One day last spring while running errands in the car, my son asked, "Is dick a bad word?" I asked him, "Why do you ask?" He told me that there had been a discussion at school and one boy had said it was a bad word and my son had told him, "No it's not. It's the name of a store…Dick's Sporting Goods."
We don't mince words; we tell the truth with our kids. So, I explained the different meanings of the word. And told him not to use it in the one sense. Secretly, I was glad that he had been the innocent and naïve one in this situation.
I'm glad he felt like he could bring this to me and ask me about it. I wasn't surprised that he felt comfortable bringing it up with me, but I was surprised that this had happened in first grade.
And now, in second grade, I hear my son and his friends talking about who has a crush on whom. I had lunch with my son on Friday and the girl who sat next to me told me she has 4 boyfriends. Now, do they know what these things mean and are they acting on any of it; I doubt it…at least I hope not. Even still, I find it mind-boggling that all this happens at such a young age.
But then, I read an article written by a British editor/film maker who was shocked to find in his research that studies are showing that kids are being exposed to pornography as young as 10 years old. My son is 7 that's just 3 years older than he is now. This article and these studies were all based on data from Great Britain, but I'd imagine the numbers aren't too much different here in the good ol' U.S.A.
What was even more shocking is the knowledge these pre-teen and teenage students involved in one of the studies possessed on the subject of pornographic sex and the ease with which they discussed the matter. The kids reported sharing links on Facebook and through texts and emails. They said their parents trusted them online and had no idea they were accessing such material; consequently, there were little to no safeguards in place on their computers, tablets or phones.
The information is quite troubling when you think about our non-stop plugged-in generation of kids who are always "on" whether it's a phone, tablet, computer or gaming system. We trust that they won't wander into some dark, seedy online avenue; we believe they will be safe communicating with friends or listening to music, playing games, doing homework, accessing TV and movie programming, but we are wrong.
They often know more and are capable of more when it comes to technology; more than we think they know and sometimes more than we know. After all, this is how their generation lives; plugged in.
Free for All
Here's an example of what can happen when you don't have parental safeguards in place and you mistakenly believe they don't know their way around the internet.
This summer, my boys and I took an almost 3 week driving trip to Texas and back. I was armed with two tablets for the long days of driving; one was ours and one was my mom's. Ours, of course, had passwords galore; some for getting in and out of profiles, another for getting online and still another for buying and downloading more games. My mom's had a handful of games, downloaded by my husband before our trip began, but as I later realized, there were no passwords set on this tablet.
Often, it was my 4 year-old who played on my mom's tablet. Periodically, I would hear the boys discussing various games. Some sounded familiar, others didn't. I would ask them about these that didn't ring a bell. But I was driving; I didn't see the games they were playing.
On the way home, after 2.5 weeks of traveling and visiting and passing the time on the tablets, I heard the shrieks of a woman coming from my mom's tablet. I asked my 4 year old what he was playing. He told me it was some game that you try to kill the lady. WAIT! WHAT? I went into panic mode.
I was stuck in traffic and not able to pull over to check the tablet. I told him to stop playing that immediately and NEVER go to that game again. I began asking about the other games they had downloaded for "free" and found out there was a hunting game and an army game that sounded unacceptable, as well. I gave strict orders to play only what Daddy had put on the tablet.
I talked to my husband on the phone and told him my concerns. How on earth did he find these games? How many had he downloaded and had they all really been free, as my 4 year-old thought?
Well, it turns out he had downloaded quite a few games; many of them not age appropriate. And they were NOT free. We ended up having to pay my mom over $50 for all the games that he downloaded in that 2.5 weeks; many of which we deleted from the tablet due to content. Fortunately, he had not actually played most of these games.
I had not realized there were no passwords in place; I had not known that he would have access to finding other games and downloading them; I had been naïve. My 4 year-old was more tech savvy than I had been. He could have stumbled into sexually graphic materials. He didn't, but he did find violent, inappropriate material.
We, as parents, cannot let down our guards. We must do everything we can to keep our kids safe while online.
Porn on the Brain
One interesting point in the British article was the neurological study conducted regarding how the brain reacts to pornographic images. The results were astounding, even to scientist running the experiment. For some, those who were self-described porn addicts, the brain reacted to the pornographic images as a drug addict or alcoholic would react to narcotics or alcohol being introduced into the body.
Another interesting factor is that the particular part of the brain that responds to addictive behavior is not fully mature or completely developed until a person is in his or her mid-twenties. If our children, and it was particular risky for boys, are watching pornographic sex and viewing pornographic images from the time they are twelve, or perhaps, younger, or even a few years older, by the time they are in their mid-twenties, these images could have affected their brains, much as drugs or alcohol does.
And that's just part of it. These kids are learning about sex through porn; it's rough, violent, dirty, ugly and cheap. This is not OK.
We must be proactive. We must not wait until we stumble upon these images and links on the family computer or their own phones. We must talk to our kids about these issues; the online safety factor, but also about the sex part too.
The internet is a great place to search for information, but you don't want your kids to learn about the birds and bees through Wikipedia or worse….much, much worse.
Read the article. Your jaw will drop….probably more than once. And then, go check all of your tech devices connected to the internet and be sure there are passwords in place. Additionally, if you have pre-teen/teenagers, do you have passwords/access to their social media accounts and emails? Can you see their text messages? Do you have boundaries and expectations set? Have you talked about the online risks with your child? Have you talked to them about sex? Remember, kids as young as 10, are being exposed to online porn. You may need to talk your child earlier than you had planned.
This is a battle that we can win, but it's up to us, the parents, to be ever vigilant when it comes to protecting our kids. Over and out….