Friday, November 07, 2008

eight and nine year-old girls are not what they were in my day

At our elementary school, a vague but cautionary email went out to the third grade parents, advising us that Some Girls Had Used The Internet Inappropriately, the school was working through some issues with the families of those girls, and that all third graders would be bringing home another copy of the school's internet safety policy to be reviewed with and signed by a parent. I was puzzled. Obviously something fairly disturbing had occurred if we were all supposed to sit down with our children and go over internet safety yet again, but why the mystery?

I asked Iris Uber Alles if she knew what had happened, and she was clueless. "Nobody knows. I have no idea." The Sober Husband was all agog as well, surmising that it must have been some sort of Myspace infraction. I asked the head of the lower school if she could tell me more without compromising the privacy of the families involved, stressing that I wasn't asking for names, just information.

I've found it frustrating supervising Iris's internet usage. I don't know everything she does online. She recently started a blog I didn't know about, which I found when she accidentally left my laptop logged into her own blogger account. Childless people are fond of saying that parents should keep an eye on their kids and know everything their child does online, but I'm frankly not going to spend every waking moment that Iris is out of school staring at her. Even if I were less lazy, I still have to take a shower or have a bowel movement from time to time, requiring a cessation of vigilance. Additionally, as the Sober Husband is a computer enthusiast, our home is littered with computers (we have, I think, four laptops, at least two "regular computers", two things that the Sober Husband refers to as "servers", plus the iPhone, which can be used to surf the web). I wondered if the internet conduct in question was something I would consider permissible (I do after all let Iris play World of Warcraft, which many would consider wrong). I lied about Iris's age once on line to let her use a website I thought was age-appropriate, so I had abetted Iris in violating the school's policy myself. My best guess was that the girls in question might have lied about their age to make Facebook profiles (as indeed a young person of our acquaintance -- not Iris or Lola -- is known to have done); my fear was that they might have written cruel things about their classmates online.

When the head of lower school called me, I was taken aback by what I learned. The incident had involved some girls looking at explicit porn together online. These are eight and nine year-old girls, third graders. Sigh. They went surfing around by typing in sexually explicit words into Google. I hadn't really thought it necessary to go into a lot of sex education yet, and I guess I should reevaluate that. I thought it was enough to have held the talk about inappropriate touching, but if Iris's classmates are investigating hardcore porn, it seems I should cover a bit more ground. I'm nonplussed.

I shared with the head of lower school my feeling that I can't imagine keeping track of every site Iris visits. How can we supervise our children's internet usage when there are third and fourth-graders running around with iPhones? I was nonplussed to learn of the porn; the head of school was nonplussed to learn that there are telephones now which access the web and which are owned by some lower school students. (Iris keeps me abreast of which third and fourth graders own iPhones as part of her campaign to obtain one for herself). We both hung up on a note of bemusement at this world we stumble around in, trying to stumble faster than the third-graders.

22 comments:

Pallas said...

NOOOooooOOOooooOOOO!

*sticks fingers in ears*

I'm going to seal my 7yo in bubblewrap, I think. It's the only way.

The 4yo? Oh, he's not going to be permitted to grow up anymore. He's sleeping in Tupperware from here on out. (Points for reference)

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, this is unfortunately not surprising for me to hear. My 7 year old and her ten year old friend happened upon a pornographic website while browsing the internet one afternoon. This let to the purchase of a kid-friendly browser called Bumper Car.

Three years later, we have not had anymore porn issues, but I still monitor her email and her browser history.

I also let my daughter play WoW, since both her father and I play. She still managed to make friends and then become "boyfriend and girlfriend" with some 11 year old boy! I knew she was running around in WoW with him, but didn't realize there was this "romantic" bent to their relationship until I found her sending pictures of herself to him over email.

Overall, it was harmless (and sadly their "affair" has ended after a few short weeks), but I really wasn't prepared for this interest in boys at age 10!

Jen in OR said...

"Even if I were less lazy, I still have to take a shower or have a bowel movement from time to time, requiring a cessation of vigilance."

I won't say the usual "you owe me a new keyboard", but I did choke a little bit on the gulp of coffee I'd just taken. Too funny!!

I have an 8 year old, too, and she hasn't even asked about sex. She thinks it's making out. "They" say you shouldn't answer questions your kids haven't asked yet, but I don't want her learning about sex on some porn site. Damn.

I think iPhones are overrated. I've seen enough people trying unsuccessfully to use them. I bought my DH an iTouch for his last birthday...and he traded it in on an Archos.

Anonymous said...

I'm so paranoid about my 8 year old seeing porn (as I did when I was a child) that she's only allowed on the computer if I am seated next to her.

And even when we google-image something together for school, I make her avert her eyes until I'm sure their won't be any porn.

I was exposed to explicit porn at way too early an age, and I think it scarred me, not by upsetting me, but by teaching me to see sexuality from the "objects" point of view.

I often still see, when I close my eyes during sex, those first images.

Davi said...

There's a line from a My Chemical Romance song that goes, "Teenagers scare the living shit out of me." Honestly?? Anyone under the age of 21 scares the shit out of me. They are not to be trusted, with few exceptions.

