Is a tween-age Google search for “big boobs” any more terrifying than a fourth-grader sneaking peeks at Dad’s toilet-perched Playboys? This is the question I’m asking myself after an entire day spent disabling programs, changing passwords, enforcing restrictions, and downloading parental control apps on our too many devices. Attempting to block all inappropriate material from oozing through the interspaces is more exhausting than explaining the pornography they’re going to find, anyway. You win, naughty, naughty Internet… you win. I only hope that when my boys do, inevitably, browse across the filthy stuff… I will already have forced them into embarrassing discussions about the filthy stuff.
Until yesterday morning, we were parents who trusted our children on the Internet. Our kids ask to download things that are free, make compelling arguments for things that are not, are “caught” watching only super nerdy Minecraft videos on YouTube, and groan with wearied patience when I re-iterate don’t-chat-with-strangers edicts. We’ve had more than one discussion about why you should never SnapChat your butt, no matter how hilarious Teddy thinks this would be. But upon awakening, as we learned we were the unwitting owners of untold Clash of Clan riches, we knew it was going to be a long day re-inventing passcodes with one capital letter, a phonic symbol, three numbers, and whatever Prince used to be called. The boys’ answers to direct questioning– “Did you buy this virtual crap?”– were met with guilty, evasive answers and implications of “gliches” and “hacks” that sounded just like the lies I told my parents to justify a missed curfew.
Buying fake gems from a virtual world to buy an army of ogres and a pen of swine wasn’t the most egregious of Internet missteps. But after we ascertained it was inadvertent in-app clicking by our own children, and not our Amex card lifted by dorky thieves, we realized how poorly protected our web-connected lives have become. I took my 10 year old’s phone—programmed, I thought, to permit only PG content—and failed the Jenna Jamison Test, easily browsing right to eager mouth engulfing giant cock. Panic ensued. Will a quick check for bracket standings or Red Sox scores send him directly to Club Jenna due to my history-erasing incompetence? Will future Google searches aim him toward overblown implants traipsing through improbable scenarios involving repairmen? While I have no strong, political or religious opposition to pornography, I think small minds aren’t quite equipped to deal with circus sex of the Jamison variety. These boys still recoil in horror when animated Disney characters kiss. And we probably have a compelling parental duty spare our innocents eager mouths devouring giant cocks… especially since Teddy prefers to ask his unprompted questions loudly, and in public spaces.
Darling Bernie called midday to find me tethered to our devices attempting to disable all of our browsers and install protections that would probably prevent me from ordering a two-piece bathing suit. He suggested these endeavors might be futile, and quite possibly, a huge waste of time. What are we trying to prevent, exactly? Maybe we’re only trying to protect ourselves from talking to our kids about pornography and its utter distinction from sexuality. True. But I still need to prevent other people’s kids from voyaging through Giant Cock Territory in my home, on my watch. I think the only way to do this is to be home.
My friend April initiated a house rule, requiring surrendering of all electronics to the kitchen counter upon play date arrival. Automatic shutoffs at bedtime and restricted use in bedrooms can also curb sneaky peeks into Naughty Land. Because it is impossible to censor the Internet without driving ourselves bonkers, our best tact is to arrange our devices so that children can only Google search in our most public spaces. And then, when they inevitably wander into Jenna’s world of magnified parts and rhythmic gymnastics, we’ll need the talent and courage to explain that.
Recently, the school’s 5th graders viewed the sex education video. Because my younger boys had heard the whispered giggles on the bus and lame jokes in the cafeteria, our dinnertime discussion was all about sex for a couple of evenings. Exasperated and slightly embarrassed by my enthusiasm for the topic, Teddy complained,
“Why don’t you let us learn anything at school first?”
Well, because no one is learning everything from a 90-minute video, because your classmates are going to get it wrong, because this topic should be largely taught at home, because your parents are physicians, because I want you to be as smart about sex as you are about math, and because it’s my job. And if I can instill a few beautiful truths before they are exposed to the titillating confusion of pornography, then I win naughty, naughty Internet… I win.