A couple events of the past few days have made me get super depressed about the future. The problem? The utter portability of porn…and problems.
I was talking to a friend who recently had a 12th birthday sleepover for her son. During the night the boys used their I-phones and Droids and I-pod Touches to look at porn on You-Tube and other sites. The parents had made sure the movies they had provided were appropriate, and that the snacks were good; what they hadn’t realized was that after lights-out a Lord of the Flies mentality would reign, fueled by puberty, smuggled-in Energy Drinks, and wireless electronics.
Then this morning when I dragged myself out of bed after the 4th of July festivities, I went up to my kids’ rooms. In one room Molly and her cousin were watching a movie on a PSP, and in the next room Jake and his cousin were watching You-tube clips on an I-Pod Touch. Our cousins had these gadgets with them for summer air travel, in the same way we take a portable DVD player in the car on road trips.
Nothing they were watching was objectionable (Herbie the Love Bug and funny You-tube Videos) but it made me think…CRAP! On a typical summer morning they would have had to come downstairs and ask, “Can we watch TV?” in the family room. I know it should be "May we watch TV?" but I'm keeping it real here. We would have made the decision. We would have placed limits on what and for how long. But here we were, a few yards away from them, and we didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
When I was growing up, a friend’s older brother might have had a Playboy magazine that got passed around the neighborhood a couple of times. Our TVs didn’t have cable, and although one or two neighborhood dads might have had a few racy VHS tapes, that was just a gross fact we knew, but we didn’t dare watch them. When phone sex lines started when we in 8th or 9th grade, I am sure Betsy Arnold’s parents got wind of what was going on pretty quickly when the whopping phone bill came in after we got a little crazy at our “Thriller-Video-Watching Party.” But beyond that, there wasn’t much opportunity for accessing porn. It just seemed too risky.
Our phones were attached to the wall, right there in the kitchen. I hated this, but it had many advantages. First of all, we had to share phone use with the entire family. This cut down on how long calls could be. Also, the family knew if a boy had good phone manners, and they felt free to throw out opinions on who was calling. Kind of like a Greek Chorus, my older brother could say to me, “Hey, Loser, why is so and so calling YOU if he’s dating that pretty red-headed girl?” Word got around the house, and usually around school, of who was calling whom.
Knowing they had to go through the parental or sibling gateway, callers might think twice about calling, and let’s just say sexy talk was an impossibility when the phone was located right next to the tuna noodle casserole.
Until I wised up and invested in a 100-foot long phone cord so I could sneak the phone up to my attic bedroom, I was at the mercy of my home’s limited phone jacks. Even at the time, as I stayed up until 3 in the morning talking to a boyfriend who was away at college, I could see the wisdom in my parents wanting to monitor what I was doing, because I found myself being pulled in too deeply in a relationship I wasn’t ready for. But I was the third child, and my parents were tired. I also knew I was playing with fire another time, when as a 16 year old, I was getting calls from a 26-year-old man…. I can only imagine if it was today and he was a 26-year-old man with a web cam. Ick.
As a parent, I know I can’t shelter my kids from everything, but I always thought I’d go down swinging. We watched nothing but PBS until the oldest child was 9; no cable tv until just a few years ago. Our aces in the hole were the proclamations that we would NEVER have a TV or computer in the kids’ bedrooms. Puh-leaze. If we had known 11 years ago how much things would change, and how little impact that rule would have, I would have seen the naiveté of this thinking.
Computers and TV’s in the bedrooms? New technology has taken the place of these monoliths. As we all know, wireless technology means we carry our “computers and tv’s” in our pockets, backpacks, and into our bedrooms, bathrooms, and cars.
Unplugging from the walls, however, unplugs our actions from the watchful eye of a family. A teenage girl can receive thousands of threatening texts from a boyfriend, yet stay completely under her family’s radar. There is no one picking up the phone in the kitchen and taking messages on a notepad. Thousands of phone calls on a landline would never go unnoticed. While my kids won't have TV's or computers in their bedrooms, they will have cell phones that can do goodness knows what.
And then there is sexting, when boys and girls can “say” whatever they want, when they would never be emboldened to do so face to face, or even on a family’s phone.
While electronics will help us monitor where our kids are (something our parents couldn’t do), it seems to me that they will make it very difficult to monitor what our kids see and do.
For those of you with younger children, you may be thinking this will not be a problem for your kids. Your kids will be different. It is hard to imagine, when using cool new technology to access Thomas and Friends, Go Diego Go and funny cat videos, how it can all go so terribly wrong, so fast.
But let me say that just as technology seems to be changing at lightning speed, our children are growing fast. I feel like I blinked and landed in the world of PG-13 movies and cell phones. Those same little kids whose heads are bent over a DS right now, will most likely have the latest gadget in hand in the next 5 years.
I tell myself my kids are obedient, and they understand limits. Right now my daughter has zero interest in electronics, and my son asks before he goes to any website. My own kids do not yet have cell phones, and have no portable electronic devices. But I know that will change.
And I was young once. When I was a pre-teen and early teen I had the sex-drive of a piece of corrugated cardboard. But would I have looked at porn if I’d been given the chance? Sure. Absolutely. You can bet on it.
And there’s the real problem. The images I would have seen would have been seared into my memory. I would have carried them with me into my dating relationships and into my marriage. And what I would have seen would have been NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING compared to what our kids could see today.
And the guilt. You already know I feel guilt about everything. The guilt I would have carried about what I saw would have been hard on me mentally and spiritually and driven a wedge between my parents and me as I had to keep secrets, even more than I was already keeping.
So I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that we only have one family. And parenting gets tiring, exhausting, really. I guess I’m just reminding myself that just because inventions are the "next cool thing" with amazing capabilities and functions, they can come with a cost.