is it inevitable that children will see something they shouldn’t online?

Maybe we should have stayed screen-free.

Yesterday, a day I had been dreading: my seven-year-old came home from school and asked me what “sex” was.

Turns out he had received the following “friend request” on his favorite website, the seemingly-harmless-enough Moshi Monsters:

hi lover boy meet me at the park and we come have really good sex

Cut to me, staring at the screen, marveling at the potty mouth on tia3456789 (pictured at left).

“This person said this when they wanted to be my friend,” he said, “and I didn’t know what they meant.”

“Did you accept their friend request?” I asked, smile frozen on my face.

“Yes,” he said, as if there were no other possible answer to that question.

I blocked the sender, stuck my finger in the dam by telling my son “sex is when moms and dads kiss,” then contacted Moshi Monsters help directly. I heard back from them within the hour that “appropriate action had been taken.” Still, their reassurance fell a little short:

Due to privacy laws, we cannot give any information regarding action taken.

We ask all parents to please not contact the player who has been reported or removed, as this can escalate the situation unnecessarily.

I took their advice and have not left this little sh*t/Moshi an enlightening message on her own”Friend Tree,” which had been my intention. But upon further consideration, I’m wondering if Moshi Monsters is mostly thinking of themselves when they warn against unnecessarily escalated situations. Why shouldn’t I reach out to this jerk, even if he or she is a minor, and say, you are ruining childhoods and I SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING?

And then just his morning, the New York Times printed Amy O’Leary’s sobering article So How Do We Talk About This? , addressing what to do when your young children see internet pornography.

Not what to do if they see pornography.

WHEN they see pornography.

The overall takeaway of this article, and of Moshi Monsters’ prefabricated response to me, is a depressing realization for this parent: my children can’t be safe on the internet. Not even on websites designed for children. (Perhaps especially not on websites designed for children?) Here’s how Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of the national sex-education organization Answer, boils it down:

“Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable.”

Apparently I need to give up on my dream of childhood innocence with a sigh, and take as a given the day when I have to steer my nine-year-old son towards appropriate images of nude women to surf.

Wait, did you read that right? Yes, you did.

Dana, a divorced mother of three… assumed her sons would seek out pornography and thought it was normal for her 9-year-old to want to look at pictures of naked women. But when he was 13, he asked why women liked to be choked.

What? WHAT? I sure don’t want my 9-year-old son graduating to only violent porn by 7th grade, that’s for sure, but ain’t no WAY I’m going to shrug my shoulders if I find my third grader googling “boobs” later this afternoon. I refuse to accept that as “inevitable” for someone so young, someone so happy being so young. If we all accept that as normal than our children’s childhoods will suffer for it.

The NYT’s Motherlode blog has an extremely helpful post up today, also by Amy O’Leary, explaining how to filter your home network and (perhaps most importantly) talk to your kids once the horse has left the stable. It’s the unavoidability of that moment that I’m struggling with today, hoping that I may yet be able to tighten the reins, start looking over their shoulders a little more often, and protect them from those who would take joy in ruining their innocence.

What do you think? Is it inevitable that our children will see pornography online?

Should the focus be on how to protect their innocence, or what to do once it’s ruined?

What steps have you taken to monitor what your child sees online? Has it been successful?

Most importantly, do you think I should fire off a nasty note to Moshi Member tia3456789?

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Gooddayregularpeople May 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm

OH MY GOD, Amy.  My heart just stopped. My little guy is on moshi monstes. I hope he hasn’t seen something and not told me. NOw I can’t wait till he gets home from school so I can talk to him.

THANK YOU.

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Kirsten Piccini May 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm

I am sitting here hoping I am years away from this conversation, but knowing it is inevitable. My sons don’t get any screen yet at all…outside of catching glimpses of Law & order when it’s on, but for them it’s all Disney and Nick Jr for now. I do wonder what we’ll do when questions like that come up. I need to think about this some more. And if yu keep writing about this, I promise to keep reading and getting my thoughts in order.

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Ambinsner May 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I don’t think you should write a note to the Moshi Member  but I do think you should invesitgate how to report this to the police.  The internet is a prime area for grooming these days.  This person is casting a wide net looking for vulnerable children who have a bit less supervision than Seamus has.  They will find children who are willing and able to meet them at the park.  Moshi Monster’s answer to you is protecting them not children.    Children accessing porn is nothing new.  I vividly remember my brother Tim and EJ finding porn at the Y and brining it home.  They were about 9 or 10.  Preparing yourself to handle it is important so your kids aren’t freaked by your reaction.  As we all know, their innocence will slowly be lost no matter what we do. 

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Mandy Fish May 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I have been talking about sex to my son since he was about three or four years old and he first asked where babies come from. Obviously the explanation grows as he grows. I’ll keep trying to have forthright conversations with him about sex and about inappropriate adults. I also only allow him to access the family computer in the main room of our house so we can all see what he sees. He isn’t signed up with a screen name or an identity on any gaming sites though, because I am worried about him interacting with strangers and perverts. It is hard (impossible?) to shield your kids entirely from sex and weirdos, but I’m doing my best by trying to be the source of his information. I don’t want him to learn about sex from his peers or from the internet, that’s for sure. I jokingly told him, “Don’t ask your friends. Your friends are stupid.” He laughed. (Also, he totally knows I’m right.)

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birdonthestreet May 11, 2012 at 12:51 am

I tend to agree with Ambinsner. I mean, I know there are privacy laws for things like medical information, but I’m unsure if that extends to things like Internet predators. Regardless, I think the authorities should be made aware.

And as for “porn is inevitable”–well, I think there’s a big difference from the Playboys my friend showed me at her house and some of the images you can find online. Maybe I can’t keep my child safe from everything, but I would like to make it clear that sex and violence aren’t one and the same, which seems to be getting harder and harder to separate these days.

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Suzysoro May 11, 2012 at 2:32 am

My sister and I spent all our summers in France as kids and young adults. The French, along with all of Europe, don’t have the puritanical view of naked bodies that Americans do. So we grew up seeing naked women on giant posters in the subway! All day long! Our 2 male cousins were often with us and never so much as said a word about any of it. And guess what? Less violence against women in Europe. Less rape. Now of course there wasn’t porn in the subway stations but you know, the US needs to stop being so uptight.  Making a big deal out of it makes it must see TV!!

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