Nicki said...

Ugh, that's rough!!! third grade?!?! Yikes!!!

I have a whole house of computer-aged children and even if I wanted to skip the bowel movements in favor of vigilance, I couldn't. For us, the solution was installing monitoring software that sends reports daily. The kids know its on there - I would be uncomfortable with "spying" but other parents aren't. And that way I just briefly scan one email a day and know whether there was anything red-flaggish that I should be concerned about. It is definitely peace of mind and we haven't had any issues yet. And yeah, i've totally done that age-lying thing too, mostly to avoid having to fax in permission slips! I'm just that lazy and immoral, apparently.

hughman said...

my problem with the porn is not the sex part but how it portrays the role of women to a young girl. blech,

maybe (shock and awe) it has something to do with how the girls surfing for porn and parented. i'm guessing the moms and dads aren't so honest with the kids and the youngsters have come upon a web history of porn at home.

irregardless, you can't edit something as pertinent as comps from today's world. you'll end up with a bunch of John McCains,

jeez, i wish we had computors when i was a kid.

Melissa said...

I can tell you that if third graders surfed the internet for porn, it is because they have been exposed to it at home. Children might see something accidentally if they make a typo on a website, but they won't deliberately seek out those websites unless they know they are out there...

When my 16b y.o was about third grade, a fifth grade teacher at her school lost her college age son to a guy who had presented himself over the internet as a girl. The college student drove to meet the other boy, who couldn't handle things, and shot the other young man. It was greatly emphasized by the school that we should be hyper vigilant and careful not to let our children use the internet, but the biggest message I saw was that children who use it at early ages, have internet-savvy parents, are safer in some ways. Both my children are very much aware that just because someone says they are 15 doesn't make them so.

Also, if your children aren't in chat rooms, they're going to be safe. If they stick to sites like Webkinz or Neopets in the elementary grades, they're going to be all right.

I'm really, really surprised the administrator of the school didn't make the connection between the children who looked for porn and their home life. It could be something as simple as a parent leaving open access to certain tv channels, or it could be much more serious. I'm shocked almost that a n administrator would not make that connection and instead is emphasizing that parents need to be hyper vigilant in supervising their children.

I have never in my years of working with children had a student seek out porn sites or make inappropriate comments or gestures, without having been exposed to it in an inappropriate way (ranging from the access/open watching act to outright sexual molestation). It's just not something that comes naturally to children.
Missy

hughman said...

i'm assuming missy is saying what i suggested in a much more concise and eloquent way. parents should share some of the responsibility for what their children as wont to persue. i doubt your kids would have looked up porn, perhaps where to get an iphone cheap.

also, kids have iphones??? those things are expensive! i barely keep my ancient ibook running! who are these people? i could use a new ibook and i'm not 8.

lemonjuicer said...

i think this is the most nonplussed you have ever been in a blog entry.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Missy and others, I'm so glad for your input. I'm glad for that opinion (which makes sense to me) that at least one of those children had to be exposed to something to go looking for it.

The head of lower school is no dummy. I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't have some thoughts about the exposed-at-home thing, but those are the kinds of thoughts she wouldn't share with me, another parent, who might gossip about these other parents. I was careful in talking to her not to probe about the children involved, as I didn't want to cross a line of nosiness, and she owes those other families an obligation to protect their privacy.

My kids do indeed never go into chatrooms. Lola/Lucy likes Webkinz and Eekoworld and PBSkids and other sites like that, which are firmly child friendly. Iris is more problematic, as she does love Youtube very much (she likes videos about cats and, weirdly, Judge Judy snippets). I worry sometimes that she is going to run across something disturbing there. I have talked to her and asked her that if she ever sees anything on line that she doesn't understand or bothers her, that I want her to show it to me so we can discuss it.

Internet predators are not a worry to me right now. I have always told the girls that they need to tell me about any friends they make online, and they haven't made any. They aren't interested in reaching out to other people that way; they just want to play cool games and see cool videos online. I also had a talk with the both of them about how there are some grown-ups who have an inappropriate interest in children and how they need to tell me if anyone tries to touch them or asks them to go somewhere with them. I had a less-shocking wake-up call previously when a friend-of-friends turned out to be a preyer-on-teenaged girls busted on that "To Catch A Pedophile-or-Whatever" show (I posted about that ages ago).

I would appreciate the names of the software people have used which has been helpful in keeping tabs.

Dear anonymous, traumatized commenter: I'm sorry that happened to you. That is rough. I have tried to shield my children from age-inappropriate things (and I include violence in that), and I hope I don't screw up and have them scarred by something.

I need to heighten my vigilance because my Iris is a curious child. She's definitely not age-inappropriately interested in sex now, but this episode is something of a wake-up call.

the Drunken Housewife said...

p.s. Hughman, the kids who have iPhones are the spawn of hedge fund owners in general. There are a lot of rich kids at the school. However, we're seeing an impact from the recession. There are a lot of people who work in financial services who are stressed by the stock market; we're heard of layoffs.

Pallas said...

