an Addiction Interaction. Some people get discouraged when they work hard to resolve one addiction only to find out that they may have to start over treating another. The concept of addiction interaction conceptualizes both substance and behavioral addictions into one cluster or disease, where each “addiction” works to substitute, mask, mediate, or fuse with another. Any behavior that is pleasurable, reward-driven, or expected to provide pleasure is potentially addictive (sex, food, gambling, work, or even relationships).

The good news is that there are specific treatment interventions that can be employed to help you navigate through whatever form of addiction interaction that is continuing to make your life unmanageable. Through participation in group, individual, and/or family sessions, you can learn how to identify specific problematic behaviors that you wish to abstain from one day at a time; learn to communicate more effectively with your family and significant others; and integrate principles of a healthy sexual relationship. Through the utilization of a task-oriented approach, 12-Step support, and comprehensive assessments, you can be on your way to a happy and more fulfilling sexual lifestyle that is also free of drugs and alcohol. Contributed by Rick Snyderman, M.Ed., LPC, CADC, CSAT, NCC

 

Food

To cope with trauma, some people get stuck in unhealthy and addictive behaviors, to the extent that they lose awareness of themselves. Others may do just the opposite and begin focusing on the self and holding their own bodies in contempt. This is when eating disorders and body image issues surface or resurface.
Dieting, counting calories, body checking and excessive exercise provide a false sense of security. Bypassing hunger then creates an internal feeling of deprivation and lack of safety. Needs and wants become unacceptable and self-soothing cannot be achieved. Bingeing and compulsive overeating can become a defense to avoid feelings of inner
emptiness.

This is a time when self-kindness is most important. I work with partners to create necessary strategies to heal from the trauma of betrayal and discovery of sex addiction. I use a psychobiological approach to treating relational trauma. As a CSAT and CSAT Supervisor, I integrate many tasks and tools to address addiction interaction, shame
resilience, emotional dysregulation, trauma resolution, cultivating self-kindness, rebuilding trust and intimacy, managing stress, interpersonal effectiveness and instilling hope and happiness.

Written by: Stacy Korfist, LMFT, CSAT-S, CEDS-S

Internet

When looking at people who suffer from problematic Internet use, it’s been found that they usually use many different aspects of the Internet and, often, are also using drugs and alcohol to enhance the high or relief they seek from their online activities. For many of them, their love of digital media began with early hand-held video games, and then progressed to online multiplayer games. However, once they were spending time online, they were captivated by all sorts of online content. For boys, porn use begins, on average, by age 10; for girls (who tend to be less interested in porn), their interests are captured by social media at an equally early age. As more families give their children hand-held devices at younger and younger ages, we are likely to see digital media use becoming a serious problem at younger and younger ages.

One of the things that is most intriguing about the young adults with problematic internet use is the high degree to which their identities are formed by their online activities, especially gaming. When they come for help, this is the thing that is most difficult for them to overcome. Because they’ve invested years of their lives in gaming and enjoy recognition in their game communities, they cannot easily imagine being able to develop the same kind of achievement and community out in the world. For many of them, the friends they’ve made online feel more real to them than any other relationships. This can be another stumbling block in therapy. Many of them lack confidence in themselves socially. Many have never dated, or, if they have, it’s been just hook-up sex rather than real relationships. While their healthier peers were learning how to flirt and date, the Internet addicts were side-tracked by easy online access to porn, using that as an outlet for their sexual drive, often getting hooked on that porn, as well as being hooked on gaming, e-sports, fantasy sports, online poker, online socializing, and other online activities. Whatever the content, excessive computer use can lead to an internet addiction. And, that Internet addiction can get mixed together with other addictive behaviors.

If you or someone you know shows signs of an addiction (Internet or otherwise) know that there is help out there. IITAP has trained hundreds of therapists in the treatment not only of Sex and Love addiction, but other behavioral addictions, as well. These therapists have earned the title of Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) and Certified Multiple Addiction Therapists (CMAT).

