In the spring of 1981, when I was in the fifth grade, my classmate Chris invited me to spend the night with him. Then, as now, a sleepover tended to mean things like pizza, popcorn, movies, games, and lots of laughter, so it’s something you generally wanted to do. I accepted.
Chris’s bedroom was in the converted attic of his house. He had lots of space, but more importantly, he was two full levels above his parents’ bedroom. And I learned that Chris was practiced in sneaking downstairs after they went to bed, unhooking the HBO converter box, and bringing it to the TV in his room.
“What are we gonna watch?” I whispered, having foolishly and completely unnecessarily accompanied him on the converter box reconnaissance.
“The Blue Lagoon is on!” he replied triumphantly.
Well, I didn’t know what that was, but if Chris was excited about it, that was enough for me.
Turned out, it was Brooke Shields naked.
And I guess there may have been some other stuff, but to a wide-eyed ten-year-old, mostly it was Brooke Shields naked.
Have you ever seen The Blue Lagoon? I caught some of it maybe ten years ago. It’s hopelessly dopey, even generously allowing for the timeframe in which it was made. There’s not a single kind thing to say about it.
And yet, that night more than 30 years ago, it was the “worst” thing I’d ever seen. How could anything be dirtier than this? Wow.
A Brave New NC-17 World
Now, fast forward to February 1994, when I first accessed the World Wide Web. It was actually a couple of years old then, but it hadn’t yet grown much. The Web was tiny, primitive, and ugly. I was on early enough that more of my friends didn’t know what it was than did.
I thought the Web was cool, though I didn’t really think about it day to day. We were still a long way from it being the essential sum-total of human knowledge it is now, so it was only so useful.
But something it definitely was, already, was full of porn.
The very first web page was published on August 6, 1991. It explained the World Wide Web project.
I am convinced the second one was full of naked people.
The uncensored nature of the Web extended far beyond the prurient, and I still vividly remember seeing the first thing I wish I could “unsee.” I found a page that contained front-line photographs of Desert Storm. I clicked a link titled When an Abrams meets a soft, three-dimensional object.
It was a photograph of an Iraqi soldier that had been run over by a tank.
It was not taken from a distance. It was not blurry. There were no black bars over parts of the image. It was exactly what I would have seen standing right over him.
Welcome to the new “worst” thing I had ever seen.
Thankfully, I’ve pretty much stopped there. Society has gotten steadily more voyeuristic, and apart from specials featuring police chases (which I have to quickly flip past), I’ve resisted.
By extension, that means that my wife and I have resisted for our children. No need for them to grow up too quickly, right?
The Best Intentions
Here’s the thing. More than once, I have been guilty of inserting things into my children’s respective consciousnesses that weren’t otherwise there. For example, when Lea and I talked to them about the Newtown massacre, I told them I wasn’t worried about something like that happening to their classes because of all of the security measures in place.
Well, guess what? They hadn’t had that thought at all until I put it there for them. Smooth move, Dad.[sws_pullquote_left]The very first web page was published on August 6, 1991. It explained the World Wide Web project. I am convinced the second one was full of naked people. [/sws_pullquote_left] I think we should look out for that tendency when we try to police the nature of the material to which our children are exposed. We’re frequently not very good at inhabiting our children’s innocence when we make such decisions. Drawing on the above example: giving my child something to be afraid of, then telling him he shouldn’t be afraid of it, isn’t much of a victory.
You and I are adults. We know what’s out there to find. We do our children a disservice when we assume they do too. Because they don’t. Consequently, they don’t look for it on their own.
I do watch what my boys find on their tablets, and on their computer—but I don’t obsess about it anymore. I’ve determined that Lea and I are doing a pretty good job with what they discover, because it reflects the values we’ve tried to instill in them. Voluntarily bringing what I’m afraid they might find to them tends to hurt much more than it helps.
Might be something to think about.[box style=”light-yellow rounded” ]
Welcome to Arsenic & Old Spice. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m delighted to be here myself on Rocket City Mom, the preeminent parenting blog in the Tennessee Valley. I’m looking forward to exploring fatherhood here with you. Let’s check it out together, shall we?[/box]