When I was about ten or eleven, some boy in the neighborhood discovered the weather-beaten, scattered pages of a Playboy magazine along a stretch of dirt bike trail in the woods adjacent to our houses. Pretty soon, all of us kids knew about it, and from that summer until well into winter, when it finally disintegrated into soggy clumps of pulp, that Playboy was our sole source of sexual education. (That and Lonney Jackson, who claimed he had access to a 1-900 phone sex chat line, but no one believed him.)
Of course, comparatively speaking, kids these days have it easy. In our house alone, there exist no fewer than seven portals to the wide world of the internet and all its wisdom. Gone are the days of a single desktop computer, located publicly in the family room. Now, in addition to the adults’ laptops, both Nate and Calvin own iPods with internet connectivity, my iPhone is usually within reach, and our family iPad travels from room to room.
Because of this, we have a system. (I’ll leave it to you to decide, after finishing this post, whether our system works.) The boys are allowed to access the internet for homework and pre-approved entertainment purposes, but YouTube and Google can only be accessed with an adult standing by to assist. We rely on a foundation of trust, but we’re not dummies: every evening, they know we scroll through their browser history. If we find anything they shouldn’t be seeking out, WiFi capability is removed from their device. If we find no history at all (indicating a cover-up effort), WiFi capability is automatically removed.
Last night, after checking our iPad’s browser history, Charlie asked me, “Did you search ‘how to French kiss’?”
In his defense, since I write fiction, I do Google a variety of odd things. Still: “I think I know how to French kiss.”
The next morning, Charlie had to get to work early, so it was left to me to call Nate and Calvin together. What followed was possibly one of the funniest conversations we’ve ever had. After showing them the browser history evidence, they both started laughing. The thing was, Nate’s laughter was of the genuine ‘ha-ha, this is hilarious’ variety, while Calvin’s swung closer to ‘ha-ha-oh-crap’. It wasn’t hard to determine the culprit.
At first, between bright-red-faced guffaws, he tried to deny it. Then he tried to say he had Googled it ‘on accident’ and that he hadn’t meant to. Because that happens you know…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bumped into an iPad and had it type out ‘how to French kiss’.
I called him on this, of course, which only made his face redder and his brother laugh harder. I clicked on the first link to see just how bad the damage to my 10-year-old’s innocence had been, and though somewhat relieved, I did note additional links leading to darker waters. I decided to put him on the spot, because nothing reins kids in like public humiliation. “So,” I prompted. “What did you learn?”
This caused their laughter to double. Calvin could barely breathe. “There…are…fourteen…steps,” he finally managed, which made my eyebrows raise and, more alarming still, wiped the smile right off Nate’s face.
Now I was laughing.
“What’s the first one?” Nate asked, attempting to peer at the iPad screen over my shoulder.
Calvin’s face was positively on fire. We could barely make out his words. “Moisten…your…lips.”
Now we were all doubled-over, gasping for breath.
“Well…duh,” Nate managed.
Within a few minutes, our hysteria had drawn Toby’s attention, who wanted to know what was so funny, so I let Calvin off the hook at Step #3 (angle your face).
His internet privileges have been revoked per our stipulated rules, and for when he gets them back, I’ve installed Mobicip. Other than regular diligence, common sense, and lots of open dialogue, I’m not sure what else I can do. I will not be banishing technology any time soon, nor do I want my children to be wary of it. Curiosity in itself is not a punishable offense in our house, and I’ve known since the moment I got an eyeful of Miss September from under the tire of my BMX bike that there’s no stopping the unveiling of the world’s mysteries (and Playboy models).
But you can’t blame me for trying. It’s so frighteningly easy to learn entirely too much today. (In Cal’s case, he’d stumbled upon his colorful tutorial trying to Google a Lego ‘how to’.) The juicy tidbits of (mostly erronous) information we had to work so hard to uncover in our youth simply falls into kids’ laps today, streaming into their ears and before their eyes faster than they can say, stop. Enough. No more. Not yet.
If only there were an app for that.
(If you’re now burning with curiosity, here you are: Wiki-How’s 14-step guide to French kissing, with illustrations, courtesy of Calvin. Let me know if you learn something.)