How do you tell your 8 year old son it’s ok to be curious about boobs but its not ok to Google them?
There are many milestones in the life of a parent, photo worthy chapters that demonstrate development and progress. Ninety percent of those are all positive; first steps, first words, first day of kindergarten etc… but I was jolted into one of the more tumultuous firsts of my parenting journey last week.
Last Thursday, the 4th of April, my almost 8 year old son’s innocence was forever tainted when he discovered, through a Google search, bare-naked ladies (not the talented Canadian singing ones), on his iPod. I was shocked, horrified, and very confused.
I think (and hope) it’s totally normal for young boys to be curious about women’s bodies and I know research would back me on that idea. But my young boy? Looking at bare-naked ladies?? What happened???
Now, I must come clean. When I was a youngster, the best day in October was not Halloween. It was the day that the giant Sears Christmas catalogue was delivered. Like any kid, I would first drool at all the toys.
When I tired of Star Wars figures, Atari games, and Hot Wheels, I would then look both ways for parents, then my nimble fingers would find the women’s bras section. I can’t be the only one to have done that… gosh, I feel so vulnerable right now.
But to fast forward to 2013, from Sears catalogues to Google, we, as parents, are in trouble. Rapidly evolving technology in an already toxic and sexualized culture has got to put every parent on high alert. I am not naïve to think my children would never see dirty pictures, but just not yet!
His innocence was fully intact only 1 hour earlier when he arrived home from school. In a Sears family portrait moment, on the living room rug, myself and my 3 children played 3 games of super wholesome UNO together. We then switched gears to building race cars with the immaculately safe and pure LEGO.
My daughter eventually toddled off with her creepy Furby toy, my step son waffled between LEGO, playing with his sister, and checking in on what his older, more mature step brother was now doing. My son had moved onto his scheduled ‘screen’ time – 30 minutes, in full view, sitting in the family room, playing Star Wars Angry Birds.
As I flipped laundry, (yes me, flipping laundry), I guess he tired of Angry birds and began exploring.
I was actually on the phone in my home office when my girlfriend brought me his iPod touch. She flashed me the screen like an FBI agent flashing a badge. On the screen was an image of 2 pouty, naked women hugging each other in a rather amourous way.
We exchanged surprised, amused glances that suddenly turned very serious. She asked the two boys to wait downstairs on the sofa (of death). We pieced the story together of what happened. I searched his iPod browser history and found what he used to search Google - “girls bobes seeing them” – thanks to Google, it autocorrected ‘bobes’ and jackpot.
We quickly devised a strategy and then she walked away and said, “This one is all yours.”
Unfortunately; my son had shown his younger brother the screen and the high pitched giggling had set off Mom’s spidey senses. The rest is history. Our boys had seen dirty pictures… we had a ‘situation’ here and I needed to deal with it.
We separated the boys and made them wait in their rooms while we figured out our next step and logical consequences. I knew that wait would kill my sensitive, rule abiding son as he tends to fear the worst.
My step son was essentially in the clear as he was just called in to see the picture, although he seemed to be doing some excited encouraging until they were caught.
For my son, the consequences of lost screen time and Wi-Fi access were obvious. I could yell and scream and throw around the “I’m disappointed” brick, but how would shame help this situation? I didn’t want my son to think he was that bad or a deviant.
Like knowing exactly where you were when Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal, I know EXACTLY where I was when I got my first look at naked women’s breasts. I was in a kid on my street’s garage, during a Toronto summer downpour, looking at a Playboy he had liberated from his dad’s workbench. I can tell you there was a lot of “tee heeing” and confusion that day.
How was this really any different? Different time and different medium, but still the same ‘objects’ of curiosity.
I wanted to turn this into a learning experience. I decided to turn my judgment into curiosity and ask good questions. He needs guidance, understanding, and perspective, not shame and humiliation.
I put on my bigboy “dad” pants and entered his room and sat on his bed. I moved slowly and could sense that my son thought that the end was near. As I looked at him, not to sound corny, but I suddenly saw my little boy — tears filled his eyes – tears I sensed as being part embarrassment, part regret, but also part sadness that he had somehow disappointed me. This was not an act – he was not proud of his actions.
He spoke first, to break the silence, and blurted out his ‘consequence offer’ of lost screen time and grounding for the next 20 years. I nodded and eased into it by asking what he thinks the consequences should really be. We agreed on no screen time for a month but I wanted more from this conversation.
I know my son well and know him to usually speak the truth. So I gently asked him why he looked that up girl “bobes”. Not really sure if you could give me a good answer. He answered that he was ‘curious’…
How could I teach my son that his curiosity about women’s bodies was natural, but not something he should be looking at or searching out? (At least not yet). We talked about women’s bodies and what they can do (athletically and biologically speaking).
I tried to speak honestly and courageously about being curious, but I also stressed that private parts are private parts and that we should not look at other people’s private parts and no one should ever see ours. (I kinda chickened out and happily took this teachable tangent.)
I am not sure I handled it well. How would you have handled it? Maybe you already have? Please share… Experts may tell me I missed the boat entirely. All I know is that I wanted to open up dialogue not shut it down.
Will he look at dirty pictures again? Probably… but I hope not for a few years. At the very least, I have bushwhacked the footpath so we can talk about it. I could have easily come down hard and smashed and shamed his little ego, but instead tried to build something healthier.
My major point is something you likely already know – dirty pictures and porn are EVERYWHERE, all around our children’s lives – one click away – one screen away. (and with Google’s autocorrect, it’s even easier to find).
Parents of young children find this possibility terrifying while parents of tweens and teens find the reality terrifying.
We need to be good shepherds and fiercely protect our flocks.
We need to be vigilant – constantly on the lookout for gate ways and openings that can threaten our children’s innocence. We can try to police music videos and lyrics, TV shows (Jersey shore), and YouTube but somehow that dirty beast can breach the strongest fortress.
When it does, we had better be ready with great questions, answers, and solutions.
Arm yourself with knowledge — learn all about YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Your children may already be miles ahead of you but it doesn’t mean you can join the race and catch up!
Restricting internet access may be one of your best safeguards – keep computers and surfing spaces in busy family rooms.
“IT” is all out there, waiting like a landmine… one click away… but you do have the power to help control if and when this milestone touches down in your life. Be afraid, very afraid.