This story is a painful one for me. Please be kind with your comments.
It was dinner time, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was blaring for the toddler in the background.
I’d just gotten home from Target, and one of our elementary-aged sons was at the dining room table, sitting in front of the family laptop. We’d gotten it out a few weeks back for virtual learning.
“Hey buddy!” I said as I slid my red and white bags onto the kitchen counter. “How was school?”
He looked up, and when his eyes met mine, I could tell.
He was doing something he wasn’t supposed to.
Call it mama instinct. Call it knowing my kids better than anyone on the planet. But I knew. Something was off.
‘Eh, probably that video game with guns in it again,’ I shrugged off worry as I walked over to glance at his screen.
By then, he’d navigated off of whatever he was looking at.
And so, I clicked History at the top of the browser.
As my eyes rolled over the first few words, dread punched the back of my stomach. The words became blurry, and a sickening heat shot down to my feet, and back up to my head.
I felt like I was going to throw up.
I swallowed air and let out a wail.
I’m not really sure what happened next, but I know everyone in the room was terrified.
My other 2 sons were suddenly right next to me. My toddler had looked up from her show.
Everyone searched my face for what horrible reason I’d let out such a frightening sound.
All I remember is my hand covering my mouth.
My eyes were huge.
And I could not speak.
The tears started streaming, silently. I did not have words. What words are there?
Something had happened that could never be undone.
My son’s innocence would never return.
And I decided, then and there. I would never forgive myself for failing in this most epic and unacceptable way.
I snatched the laptop from the table, covered the screen with my chest and scurried to my sons’ room. I told everyone else to stay out as I went back to that sickening History page.
And so I kept going.
URL after URL, site after site, clickbait after clickbait.
With each word and each scroll, my gut dropped further and further into my stomach.
It was clear.
My son had lost his innocence.
And it was on our family laptop.
At the dining room table.
With everyone around.
As we uncovered later, it wasn’t just him. Another brother had seen this stuff too.
It went back about 4 days, all in the evening around the same time.
The worst part?
It had started totally innocently.
One afternoon, with a search for “Pokemon games.”
Later, lots of different character names were typed in, and if you know Pokemon, you know some of the female have big boobs. So eventually one of the searches said, “Pokemon boobs.”
And that was it.
It was over.
My kids were powerless to the internet monster that’s designed to steal innocence with a few simple clicks and redirects.
My poor babies followed the sickening path.
Clicking around to things I can’t even repeat.
It makes me sick just to stir up the memories.
I can tell you it is gut-wrenching and painful to write these words right now. And this happened months ago.
I clicked a few of the links to educate myself on what they’d seen. To help me know what I’d have to explain. To help me deal with this tragedy.
The images and videos that came up were so sickening I couldn’t continue.
(Guys, what’s out there now isn’t just stumbling into some magazines in your neighbor’s dad’s garage. It’s live web cams and lots of perversion and so much more.)
I felt dizzy. I felt sick. I felt lost. I felt ashamed.
How did this happen?
I racked my brain. We’d put so many safeguards in place.
Our kids don’t know the password to log onto the laptop. So any time they want to use it, an adult must be present. But we’d log them on and then get busy with dishes and our 3 other kids and all the other things our large household required.
We’d deliberately put the laptop in the middle of our living space, so the kids had no privacy. But it turns out, that just gave the adults a false sense of control we never had.
We’d even set up the screen so it faced the living room, so everyone in the room could see. But, I’ll admit, I’d grown tired of how it looked and wanted the laptop more tucked away. So I moved it to the back corner of the table. Facing the wall.
In the days that followed, I could not speak.
That sounds dramatic.
I literally did not talk for like 2 or 3 days. My husband was really worried about me.
But I couldn’t.
I was mourning.
I was grieving.
I had lost something. No, my kids had lost something because of my ignorance.
And they would never get it back.
I was mourning my kids’ innocence.
I was mourning my belief that I would always be smarter and faster than their curiosity.
I was mourning the loss of something I never realized I had until it was gone.
It was like someone died.
My kids’ innocence was gone and could never be recovered. EVER.
It could not be undone.
I wasn’t sure I could ever forgive myself for this colossal failure to protect my children’s hearts.
There was no going back. All that was left was emptiness and regret.
Over the next few weeks, I sat with both my sons for hours, trying to keep communication open. I laid with each of them on their beds. I asked there was anything they wanted to talk about. They didn’t. My husband did the same.
I’m writing this post because it was my job to protect my kids’ innocence and I failed.
Learn from me.
This can happen to you.
The next day, my husband bought an app that controls every device in your home and you can block certain sites.
Which worked great until virtual learning required access to YouTube and the rest of the internet.
Honestly, guys, I’m not even sure what’s next.
I don’t know what the solution is.
But there you have it. I just shared piece of my pain, a piece of my broken heart.
Honestly, I wrote this post last week and just looked over it again to proofread it, and the tears boiled out uncontrollably again, as I sat in our dark guest room today at 4:25am. IT HURTS.
Don’t let this happen to you.
I’d love your feedback, your thoughts, your experiences.
Do your kids have their own devices? How have you built guardrails into their internet use, if you have at all? Head over to Facebook and Instagram to share your experiences with kids and screens. And, don’t forget to join the email list so you’re the first to get new posts.