Written by: Hilarie Cash, LMHC, CSAT Candidate

Treatment

 

Treatment for Sexual Addiction is a very personal journey, the client is going to talk about things that they have not talked about before. They are going to confront things about themselves that they havent discussed for a long time and they are going to be in recovery for the rest of their lives. Like any addiction treatment is an ongoing process.

Finding the Right 12-Step Group

For recovering sex and love addicts, finding the right 12-step group to supplement treatment with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist is incredibly important. There are five primary options for recovering sex and love addicts. There are also a variety of groups that help loved ones of sex addicts.

12-Step Recovery Groups for Sex Addicts

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA): This is generally the most conservative and restrictive of the 12-step sexual recovery programs. In SA, sex with anyone other than your legally married spouse is prohibited. (This prohibition includes sex with self – i.e., masturbation.) If you are gay, lesbian,
bisexual, single, partnered but not married, etc., this is probably not the right group for you. If, however, you are straight, married, and want to define sexual sobriety in this highly restricted way, SA can be very helpful. Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA): SAA is a welcoming, straightforward 12-step sexual recovery group that allows you to define sexual sobriety based on your own history, morality, and life goals. Almost any recovering sex addict can find comfort, support, and guidance in SAA. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA): This group is designed for men and women who are addicted to the pursuit of relationships in addiction to (or instead of) the sex act. This is the 12-step sexual recovery group in which you will find the most women.

Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA): Like SAA, SCA is a welcoming, straightforward 12-step sexual recovery group that allows you to define sexual sobriety based on your own history, morality, and life goals. SCA is very gay friendly. Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA): SRA is similar in format, membership, and tone to SAA. However, there are a limited number of meetings at this point in time. The group is mostly centered in and around New York City, though there are scattered meetings in several other states.

Groups for Loved Ones of Sex Addicts

COSA: This is a group based on the teachings of Al-Anon, except the focus is on sexual addiction rather than alcohol abuse. If your life has been negatively impacted by a sex addict, you can find comfort, support, and guidance in COSA. S-Anon: S-Anon is a similar program to COSA, though it uses some of the same “sexaholic” language as SA. Because of this, some (but certainly not all) S-Anon meetings can seem a bit conservative and restrictive. Codependents Anonymous (CODA): This is a 12-step group for people who are deeply and problematically enmeshed with an addict (of any type). The group is designed to help people set healthy boundaries. Loved ones of sex addicts might also find comfort, support, and guidance at Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, Co-Anon, Families Anonymous, and Recovering Couples Anonymous.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S

Why CSATs?

We want everyone seeking recovery/support to have the best resources –both the person struggling with the addiction and their partner who has been affected too. This includes your selection of a trained therapist to work with. The IITAP trained professionals (CSAT®, ASAT, PSAP and CSAT Candidates) are trained to utilize the most effective tools including assessments such as the Sexual Dependency Inventory to help best create a treatment path. No other training is as comprehensive providing the IITAP trained professionals with a level of expertise not available elsewhere. You deserve the best opportunity for success in recovery- select an IITAP trained therapist to guide you.

Therapist Directory

Levels of Care

There are many ways people get assistance with sexual behaviors that have been negatively impacting their lives. Some involve non-professionals (for example, self-help support groups such as Sex Addicts Anonymous), while other services are provided by professionals specializing in this area. People often find that they benefit from help from both professional and non-professional support. Additionally, there are different types and levels of care provided by professionals, ranging from outpatient individual and group therapy to a structured residential or inpatient treatment facility.

