Sunday, January 20, 2008

For My Eyes Only

CensoredI 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 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.


  1. oh just never ends does it?

  2. Oh what fun...I see this coming. One thing that I heard a computer guru say about blocking sites and internet security with children, was simple and good, I think. Only allow access to the computer in public rooms, say the living room and kitchen, so that there is something of a filter in that you may walk past at any given moment. This of course has it's flaws, but it seemed a good idea.

    Telefonica also seems to have some kind of filter on me, I couldn't get to those sites if I tried. They block them.

  3. Judy Blume - me, too!

    I think the filtering is a losing battle if she is that curious. This is my plan if I ever find these sites on my kids' histories: sit down and look through the sites already viewed with them (after popping a few Valium) and explain what I find offensive. Can you imagine anything more embarrassing or off-putting for your kid? I'll traumatize mine so badly, they'll enter the nearest monastery/convent when they are 16.

    Luckily, it hasn't been an issue yet. But we don't allow the social networking sites, simply because they are a waste of time. Although, now that I think about it, I should introduce them to my older ones, as they will be using them when they are out on their own; and at least now I would have a chance to teach them computer caution. Your daughter has probably learned a valuable lesson from what happened with her MySpace account. If she listened....

    That's the real the time they are old enough to learn about certain things, they are too old to listen....

  4. Hey, I'm a friend of Lime's. Just came by to say hi and I must complement you on good parenting. I have none of my own but I'm always gratified to see people caring about and paying attention to their kids. Bravo!

  5. Oh oh, I can understand how uneasy you must have felt!

    Yep, I'm from a generation that learned stuffs out of Judy Blume books too and I do think the internet shows a bit too much sometimes.

    But don't worry, kids are just curious, no perversion here... I'm sure you know that!

    Did you talk with her?

  6. I have heavy duty filtering in place, because I worry about young minds being able to witness the worst of the worst and the effects it could have on budding sexuality.
    I've had a few friends that have had some real problems with boy children in this regard.

    My kids are computer savvy, so they can probably work the system, but it makes me feel better. I remember the saucy days of Playboy. They seem tame compared to what is on the nets. Maybe I'll leave a few lying around just for old time's sake. I'm old school.

    Great post.

  7. Hi Theresa, they grow up fast don't they. I hadn't thought she would be interested yet. When you grew up I had it much easier without a computer.Are you sure she doesn't read your blog because she might be embarressed if she knows you talk about her adventures!At her age she is entitled to some privacy you know. Oeps, maybe I should mind my own business ,then again I guess it is ok if a mother says something once in a while? As a grandmother one wants to automatically protect the grandchild you know.anyway, kisses and hugs to you all. Love, Mem

  8. Man, I am not letting my kids grow up.

  9. Lime: Yeah, and for us it's only just starting.

    Orneta: Oh we do do that walk-in filter thing, but she must be really fast since she's always either on Messenger or playing games.

    Suburban: Oh, I know she could find a way to get around the filter, but it also keeps the other two from coming across stuff accidentally, which really easy. Catgirl only has Messenger, which is not a social networking site, and she uses it to chat with her cousins in Holland and Cáceres (much cheaper than by phone). We wouldn't let her use MySpace or any of those kind of sites yet since she's really too young, and there are all sorts of weird people out there. She knows the filters are there to keep her from stumbling on to any potentially dangerous sites, and I told her to ask me if there's anything she needs to look up that won't show, but I don't think she'll ask me to see stuff about sex.

    Keyser Soze: Hi and welcome. My husband and I try to talk with our kids about the important stuff, and we always tell them they can talk to us about anything that worries them. Sometimes it's hard to know what they think, but they seem to be pretty sensible so far.

    Zhu: Oh, I'm sure it's just curiosity, but the problem is that lots of these places have links to adult chat rooms and some really explicit pictures. She's only twelve and there are some things that I think she shouldn't see yet, and there's also a lot of misinformation about sex out there. We've talked about sex and she's pretty well-informed about the basics, but I don't know if she would tell me if she came across something disturbing. We told her the filter is to keep her from coming across problematic pages, but we haven't talked about exactly what she looks up when she's on the computer. I'm considering telling her that if she's curious, we'll let her have one session without filters to look for whatever she wants, but I don't want her to spend all her time on this.

    Mrs. G: I always thought it was more of a boy thing, but I guess girls are just as likely to do it too. I really don't mind if she sees nudity (there's plenty on tv here, so it's nothing new) or even erotic images, but I'm not too keen on her finding hard-core stuff or chat rooms where people talk about this stuff.

    Mem: I didn't expect it quite so soon, but it had to happen some day. You can say whatever you think here, no problem...advice is always welcome. My blog is blocked for the time being because it has words like "sex", "nudity", and "porn", but I can't be 100% sure she won't read it. I may just tell her about it, let her read it, and explain that I wanted to see what other people do about these things. I think the worst for her would be that we know, not that other people know. But, I could be wrong...we'll see how it goes.

    Diesel: Don't think you'll have much of a say in that, so be prepared...and talk to them.

  10. Articles like these make Rickey cringe at the thought of having a daughter.

    And if Rickey does have a daughter, she's going to school wearing a suit of armor.

  11. I'm about in your situation too. Daughter just got on email and is hanging on YouTube. She isn't surfing yet, but I need to have the computer talk and set up some guidelines very soon. Of course, this is in addition to my post from today...which will help the teen situation.

  12. Whoa. Yes, I'm not ready for this at all.

    I don't mind nudity or the mildly erotic for curious teens, but some of the hardcore stuff is...well...frightening. Some of it looks bordering on torture. Did you filter "Hentai"? My friend found her son Googling hardcore manga, and said that the things a cartoon character can do are even more disturbing than what could happen in real life; somehow "it's only a cartoon" didn't apply according to her.

    I have no idea what I'd do. There must be some soft core "sex ed" books out there. I'll take a look through the Sexuality section in our bookstore and see if there is anything that addresses the curiosity in the most "clinically erotic" way.

    And guys peeing, lol...I'd pay money not to have to look at that, lol.

  13. When our kids were young, my wife and I discussed placing bricks on their heads to prevent them from growing up.

    With two teenagers and one closing in fast, I am going to have to say that our strategy has failed. All there is to do now is to love them and guide them as best as we can.

    And clean up the brick dust.

  14. If my wife and I ever have kids we are throwing our computer out the window. I'll blog via the community center bulletin board.

  15. wow...apart from "Oh my God, these kids today" I would also like to congratualte you on your computer wiz abilities. I have no idea how to blog certain things on my computer to restrict my nephews searches. They still ar enot twelve...but it won't be long...

    good job, on being an observant Mom and two thumbs up for understanding the need to know anatomy in every child.

    The peeing thing will pass. I had a short fascination with it as a kid, becuase I saw that young Bill could do it standing up, which I thought was way impressive :)

  16. Kudos to you my friend and uh, hopefully you can help me with those filters in a couple of years. I'm afraid we have her pretty suppressed in terms of computer use - none of the social sites, but then again she's only ten. Two years makes a big difference. Peeing? Industrious, aren't they?

    Ah the loss of innocence always coincides with a few more gray hairs.