I was going to post part 2 of the continuing Cat is on the Roof Saga, but life took me on a brief, eye-opening detour. The other day my oldest daughter, who will henceforth be known as Catgirl, came running into the living room shouting, in her best "it's the end of the world" voice, that someone had broken into her Messenger account, erased all her contacts and had added people that she doesn't like. So, I went to her rescue (because she still trusts me to fix her Internet problems, although it's just a matter of time before she'll think she knows more than me, and probably will) and we had a look at her account. I asked her who else knew her password and she assured me that only her best friend did. Even though we've been over this subject before, I explained that she should never give out any password to anyone, not even her best friend and that she should change it. We couldn't undo the damage, and I suspected this was the result of the typical "now I'm your friend, now I'm not" behavior kids have at this age. Friendships last for about 10 minutes, are ended, and mended in about the same amount of time, and this was probably the work one of her classmates who just happened to be angry with her at that moment. In an outburst of unusual frankness, she also told me that she's been visiting some sort of website that tells you who's been blocking you on Messenger, to see who was mad at her. After googling it, I found out that these places are really a trap to get people's e-mail addresses and passwords, so we decided to change her e-mail as well, and I warned Catgirl to stay away from that kind of site.
Just by chance, I decide to check her search history to see if she was visiting any more of these sort of places, and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Seemingly, Catgirl has been looking up all sorts of interesting subjects that all revolve around the same hormone-laden issue. We had searches for people doing it, different positions (at least she hasn't discovered the Kama Sutra yet), guys without clothes, and strangely enough guys peeing...all in both English and Spanish (resourceful girl). Okay, the people doing it and guys without clothes on I could understand, but I didn't quite get the guys peeing thing until I clicked on some of the links. Up came tons of photos of guys doing exactly that, peeing....all in glorious color, and with a great view of their male attributes. I found out there's even a blog in Spanish with nothing but pictures of just that...well, whatever floats peoples' boats (as long as it's not Catgirl's boat we're talking about). I get the feeling that one of her friends at school must have an Internet filter and that since pee vocabulary is not usually blacklisted, that must be their way of circumventing the filters to get to some pretty explicit material. If they can't get to it one way, they'll find another.
Now, I already knew that Catgirl's hormones had kicked in, but I had no idea to what extent...and while I have nothing against a little anatomical curiosity, the idea of her stumbling across other less innocent material or worse yet, some unscrupulous individual just waiting for a tasty young morsel to walk into his trap, worries me. This day had to come, but I didn't expect it to come quite so soon (okay, so I'm just another deluded parent). So, I spent the better part of Friday setting up filter programs for Firefox and Explorer, that block certain sites and certain words, and I even got them to work only on the kids' account (whew! At least I can keep looking up questionable material to my heart's content...but the truth is, I've looked up more sex-related stuff while testing the filter than I have since we got the computer). To test the effectiveness of the whole setup I had to try to think like an adolescent again, and although it wasn't that long ago (okay, maybe it was that long ago) that I was in her shoes, I never had such a vast amount of information to appease my hungry hormones as kids do now. Thinking back to when I was twelve, all I had were Judy Blume books, Seventeen magazine, and my parents' medical encyclopedia to satisfy my curiosity. My friends and I were mostly worried about how to get guys to like us and what it might be like to kiss some guy, but sex was something we weren't quite prepared for. It was even a big deal when, at fourteen, we got to see Romeo and Juliet for English class (after obtaining the proper parental signatures), and that didn't even have full frontal nudity (heaven forbid)...all we saw were their backsides (gasp). Let's face it, at twelve I had a vague idea about how sex worked but I was pretty clueless about the important details, and the Internet as we know it wasn't yet even a glint in its programmer's eye. Around that time I had my first contact with computers at a friend's house, and I remember learning to program in BASIC and saving my data on cassette tapes. The most exciting thing I could get a computer to do was to print a message diagonally across the screen, and even in my wildest dreams (yeah, I was pretty geeky and I had wild computer dreams in those days) I couldn't have imagined what computers would be able to do in the future.
But my kids have never known a world without computers, and now I have to play watchdog...but it's hard to find a balance. I really don't mind if they take a peek at some nudity, after all I remember what it's like to be twelve (even if Catgirl doesn't believe it) and to be curious about how sex works. But tweaking the filter so that she can find some stuff without getting to other more questionable material isn't easy. It's a pain in the ass to try to input all the possible rude words that might get searched for, and believe it or not, testing the thing is no picnic either. Some people might think it's fun to spend the day surfing for porn, but my curiosity has long been satisfied and I find most of these sites utterly tasteless. I also have double work to make sure all the important words are blocked in both English and Spanish, otherwise the girls will figure out that looking for stuff in one language doesn't get them anywhere, but in the other they have free access to photos of every sexual act under the sun (including some I didn't know existed...you learn something new everyday). And trust me, the rude words are the first ones kids learn (don't ask me how, since we don't usually talk about this stuff over the dinner table). The next thing I know, Catgirl will be learning this stuff in Chinese and unless I do too, she'll be able to bypass my filters. But for now, it looks like she'll have to resort to the old-fashioned method of looking stuff up in the medical encyclopedia in the library.