When my son was three, he was shown how a computer mouse works. One click and boom—technology became part of his life. Technology to my son is second nature. My nearly retired husband, on the other hand, dreads using technology. He uses it begrudgingly, fantasizing about nailing his smartphone to a fence post and dumping his computer in the pond (heaven help me if he ever actually gets the chance!). Each new piece of tech brings him new stress and anxiety To him, tech is unnecessarily complicated. To my son, tech is simple and intuitive.
But tech presents dangers for everyone, the most savvy to the new user. Even as my now teenage son zips through pages of information, new anxiety and fears come up for both my husband and me. What will our son run into? Who will he run into? He’s a careful kid who likes safeguards to protect him from the evils that lurk around the corner, and we as parents can help provide those safeguards
Not too long ago, we had a reality check that reminded us of the scary things out there that can slip into our lives unexpectedly. As a family, we were talking about the artist Norman Rockwell and his amazing paintings. My husband went downstairs with our son, to the to pull up one particular painting on the computer. I was finishing vacuuming when suddenly my son started yelling, “EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!”
I raced downstairs expecting blood or a heart attack, but instead, I found my husband and son white as ghosts and visibly shaken. When I asked what was wrong, my son said, “It’s pornography, Mom.”
My husband said, “Get it off our computer.” They had googled Norman Rockwell and clicked on one of the images, which was located on a very common site used by moms everywhere. When they scrolled down to see more paintings by this beloved artist, a vile image appeared instead.
I sent them both upstairs, turned the monitor back on, and pulled up the history. I walked through where they had clicked. It had very innocent Saturday Evening Post images of Rockwell’s work all around, and then I saw the picture that was not. I have encountered an unfortunate amount of inappropriate content in my life, but this was worse than most. It was graphic, hard pornography.
It was so vile thatI cried. We all cried that night. I immediately blocked that site and sent them a report to let them know what we had found there, and we’ve never been back. I don’t give second chances in these cases, because I don’t want to risk accidental exposure again. I removed the history, cleaned the cache, ran security checks, and called my tech gurus. Then, as a family, my husband, son, and I talked. We prayed, and I listened as they expressed their upset feelings. It was a truly awful experience, but it did help me appreciate my informed son, who is vigilant about inappropriate content and knows what to do when he comes upon it. I was proud of his reaction..
In that moment, even I would have gladly thrown the computer in the pond and nailed our phones to the fence post. We had experienced firsthand the risks that come from technology and how easy it is to access something inappropriate and even traumatic. The fact is that technology can be scary. There are risks associated with its use, and it can be particularly dangerous for our kids. And worrying about our children’s safety is part of being a parent. But really, nailing our phones to a fence post isn’t going to help any of us. . We live in a world of tech, and there’s no escaping it.
However (and thankfully!), we can use tech to better our lives and put the very best protections in place for our kids. For one thing, we can use a great tool like Troomi, a phone that’s made for kids and that safeguards them against accidental pornography exposure. With Troomi, we as the parents determine the functionality of our children’s phones, and if we decide that they should have access to web browsing, we can create a safelist of websites the phone will be able to access.
We can overcome the fear of technology as long as we remember that we have the power to say no, to avoid things we don’t want to interact with, and to teach our kids what is acceptable and what is not. And as we teach them and introduce tech gradually, they’ll develop safe technology habits that will guide their lives.