Apart from getting my teeth bashed in by a hockey stick and that wet-to-the-skin oh-why-did-I-wear-jeans hiking trip through Gatineau Park, it is one of my few vivid memories from eighth grade: Jeremy was, like me, a new student at the school that year. Jeremy, like all boys our age, was curious about female anatomy. So Jeremy did the one thing he knew he could get away with: Giggling all the while, he went to where the Webster’s Dictionary was stationed at the back of the room, looked up the word vagina, and finally solved one of those mysteries that had been perplexing him. In retrospect, I guess he didn’t really solve it, because the dictionary definition was undoubtedly rather drab and technical for a thirteen-year-old mind. It was correct and official but probably rather unsatisfying. Still, it sated him for a time.
Maybe his parents had never had the talk with him. That talk with him. Jeremy’s parents were not alone in skipping it. Some parents could never bear to do it. Some relied on guidance counselors or middle school health teachers. Some, red-faced, handed their kids a book and said, “If you’ve got any questions, just ask.” Jeremy’s natural curiosity led him to do a little research and the resource readily available to him was the dictionary. No harm done. His innocent question was met with an innocent answer.
Times have changed, and yet at the same time, very little has changed. Our children are still curious. Our children still have questions they are uncomfortable asking their parents. But today our children have a whole new way of finding answers.
Today we train our children from a young age that Google is the place to go for answers. Whose is the fourth face on Mount Rushmore? Google it! What kind of reviews is that new movie getting? Google it! When is the next iPod going to be released? Google it! Should I be concerned about that mole on my back? Google it!
One of the facts I’ve learned since writing a book on pornography, and since having the opportunity to write articles for various sites and publications, is that children today are taking their innocent questions to Google and, all too often, receiving decidedly non-innocent answers.
Young girls are testifying that they just wanted to know a little bit about human anatomy—the curious questions of young teen or even pre-teen girls—and were met by the most vulgar pornography or by invitations to begin exploring their own bodies. Where a dictionary definition was the best you could get in my generation, the digital generation is finding graphic, pornographic, high-definition video. These searches had led to sexual awakenings and sexual addictions which in turn led to deep shame and stunted spiritual growth. And all the while these girls were simply doing what had been modeled to them from a young age: taking their questions to Google.
Young men are saying much the same, that few of them set out to find pornography; it just kind of happened as they followed the path of their natural, hormone-driven curiosity. Innocent questions were answered by hardened hearts and seared consciences. And if an innocent question can so quickly and easily lead to such perversion, how much more the inevitable non-innocent questions a teenaged boy’s brain will also dream up?
Parents, the simple fact is that our children take their shameful or embarrassed questions to a safe place. And today the ultimately safe places are Google or elsewhere on the Internet. We have tacitly trained them to do this, we have encouraged them to do this, and yet we are strangely oblivious to it when the nature of those questions is anatomical or sexual.
The pornographers are not oblivious. Not at all. They have learned that young people will ask these questions and they respond by building and positioning their pages in such a way as to be the first to answer them. Like McDonald’s and Pepsi, they know that if they can get the kids when they are young, they will have customers for life. Brand loyalty and all of that. So they are only too happy to tell your children what they want to know, and a whole lot more besides.
This lays down a challenge for parents. More than ever, you need to open the channels of communication with your children so they know you are safer and wiser even than the search engines. More than ever, you need to ask them questions and to invite them to ask you questions. And all the while, you simply have to be aware of what they are searching for, and what questions they are taking to the all-knowing Google.