as i said yesterday my most pondered question of 2015 was what should we do about our children's impossible-to-police and premature exposure to the open waters of internet porn. the parental measures offered by browsers and operating systems are more laughable than my junior high hair style. instructing a child to "steer clear" rivals abstinence for most feeble parental solution to a problem ever. even adults who actively try to shield their eyes still get hit by surprise pop-ups and un-solicited spam. even corporations with professionals guarding the wall struggle to competently keep their employees nuisance free. it's everywhere and your child is getting peppered on all sides by this adult and perplexing (to them) dimension of our social-landscape.
in search for a solution, i talked to all sorts of people and have, thus far, concluded two things.
one. you cannot hide. well you can hold really still and kinda pretend to hide, but they see you and you see them so you should just accept that the sapling you are standing behind is not doing the job against a sea of input that has you fully surrounded.
two. it is best to get in front of it and far sooner than you think you should get in front of it.
now both of those sentiments may be easily accepted but as with most things, the realities of WHAT to do and HOW to do it are not so easily resolved. there are lots of problems lurking in the folds of this, number one being how (and when) to start the conversation with your child.
now the key word here is 'conversation'. you want this to be a conversation, not a talk as it has been known over the years (e.g. have you had "the talk" with the boy yet?). a talk is finite. it has an ending. and given how uncomfortable most people are during it, both the parent and the child, everyone involved is more than content to name it a talk and deem it over and hope, passionately, that they forever satisfied this parent-child duty and that they never have to visit that uneasy space again. problem is when you are doing something new, something uncomfortable, it takes a moment to find your stride, your cadence, your ability to do this unusual and awkward thing. this is where viewing it as something that is repeated, that has a back and forth, that has no marked end, offers value.
in thinking about how to create this conversational space, i thought it might be smart to look for a time that happened with some regularity, had you and the child alone, and was not otherwise already filled with meaningful conversation. this idea developed organically when a friend and i were trying to figure out how he might fill some painfully awkward silences he was having with his son during a one-hour weekly commute they shared. this was a friend i had also had the porn-talk with and we ended up tying the two matters together to create a platform out of his dead-air window. through our discussion the idea had come up that he should make a rule that every week his son, then twelve, would have to ask him a question about sex. there seemed to be all sorts of advantages to this situation:
my friend, inspired by the idea, introduced it the very next week and in time found success. asking about it months later he said the first question was the hardest, for both of them. the boy had to work at not being embarrassed by the question (which i think may have been about if pregnant ladies can safely have sex) and the father had to work to not laugh or be judgey in his responses, a harder ask than you might think when you hear some of the questions. but they got there and now have a healthy and ongoing routine where they can talk about these things.
- by it happening weekly, the son could spend some time thinking of something to ask
- the father could have some time to spread out on the topic
- they are already stuck together for the hour so no one is tapping their toe hoping silence or obstinance will give them an early out.
immediately jealous of my friend's success, i began searching for a like situation for myself. problem was i didn't have a similar hour long span in the car with my twelve year old son. so i started thinking of when i could employ this tactic in my own family. while aleo and i didn't spend an hour in the car, we did have a routine where we would walk to a field near our house to fly some drones we got a few years back. the walk to our spot is about fifteen minutes away so i figured round trip wise, we had an easy thirty minute window to work with, and the small break between might give me a chance to properly think through a response as well.
after settling on this event and on our next walk up, i broached the topic with my son. i explained that going forward whenever we went to fly our drones, he needed to ask me a question about sex. if he himself, didn't have a question, he needed to ask a question one of his friends had about sex. i thought that second bit was a clever way to let him ask things under the guise that one of his friends was curious about it. i told him that he didn't have to ask a question this time but that the next time we went up to fly, he would. he took all this in and gave his agreement.
we didn't fly drones again for more than four months.
when we did finally set out to fly again part of me thought that perhaps alex finally had a question and this was his way of letting me know. so i didn't say anything on the walk up to see if he would float something out there. he did not. this got me thinking that maybe alex was hoping i forgot about it and it was safe to have our drone battles again. not wanting to give up that easily on our walk back, i brought it up.
so aleo, do you have a question?
do you remember how we said that on these walks you would ask me a question you had about sex.
oh. that. yeah. uhhh. no. i don't have a question.
hmm. have any of your friends asked questions that you weren't sure about?
really? between you and all of your friends, none of you have any questions about what is going on in your bodies or minds or each other?
we don't really talk about that stuff.
well maybe you can ask them if they have any questions and that your dad will help answer them.
dad! i can't ask my friends that.
what? why not? there's no way none of you don't have some questions.
do you know how embarrassed emma would be if i told her she had to ask me sex questions that i could ask my dad.
ok. in my defense i assumed we were just talking about boys here. i wasn't together enough to be actual friends with girls until i was in college, and barely even then, so i didn't even entertain the notion that girls were in the mix here. perhaps alex should be the one fielding the questions as he is certainly further along than i was at his age. but of course these weren't my first thoughts. my first thought was to picture this girl, who is one of the sweetest, kindest, most innocent girls i have ever met, telling her parents at the dinner table that alex's dad was pressuring her to ask him questions about sex.
some people say you need to fail often in life to be successful.
if this is true i should be way more successful than i am. like, way more successful.