i woke up at my usual 6:30. this was a saturday. i went to the kitchen to get my morning drinks. as i walked into the kitchen, anthony entered at the same time from a second doorway. i knew he had slept downstairs in the living room and assumed he was still balled up on the couch. surprised, i asked him why he was up. he said he couldn't sleep. i tousled his hair, told him it was too early to be up and he should go take my spot next to mom. he headed upstairs.
while i prepped my drink, this scene played out in my head. it struck me odd that he came in from the door that led to our computer cafe--a small space attached to our kitchen where all three kids have their computers. coffee now in hand, i stepped into the room. all the screens were dark. i sat down at anthony's computer, woke the computer and logged on. his usual windows were open with tabs to youtube and the public library and a google timer he uses to track his computer time. i called up his browser history, and it was nearly empty. just a few options, the last two lines read PORNHUB. anthony just turned eleven.
my nerves flared. pornhub. i stared at the few items. pornhub. my mood soured. pornhub. my mind spun working to process what i was seeing. pornhub. after a couple of anwerless minutes, i began looking through the settings trying to discover more. pornhub. through netflix, i found someone had watched seven episodes of a show called Lab Rats that morning. but still, pornhub was the only word that played through my mind.
if my heart sank at the discovery, marty's broke at hearing the news. she looked visibly struck. i did my best to tell her everything would be all right and we'd work our way through this but she has a way of hearing the uncertainty in voices and there was plenty of that to be had on this morning. one of the few things i know about children and the internet and online porn is that the combination of those three elements means parents need to have adult conversations with children far sooner than they would like or should have to. but not at eleven years old. that is just too soon.
before we went too far down any one path, we knew we had to better assess the situation. how long has this been going on? how much? what sorts of things? marty mentioned the therapy word. i concurred that we would probably need professional help to fix this, assuming fixing it is even possible.
when anthony woke up, i told him his mother and i needed to talk to him and brought him to the living room. marty had asked that i drive the conversation, so i sat close to anthony and marty sat off to the side. i told him i needed to ask him some questions. marty added that what we wanted was for him to answer the questions honestly even if they aren't what we might want to hear. i asked him if he was on his computer this morning. he said he was. i asked him what he was doing. he said he was looking up books at the library. i asked him if he did anything else. a bit meekly, he said no. i asked him if he was sure. he said he was. pause. he added that he might have watched a lab rats show. just one i asked. yes. pause. i told him that netflix said he had watched seven. his eyes went down. ok, he said almost inaudibly.
i allowed the natural pause to hang a moment. i said an unfortunate thing just happened. i talked about the trust between parents and children and how important it is. i said it was going to be especially important now because i had a few more questions i needed him to answer. he nodded. i told him i noticed the browser history on his computer had been cleared and asked him why he had done that. he looked at me with watery eyes and said he had accidentally clicked a banner ad, and it went to an adult website, and when he tried to close it, it opened another ad and then another and he got scared because they kept opening and when he finally got them all closed, he cleared the browser history because he didn't want to get in trouble. this was the first moment of relief marty and i had seen six hours. and without getting into the details of it, this aligned with what i had seen in the history (but i couldn't be sure without talking to anthony). i confirmed that he was not visiting these sites intentionally. the shock on his face said it all. 'gosh no' was the essential response. more relief. one more question confirming the case. more relief.
i finished the conversation by saying that the house rule is browser history is never to be tampered with. that if something like that happens again the right thing to do is to just tell his mother or i and it's done. i told him his mother and i would talk about his restrictions for sneaking lab rats on a no screens day and sent him upstairs.
marty and i sank back in our chairs. we looked like we had just run a half marathon. the relief we felt at the outcome of this is indescribable. when marty asked about the restriction, i said one week with a good behavior option that could end it a day early. marty was stunned and commented that that was the softest punishment she'd ever seen out of me (such an infraction usually drew 2-4 weeks from me). i told her given the bullet we just dodged i was tempted to give the boy a full pass but knew we couldn't do that given the offense. i added that you gotta hold the line with those youngest kids, else they'd get soft like their mother. marty made a playful face at me and with that comment and subsequent smirk we pulled each other out the hole we found ourselves in at the start of the day.