Many factors may help determine what level of care may be best for you and when. Probably the best way for you to decide on this is through consultation with people trained in working with these issues. You can find such professionals through places like the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP), an example of an organization that specializes in and trains practitioners in these types of problems. Such professionals can help evaluate your situation and make recommendations to you regarding what to do next. Written by: Dr. Greg Futral, PhD, CSAT Supervisor

Relapse Prevention

The most important thing to realize is that change is possible. You don’t have to stay stuck in the same patterns and problems you find yourself in right now. Recovery from most any significant problem may take a lot of hard work, but the longer-term benefits can be immeasurable for you and those you care about. Regular self-care, a balanced lifestyle, healthy connection to and support from others, and self-understanding and reflection are just some of the key areas that can help you make and sustain a healthy change. Seeking appropriate assistance allows you to begin putting such pieces in place. As observed by historian Joan Wallach Scott, “Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.” It will likely be a bumpy journey, but well worth the effort. Written by: Dr. Greg Futral, PhD, CSAT Supervisor

IITAP Partners

Pornography

 

Pornography on the internet is one of the most prolific Sex Addiction lures there is, it is very simple to find and available anywhere. Please read and be aware of how much is too much, what signs to look for that it could be becoming a problem and when to seek help.

It is completely natural to be sexually curious, especially in adolescence.  As such, some people may actually recommend viewing Internet porn as a method of self-education or self-expression of their sexuality. But when is it a problem?

  1. Psychological Concerns: Much of today’s internet pornography presents an unreal and distorted view of sexuality (i.e. that women enjoy being aggressively used as sexual objects). This a very important point to understand, as teens (or younger) view streaming videos of real people having real sex, and thus shape their perceptions and expectations.
  2. Potential Relationship Problems:  Gone are the days when a teenager kept a Playboy magazine under his bed for occasional peeks of a nude woman; with today’s highly graphic streaming porn videos, virtually every sex act imaginable is available for consumption.  Beyond the obvious internal concerns (one partner doesn’t like the fact that the other partner looks at porn), there are documented studies showing that regular viewing of Internet pornography decreases a person’s level of commitment to the relationship.
  3. Porn Induced Sexual Dysfunctions: ex. difficulty reaching climax, using a condom or sustaining an erection.  This isn’t a blood-flow issue; it’s a brain-based issue.  “Real sex” simply can’t complete in a brain trained to respond to the intensity of high-speed, ever-novel streaming internet pornography. Some porn users are conditioning their sexual arousal template to everything associated with porn use: voyeurism, novelty, fetishes, searching for the perfect video, new porn stars, new genres, etc. creating a mismatch with partnered sex, and reduced arousal.
  4. Physiological (brain-based) Issues:  Viewing Internet pornography isn’t “bad” or problematic in and of itself. (Unless it violates your personal/cultural norms and values, but that is an individualized topic.)  Chronic viewing, however, is another story.  So while looking at Internet pornography occasionally or intermittently may be “normal”, there is such a thing as looking at it too much.  The more often someone views it the more likely they are to experience hyper-arousal to cues for pornography use, decreased response to everyday stimuli, decreased self-control relating to pornography use and increased urges to relapse when under stress.

So what happens what you stop viewing?

Things may get worse before they get better. Many chronic users initially report “brain fog”, as well as negative moods and feelings (anxious, irritable, depressed). This is because the brain’s reward center needs time to reset itself – called rebooting in the Internet world.  In time, however, things get better.  Ultimately, people report benefits such as the following:

  • Increases in Energy & Motivation
  • Improved Concentration
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Brain Fog clears
  • Start new Hobbies
  • Start Dating again
  • Go back to School
  • Emotional Reconnection
  • Newfound Confidence

Intimacy and Healthy Sex

Our sexuality lives in the core of our being, but when cloaked by shame we are unable to be intimate, meaning we can’t make ourselves known to others. In order to be truly intimate in any relationship, we must be able to know our self, and to be able to freely share and receive knowledge and feedback about who we are. From birth through early childhood, human beings require a stable caregiver who will connect intimately for soothing, attending to our every need. This ability to connect can be interrupted by an insensitive, inconsistent, or mentally ill parent who cannot tend to the infant, or through later childhood trauma. For most addicts, the ability to form lasting relationships was impossible from the beginning, or constantly disrupted and never repaired. This type of emotional deprivation develops an ever-increasing need for alternative methods of self-soothing that can last into adulthood. Sex addiction is the manifestation of one such method of self-soothing. With a hobbled capacity to dependably create and sustain
healthy intimacy in primary relationships, the sex addict is compelled to find comfort and connection in unhealthy ways. The vicious cycle of secretive, shaming or abusive sexual experiences is often driven by the basic inability to connect and receive soothing from a trusted other.