We moved all computers (yeah, plural, hubs is IT and we're deeply dweeby) into the playroom, which is clearly visible from the kitchen and dining room. There is NO nanny software that works better than the possibility that Mom is two feet away and could look up or *gasp* walk by at any moment.

Despite our techy leanings (actually, because of them), no one has a computer or television in their room. This is for a multitude of reasons, but it does address this issue as well.

Of course, soon they'll be able to stay up later than I can and we'll have to rethink our options ...

Did NO ONE watch Eerie, Indiana? The Tupperware kids? No one? Just me. Once again, I am tragically unhip.

Epiphany said...

Can't comment on the monitoring thing, because I don't have kids, but a lot of families I know have their computers set up so that each user has their own profile and log-in, and they are logged out automatically after being idle for a while. That would certainly cut down on the possibility of starting to type in a website name, and have your browser helpfully suggest some age-inappropriate site the parents had been looking at.

And yeah, I have to agree with Hughman: plenty of the mainstream porn out there right now is very degrading to women, and does not create a positive role model for young girls who are developing sexually....

snowqueen said...

I discovered how easy it is for kids to access porn when one of my daughters was looking up Avril Lavigne and spelled her name wrong. It seems that those nasty porn minds thought of that one and pretty much all misspellings of the kinds of stars little girls might try and look up (with their developing spelling skills) open up porn sites - and those ones where clicking closed a window just opens up another. It's frighteningly easy for kids to 'stumble upon' porn so I might not be so hasty to assume that these girls had issues at home other than naive parents who didn't realise this could happen.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear Snowqueen, you are all all too right that children can come across porn by mistyping or by clicking on a link. However, I'm informed and believe that the children in question found the porn by typing in sexual words into Google. So it wasn't accidental; it was purposeful. That's what made the school react, whereas a child running across porn accidentally wouldn't be such a red flag.

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rowan said...

Does the school have some kind of filter a la Net Nanny that they use, or did the kids figure out how to get around it.

The kids computer is in the living room, it has one internet link to PBS kids, right now they don't know there is anything else out there.

I don't want to hover over my kids but I fight it. Letting them go out and play in the neighborhood has me paralyzed sitting on my hands until they return to the house safe and sound.

Anonymous said...

My youngest daughter's bullying by other girls in her class started in sixth grade -- she's now 17, so I imagine that 3rd grade is the "new" 6th grade. Having said that, the bullying was "innocent" compared to others (i.e. the teenager who thought she was talking to a boy but it was a mom, and ultimately the 13 year old killed herself.) "Innocent" in that youngest daughter was called "fatzke" instead of "fratzke", etc. But that still hurt her at the time. And my telling the school about it was because it was happening DURING school hours, on school computers, that the kids and parents had all signed Internet agreement forms as well as anti-bullying protection forms.

Now, even though my youngest is 17, I still check the computer history every time she's used the computer.

My youngest also had to dress as The pope during social studies a few years back, and we searched on the Internet for his dress and head-dress, as well as why he took the name he did, etc. During our search when typing in The Pope, a porn site opened up. Imagine MY surprise when I'm suddenly looking at porn. And my youngest just so amused that HER MOTHER opened and found the porn site! I didn't think I had ... it just opened from another click I'd done on the "legitimate" site. So sometimes porn can be found innocently --- but then if it is shared with others it is not so innocent. So even if one of the girls found it but then started showing others, it's still not an innocent find.

My girls, even at 20 and 17 today, know the more they protest that I shouldn't be around to watch them, causes me to just be the opposite. If they protest me being around, I figure they have something to hide. If they don't flinch or start closing websites when I'm around, then I figure they're doing no harm on the Internet.

One does have to be vigilent in what their kids are doing or being exposed to.

Good luck with all this!

/dfratzke

snowqueen said...

Adverts for films like 'Idiot and Twit (whatever) Make a Porno' all over the place (in my Facebook columns so presumably in my daughters') don't exactly help. Watching MTV would lead you to think that when women grow up they become pole dancers. I had to take my daughters to see Patti Smith as an antidote.

Midlife Mama said...

I have an eight and nine year old who recently learned about sex from a neighborhood friend (also 8)...I found THAT shocking. i wasn't ready to go there yet, getting out all the techinical terms, etc. but go there we did! I shudder to think that my two darling Webkinz site lovers could somehow find porn...though their computer is in the same room as mine and when they are on it so am I...mine turned into a funny story that I used for my blog....sillyandsalacious.blogspot.com...this is decidedly not funny and I am thankful for the "heads up". My eagle eye will be watching my 8 & 9 year old even more closely..yikes!

J9 said...

Holy crap! I have an 8 year old boy, and a 5 year old boy - and I am constantly worried about them! They can only surf to their own sites (webkins, club penguin, PBS kids, nick jr. playhouse disney), but I know they are hearing and learning things form their older classmates, and those with older sibs. They are boys, so of course while playing with their "crew", I get to overhear fart references, and balls, nuts and junk. They also moon each other.
I am less thank thrilled, andwonder where this crosses the line from boyish talk to worry about inappropriateness. I just today had to talk to the 8 year old about showing his private area to ANYONE. This is the same kid who runs around the house naked, yelling, "don't look, don't look"
Ah parenthood.