I Hate That I Have to Destroy My Children’s Innocence Before They’re Ready

by Annie Reneau
Getty / Rafa Elias

My daughter came to me wide-eyed, asking if she could talk to me in private. I brought her into my bedroom and shut the door.

It took her a few minutes to muster up what she wanted to tell me, and as I watched the tears well in her eyes, I flashed back a decade to her toddler years. Those big baby blues could always stop me in my tracks.

“I got this really creepy e-mail,” she said, the tears finally spilling over.

“Okay,” I said. Let’s take a look.

I opened her e-mail account, and sure enough, I was greeted by a photo of an erect penis and an invitation for some kind of online hook-up service. It jarred me, and I’m a mother of three who is used to seeing sex-ready manhood.

My tween daughter is not.

I prodded long enough to determine that she hadn’t been viewing any porn sites. It was just some kind of spam email that had slipped through the filter. I found several more in the junk folder.

“It’s just so creepy, Mommy,” she sniffed.

Let me be clear. We’re very open about sex in our household. Our kids don’t always want to talk about it, but we don’t shy away from it. They know that sex is a natural impulse and part of a happy marriage, and I talk about it like it’s just a normal part of life.

But this was something different. It wasn’t creepy to her just because it had to do with sex. This was a disturbing, perverse shade of sexuality. It was creepy because it was in her face, unexpected, uninvited, and unavoidable. She felt violated and so did I.

“I know,” I told her. “It’s creepy to me too.”

My mind reeled to all of the even more disturbing things my sweet girl could trip across online. We’ve drilled home the rules of not ever telling someone online your name, age, or where you live. We’ve explained without too much gory detail why looking up certain words online might be problematic. We’ve had to tell our kids much sooner than I want to about things kids shouldn’t have to worry about. My daughter knew to come to me with that e-mail because we’d talked about it.

I wish it wasn’t like this. I wish we didn’t have to warn our kids about predators and child porn when they’re still playing pretend and trying to enjoy their childhood. I wish we could let them retain their innocence until they indicate that they’re ready to let it go.

But we can’t. It’s imperative that we teach our kids about body safety. It’s important to prepare them for predators they may encounter. I know that the alternative would leave them open to being victimized and confused. I know that sheltering them completely isn’t healthy.

I know all of that, and I’m on board with it.

I just hate it.

I really freaking hate it.

Childhood is fleeting enough as it is. And my kids feel it. They know that their days of carefree playing and freedom from the weight of the world are numbered. Our kids have had a much freer childhood than many, and yet they have still lamented that growing up happens too fast. They embrace the wonder and creativity of these early years, and they are rightly annoyed when they have things like unsolicited erect penis hook-up invitations thrust upon them.

When I was young, kids had to sneak into private spaces in order to find porn. And those who didn’t have any interest in it could easily avoid it. Now it’s everywhere and it’s easily accessible.

Child predators have always existed, of course, so that’s nothing new. But there are so many more opportunities now for kids to have unwelcome encounters, and so many more ways for them to accidentally trip into a world that no one should be looking into. It’s terrifying.

We have to talk to our kids about this stuff, and we have to start young. I know it’s necessary. I know they can’t have the idyllic, carefree childhood that we all wish they could have, where they never have to think about any of this.

I know this is just the world we live in.

I know that. I just hate it.