Everything these days is organic or free range or humanely sourced or free trade… from toys to cotton to chocolate to chicken, there is a movement towards being more aware of the sources and costs of the things we consume.
We spend the early years (and even the later years, for those of us who have stamina and a flexible budget) of our children’s lives making sure that the majority of things they play with and ingest are at least moderately healthy for them. So when these little ones grow up and they take their various internet-tethered devices with them into the shadows of their bedroom or a corner or a friend’s house or the backseat of a car, do we have a responsibility to make sure that the gross Internet porn they find is also humanely sourced, free trade, and possibly better for them than the Mountain Dew and Cheetos version of typical Internet porn? And how do you talk to your teen about porn anyway?
I mean, I’m really asking. My son is newly thriteen. Every time I look at him I feel like Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids when she says, “What is happeninnnnng?” while smiling in a completely terrified way.
There are so many things I want for my kids. Health. Happiness. Self-awareness. Shoes that fit. Something I never, ever thought about when my babies were born was, “Gee, I hope when they’re teenagers there’s some kind of responsible porn available to them.” Not that I want my kids to immediately consume porn upon becoming teenagers, it just feels inevitable. Even if they don’t seek it out, IT WILL FIND THEM. Internet porn is like acne or creepy dudes in line at the grocery store. Everyone confronts it at some point in their lives. But can we keep it from causing permanent scars?
I feel like part of the conversation with my kids has to be about the fact that you can never unsee something. You know? It’s all fun and games to fool around on google until suddenly… it’s not. Figuring out a way to explain this to a curious teen, without increasing his curiosity is a conundrum I have not yet solved. But it’s on the list.
Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, has a great Moth story about talking to his sons about sex. This is paraphrased, but what he basically says is, “Imagine the Internet is a dude and you can search in his head like you can search online. The things you see in there? After about a second you know that this dude has a serious problem respecting women.”
Every day, it is more and more apparent that the Internet is not kind to women. This is something I want to not just tell my teen, but that I very desperately want him to understand. I don’t want him to take my word for it because I’m his loudmouthed feminist mother. I want his synapses to figure this out on their own. Yes, he can be educated about enthusiastic consent, and about rape culture. He can be taught that boys don’t have a monopoly on hormones. He can be educated that real women have hair and cellulite, and that those things can be glorious, actually. Yet, so much of this understanding just has to come from personal experience. Is it possible, that when he’s older and (hopefully) more mature, he’ll be able to have these experiences without having unseeable Cheeto porn projecting into the back of his mind? I don’t know.
I feel like my responsibility as a parent can’t come to a screeching halt when it comes to my kids maturing, and that the world-at-large pressures me to do what I can to just lock everything down. Net nannies and no-screens-in-your-room and safe searches are not bad ideas at all. But I feel like in this brave new world of Snapchat and Kik and unlimited texting (including multimedia) these tactics are a lot like trying to stop a breached dam with a shamwow. I probably can’t stop my teen from looking at the Cheeto porn, but just like with actual junk food, maybe I can help him be mindful of how it’s not the greatest way to go, and how there are better choices.
There has to be a way to sit down with your teen and talk about pornography and sex in a way that doesn’t make them feel ashamed for being interested. There has to be a way to point out that typical porn is not just showing a variety of sex acts, it’s showing conquests versus collaboration. It’s showing that sex is something men do to women or even just on women. It’s not showing people who have sex with each other. Is it insane to think there is a way to fight against a teen’s illicit consumption of sexual positions, by explaining the importance of sexual prepositions?
The days of finding a crumpled Playboy under your kid’s mattress might be waning, but honestly, these kinds of conversations could have been discussed when we were young, too. Maybe if we had had these kinds of conversations the entire state of pornography today would be different.
All I know is that my firstborn is about to stumble into the underbelly of humanity. I know in not every case organic, free-range, locally sourced ingredients can make a difference, and yet, if there’s a way I can point him toward a small area of the underbelly that has a little more light shined on it, a little more thought behind it, then you can be damn sure I’m going to try. The rest, I guess, is up to him.