When I was about 8 years old, I recall standing in my backyard, knee-deep near my father’s papaya trees. Every now and then our neighbor’s sons would come out and play with me. One particular day, the older of the two, offered to show me his privates. I was curious but on a molecular level, I understood his offer was taboo, dangerous and wrong. I grew up in a very modest home where physical privacy was highly guarded. Yet, despite the bells and whistles that rang in my head, I didn’t run away. Instead, I stayed rooted to my spot on the grass, intrigued by his persistence.
He soon gave up asking, and changed his strategy: now he wanted to see mine. I didn’t give in, but during that afternoon, he and his brother gave me their version of the facts of life, and repeatedly explained the real purpose of our body parts. I remember my disbelief and my vigorous defense of the Virgin Mary and immaculate conception. I remember thinking they were the two most misguided, vile and disgusting boys I’d ever known. I was so certain of their ignorance, I felt sorry for them.
A few days ago, a neighbor admitted that while my daughters were at her house, she discovered her computer was used to view pornographic sites. She showed me the time and sites which were viewed. She also showed me the search string used: “Mr. Bean” and LMFAO’s “I’m sexy and I know it.”
Based on the search string, I instantly knew my daughters were involved. They had asked to see that music video and I had prohibited them from viewing it. Our neighbor’s computer doesn’t have parental restrictions, so that search string turned up graphic and lewd pictures depicting various sexual acts.
This event prompted a conversation neither of us were prepared to have with our 8-year-olds. I wanted to rage against our neighbors, but really, they weren’t at fault — they have a baby and a six-year-old. We were at fault. We should have known better. We should have instructed our kids to never use a computer without an adult present.
That night we sat with our tender minded daughters and struggled to find the right words to explain the images they’d seen. We explained that while the internet is an amazing tool to learn about the world, sometimes people also use it to misinform or to disrespect themselves and others.
We explained that while we should not be ashamed of our bodies, there are people who treat their bodies disrespectfully and display themselves for others to see. We also explained there are people who use the internet to show violence and cruelty. And while none of these things are morally correct, people make grave mistakes they later regret.
We didn’t know how to explain sex. We chose not to explain it. I firmly believe they lack the maturity to process that information. Our daughters seemed genuinely confused by the pictures and how they were related to the search string they used. They repeatedly asked why people would take pictures like that. In a sense, what they were really asking is why women were objectified in that way. What saddened us most is that they appeared scared and confused.
Blas explained to the twins that according to Native American folklore, every person has a good wolf and a bad wolf inside of them. Some people, at a young age, choose to, little by little, feed the bad wolf through small misdeeds. As they get older, their misdeeds become greater and greater, and eventually, the bad wolf becomes so strong, they can no longer distinguish between right and wrong. For these reasons, people steal, lie, kill, cheat, and pose nude — their “bad wolf” has clouded their sense of right and wrong.
I don’t know if we handled this situation correctly. In time, when they are older, we’ll ask them. Right now, we believe they were unprepared and too immature to process an explanation of that magnitude. We feel genuinely sad because that event, in an unquantifiable way, marred their innocence. We can’t undo what happened, and they can’t unsee what they saw.
I know sooner or later our kids will be exposed to the idea, the misconceptions, and the misinformation of sex. I thought it would happen later, and had hoped that by that point, as a family, we would have discussed these things and educated them.
I hate to say it, but we were unprepared.
I think back to myself as an eight-year-old, standing in my backyard, staring in disbelief at my neighbors. I wonder what I would have thought if they had shown me the images our daughters recently saw.
I think my world would have been rocked to its core; unfortunately, I’m certain theirs was, and we can’t change it, undo it, or erase it.
It’s unlikely they’ll ever forget it.