Many recovering sex addicts confirm that what they previously considered to qualify as ‘great sex,’ was mostly self destructive and today, would no longer be truly satisfying. Healthy sex must be defined by each individual, and should result in a better self-image, in self-acceptance and in a healthy sex life that does not include secrets, lies, shame, regrets, trauma, or pain for anyone involved. Sexuality based in integrity and trust
opens the door to the erotic for a more authentic, creative experience of sex. Healthy sex is always safe, sane and consensual sex between adults. When sex is an expression of ones most authentic self, it yields focus on the here and now, chemistry and pleasure, deep interpersonal connection, feelings of vulnerability, surrender and carnal desire, and a sense of oneness with the divine. Addictive sex drags the bones of our painful past into every act; healthy sex is fun, exciting, and reveals our deepest truths, paving the way for personal growth and development and for meeting our sexual potential.

Alexandra Katehakis

Tech Safety

In today’s world, kids are online almost constantly, potentially exposed to all sorts of inappropriate content and contacts. One relatively effective way to protect them is to install “parental control” software on their devices. DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT TELLING THEM. Your kids will realize you’ve done it, and your unilateral decision will create a huge resentment. As such, it is best to tell kids in advance that you are going to install protective software – not because you want to spy on them, but because you want to protect them. You might also explain that as long as they aren’t trying to access inappropriate content or talk to someone who might be dangerous, the software does nothing at all.Sometimes you can get kids “on board” by giving them input when selecting the level of filtering/blocking and accountability/parental notification. Usually, when kids feel they’ve had a say in the matter, protective measures are much better received.When shopping for protective software, you should consider the following:

Customizable Filtering and Blocking. Nearly all protective software products have preset filtering levels – ranging from levels appropriate for young children to young adults. The better ones offer customizable filtering, with blacklisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be allowed and white-listing of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be blocked. Secondary Filtering and Blocking Features. In addition to website filtering and blocking, most products offer several secondary features, including:

  • Online search filtering and blocking
  • App blocking
  • Social media blocking
  • Instant message/chat blocking
  • File transfer blocking (preventing the sending and/or receiving of pictures, videos, and
  • other large data files)
  • Video game filtering
  • Profanity blocking 

Recording and Reporting (Accountability) Features. Ideally, protective software products monitor your child’s online activity and provide you with usage reports (either regularly scheduled or on demand), along with real-time alerts if/when your child uses (or attempts to use) his or her digital device in a prohibited way. Recording and reporting features may include:

  • Websites visited
  • Online searches
  • Social networking
  • Usernames and passwords
  • IM/chat
  • Email
  • Screenshot playback

Ease of Use. The software should be easy to install and to customize. Ideally, you should be able to globally configure the software, establishing settings on all of your kids’ devices simultaneously instead of dealing with each machine individually. The best products offer free tech support via email, phone, and even live chat. Compatibility. Not all products work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited (and therefore not recommended for kids, who usually have a wide array of devices on which they can access the Internet and/or interact with others). It is important to make sure a product works on all of your children’s device(s) before you purchase it. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of your children’s digital equipment with only one license. Generally speaking, Net Nanny is the most useful product for protecting kids. It’s relatively affordable, usable on pretty much any device, and it works. (There are sectarian solutions for people seeking them, such as Guard Your Eyes for Jews and Covenant Eyes for Christians.) It is important to note that no parental control software is infallible. The simple truth is most kids can find a way around even the best of these products if they really want to. As such, these products should not be looked at as enforcers of your will. Instead, they should be considered tools of effective parenting, best used in conjunction with an ongoing series of honest, open-minded, nonjudgmental conversations about the healthy use of digital technology.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S