Monday, July 5, 2010

Unwired and Coming Un-hinged:World's Longest Post about Porn

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 naivetĂ© 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.


Kristina P. said...

I do think it's much, much harder these days to make sure children aren't exposed to this stuff. It's everywhere.

Gretchen said...

Just keep swimming... just keep swimming... just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

We gotta keep doing what we're doing. We can't give up because we're tired - that's when the vultures (READ: PEERS WITH BAD MANNERS AND WORSE INTENTIONS) will swoop in and swallow our kids up into their "you're not cool unless you do what I do" world.

I think we can't be too protective. Well, I guess we CAN be ultra nazis but when it comes to crap like technology, there is NOTHING redeeming about technology. NOTHING. Sure, it allows us to access stuff faster, but are our kids any smarter than kids 50 years ago who used a typewriter and an encyclopedia? I would actually say they are not as smart as those from years ago.

Your post is both scary and touching. I'm so glad you wrote it.

Gretchen said...

and... asking in a tiny voice... do you read my blog? I'm not in your sidebar...


Unknown said...

At age 18 (gah, ten years ago), I was doing all of these things. I discovered chat rooms, I bought a cell phone with long distance just so I could call people I met in those chat rooms, and at 19 I flew to Connecticut from New Mexico to meet one of them. He was not the only online "friend" I met, either.

Just the thought of my kid doing that stuff freaks me out. But my parents trusted me and so I will trust him...until he does something ridiculous, that is.

kim jackson said...

hang in there...and call in the reinforcements when you need 'em! :]

purejoy said...

i just emitted the heaviest sigh possible.

my kids are pretty much not kids anymore… they're 19 and 20. but they still have access to all that stuff. and you're right. times have changed so much even since they were 12 and 13.
it's mind bending…
all i can say is don't stop immersing them into the Word. all this skanky stuff was around (not as instantly accessible as it is today, but still around) and the only One who can protect them is Jesus, and you and your husband.
we can put up all the rules in the world, but the only thing that can seriously combat it is a changed heart.
i'm not trying to be pollyanna here. i know these are serious times… praying. Jesus. more praying.

you are such a good momma.

Debbie said...

You are voicing all of my fears and concerns. I feel like I tried so hard for so many years to set good examples and limits and they can be undone in a blink of an eye because that is how fast things change now. It is terrifying.

Ann Imig said...

I am so terrified about this issue. That 12 year old party personifies my fear.

Goodbye forever, childhood innocence.

Anonymous said...

OK. Now I'm seriously depressed. My son's 10th birthday is tomorrow and I see my future. And it is not pretty. So glad we have also avoided portable electronics up to now, but know that not all of his friends have. I have just vowed to renew my vigilence.

L said...

As usual, you are right on the money. I am glad you are in my village, sister!

for a different kind of girl said...

My boys are really pretty good about asking when they can use the computer and such, and normally, that time is spent playing games on secure websites and watching clips and music videos on YouTube. However, you travel further into places like YouTube, and you see the other suggested videos that come up in the sidebar while you're watching your original search and you start to think "Hey..." and I think the way one would say "Hey..." can definitely vary greatly depending on whether you're a kid or a parent.

My oldest knows we periodically check his email account and his cell phone usage, and so far, there's not been any trouble, but, well, we all know how enticing it might be to think "just this once." He's weeks away from full on teenagerhood. His thoughts are completely changing! In light of that, last weekend, my husband downloaded a blocking program on the computer the boys primarily use, and we have stepped up the 'appropriate versus inappropriate' talks here and there. Do I wish we never had to have them? Totally. Do I imagine there will be a slip or two here and there? Definitely. That's the part I don't relish, but I guess we just do what we have to.

Brenda Susan said...

That is an awfully sad and frightening post my friend. But it does sound like you are doing all you can do to be a good and diligent mom.
Unfortunately fear can be an awful motivation for decisions. I know you didn't ask for advice, but I am still strongly regretting sending my boys to a strict church school because I was afraid of public schools and their influence on them. It backfired terribly.

Make your rules and expectations clear and then prayer and some really vigilant guardian angels will have to do. You are a really great mom, kids have you in their heads all the time, that should help!

Shana said...

Yeah, I was very proud of myself when we got rid of cable TV and I bragged it up about how my child was finally free of her evil vice... Disney channel and Nickelodeon. Little did I know she was able to watch full length episodes of EVERYTHING on the computer and her iPod touch.

K A B L O O E Y said...

I think every generation has similar issues, but part of the problem now is the generation gap makes them so much better than we at using these gadgets. My 5 year old knows computer shortcuts I don't. And she's a curious kid. Right now I can stay on top of her viewing habits, and she's never gotten herself anywhere frightening, but it's inevitable. I just hope enough common sense and parental indoctrination has gotten into her by then. And I'm also not putting a TV nor computer in her room.

Anonymous said...

As usual, making me think. And think hard. It would never occur to me to look at porn on my phone's internets. But someday will my neighbor's kids "show theirs" to my kiddo? Eek, yes, probably. And I thought I just had to worry about whether or not their parents have a gun in the house.


Glennon said...

this is a brilliant post. i just think your perspective is so perfect, so right on. and i love how you are not afraid to ask questions without answers.

im scared. we need a plan.

Wendy said...

Parents are giving up. My 5-year-old niece has her own super-expensive iPod to download movies & whatnot.

My kids do NOT. And they won't.

We have one television hooked up to anything. And passworded channel locks. And only one computer, which sits in the kitchen where I usually am.

We feel especially superior when we go to family get-togethers and all the other kids are staring at their iPhones and iPods and other stuff... and our kids are running around outside.

Unplug... and don't apologize.

Mrs4444 said...

Oh, jeez! Two great posts in a row?! This is really excellent. I hadn't thought about this before, but I can totally relate to it! We don't let the kids have "computers" in their rooms, but they both have phones and i-touches. I am really glad my kids are 15 and 18--I can't imagine what controlling the lightening speed of technology is going to do to parents of the future!

This really emphasizes the importance of parents raising our kids to respect boundaries and keeping communication lines open.

Christy said...

I read this post a few days ago and it's still with me. Scary stuff.

Ofthesea said...

Oh my good lord. Mine is only 9 months old, and while it's exciting to think what technology will be up to in 10 years it also puts the fear of god in me.
Time to invest in some "net-nanny" tech start-ups and hope in the next decade they find a way to wirelessly intercept whatever it is the kids are watching!

I can't find my blog said...

One of my friends already encountered this with her 10 yo son. He had gotten an itouch for his birthday and was playing an innocent game and inadvertently touched an ad for what turned out to be porn. His innocence has been shattered, not to mention the trust. (The whole story goes much deeper, but you get the idea. Nothing good.)