My Story: Do you know where your child goes at night?

I read the lucid, horrific correspondence between a 12-year-old girl and supposedly teenage boys. The more I read, the more frightening it became.

computer drawing 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
computer drawing 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In my day, some 40 odd years ago, teenage boys would secretly gather to gape at some back edition of Playboy, daring each other to turn a page. Today's young boys have it much easier. With a few swift clicks of the mouse, they find themselves in porno heaven. Not so long ago, my own son turned the dramatic page of the book of adolescence. In those days, we were not considered a very modern family - we had only one computer that sat in my study. As a mother of two, I was desperately trying to learn how to use a computer and took great pride in the fact that I could type a document and save it in a file and communicate with friends via e-mail. I bought "appropriate" computer games for my adolescent son and preschool daughter. I would sit for hours a) reading the instruction manual b) installing the game c) having a little tryout to see if the game was really suitable. I would sit with my daughter, delighted at her growing computer skills. I think I grew suspicious when I found my six-year-old daughter sitting in front of the computer with "Lolita" staring at her: a huge blonde naked woman, standing provocatively, waving her fingers. I removed my baffled daughter and started to explore where she came from. Finally, I asked my son if he had been visiting porno sites. Of course, he denied it. He was smart enough also to have deleted the history, and I had no idea how to follow his trail. New rules were installed: No exploring Web sites without my okay. For his bar mitzva, my son received his own p/c in his room. Again there were strict rules about use. I sat down with him on numerous occasions, explaining that while his curiosity about pornography was quite normal, his Internet education was not. I assured him that if he had questions, he should ask me or his father. It took a few months before he got the message: All of a sudden his p/c was on the blink; he was the victim of viruses, Trojans and worms, and his p/c often in the shop. We started laying down the law: You stay off porn site as we aren't going to fix your p/c any more. Quiet finally reigned in the house, albeit short-lived. One morning, as I was opening up my e-mail, up popped Lolita and friends. On being questioned, our son confessed that he was still going onto the Internet for pornography: He was going through my p/c as he didn't want any viruses to find their way into his. However, his use of his p/c was soon guided by common sense, rather than hormones. Today, if bothered by anything, he comes to us for advice. And this 17-year-old now helps his mom with her p/c problems. LAST SEPTEMBER, my daughter entered "virtual" sixth grade. Books still had to be bought, but the most important item supplied to parents of both sixth and seventh graders was the laptop. During the summer there had been numerous meetings among parents, teachers and advisers from the Education Ministry. A minority of parents were delighted, and another minority (we were in this minority) were horrified. My husband faithfully attended every meeting, insisting that this would be a huge mistake. These 12- and 13-year-olds were not yet responsible enough for such a move. The first few months proved challenging for both teachers and pupils. The pupils were trying to outdo each other in downloading music, films, messenger and chat links. The teachers were trying to control the messages sent during lessons, trying to keep an eye on the pupils in break times, that they were not going onto sites that were not permitted. Within half a year, the teachers admitted they had no control over the children's extracurricular activities. My daughter took on the project with great enthusiasm: Her own laptop in her room. Homework was to be downloaded from the school forum, done and e-mailed back to the teacher. Of course she did nothing. She soon discovered the exciting world of the Internet, of those sites where teenagers post photographs of themselves in pseudo-pornographic poses, write their likes and dislikes and encourage communication from other "children." Despite warnings from us, from her brother, from her teachers, she sank deeper and deeper into this area. She would come home from school, begrudgingly eat lunch and disappear into her room, closing her door. I admit that I as a parent did nothing about this: I thought she was discovering things on-line, doing her homework, having a chat with the girls. Little did I imagine what she was discovering. Her school work was not improving. She had no social life, outside school. She hardly watched TV. Now we were facing a new addiction: the laptop. Like all teenagers, she tests boundaries, breaks rules and takes risks. This teenager is physically mature for her 12 years, yet still so naïve, believing that nothing bad can happen. She would take solace for hours in her room. When I would pop in to see if all was okay, if she wanted to go out to the mall, go for a walk, she would be hunched over her laptop, screen down, so that I shouldn't see what she was doing, and scream to be left in peace. Her loneliness concerned us. I turned to her teacher and the school counsellor. We finally decided to lay down rules regarding the laptop. She could use it two hours in the afternoon for school work and then it would be turned off. She could chat with her friends for an hour in the evening and then the laptop would be closed. Several times I caught her secretly typing away. I finally physically removed the laptop from her room. When I heard from other mothers that their girls were complaining that my daughter had introduced "strange" men into their school on-line forum and that she was boasting that she was sending text messages to these guys, I finally sat up. The laptop was taken from her. I called the school and informed them that our daughter would be learning without her laptop. She continued being very active on her mobile phone with her text messages: My son showed me that with today's new phones, "icq" messages can be sent through the phone. I removed her phone. One evening, my husband and I sat and read 357 messages sent to four guys, within the space of 27 hours. The messages were lewd, suggestive and very, very frightening. She had already arranged a meeting with one young man; he was giving her advice on how to run away. For the last 10 days, we have been monitoring our daughter. I spend my mornings going through her "icq" history. I read the lucid, horrific correspondence between a 12-year-old girl and supposedly teenage boys. The more I read, the more frightening it became. I am only grateful that we caught this in time. Despite several tough talks to her about this form of communication, she seems oblivious to the dangers. Of course I reported this to the school. The principal pooh-poohed the situation, saying that the children were all too aware of the dangers - apparently my daughter wasn't informed enough. Yesterday, I attended a meeting of our class committee. Tired from the last few days of computer hacking, I perked up a little when I heard a few parents complain that they too were not too happy with the "virtual" teaching system. They maintained that their children were not opening books any more, that their writing skills had deteriorated, as had their language in general. I sighed to myself, and as we left the room, asked each parent, "Do you know where your child goes at night?"