My email pinged just before I went to bed, with a summary of my son’s web activity from his school Chromebook. At the time, my son was eight and in virtual learning; the Chromebook was his entire classroom. I figured I should probably scan through the report and make sure nothing dubious was going on during school hours. At first it all seemed pretty standard: his math website, the login page for his reading assignments, his virtual classroom links. Then there was a video game page.
“Well, that’s not appropriate,” I thought to myself. I made a mental note to discuss that with him. I continued to scroll. And then with one word, I was scared and heart-broken: kissing. My 8-year-old was googling kissing!
I started clicking the links one by one. There were pictures, mostly of superhero boys and girls engaged in innocent pecks. But then there were YouTube videos. Mind you, they were fairly innocent. But somehow the young teen Spiderman and Gwen Stacey re-enactors having a PG-13 kiss in Spiderman’s bedroom was too much for me to envision my little baby boy looking at. I began to panic.
The source of my panic was three-fold. First of all he was searching on a school computer! Obviously his searches were being recorded, and I didn’t know if they would take any action against him for misuse of school property. Second, he was clearly not paying attention when he should be doing school work. It was hard to blame him for this, being 5 months into virtual school, but come on, kid! Third, he was my baby, my firstborn. He was only 8! It was just difficult for me as a mom to cope with this idea. I didn’t have my first crush until I was 12, on the teenage Leo DiCaprio.
My husband had already gone to bed, but I was having a full meltdown by this point, so I woke him up and announced that our son had been googling kissing. “Okay,” he replied, understanding that it was bothering me but not quite grasping my panic. “So, it’s not good that it’s on the school computer, I’ll talk to him.”
I was getting frustrated that my husband wasn’t as upset as I was: “But he’s looking at videos!” Suddenly he looked concerned and asked what kind of videos. I showed him. He sighed and put his arm around me. He explained that when he was our son’s age, he would try to see whatever he could wherever he could. “Maybe we all mature differently, but, I think it’s normal for him to be curious,” he said.
I hadn’t considered biology or rate of development as factors. Not to mention that back in our day, our parents had no way of tracing what we were looking at because it was on paper. Our children, for better or for worse, leave an electronic trail wherever they go.
Ultimately we decided that it was problematic that he was searching on the school computer, and he probably didn’t realize anyone could see his history. It was okay that he was being curious but we — meaning my husband, with the more rational ability to speak on this — would talk to him about it and let him know he could always ask us anything he wanted to.
When my husband approached him gently, he was mortified. He cried and was apologetic, but my husband made sure to tell him not to feel ashamed. I know that I was made to feel that way growing up. I didn’t want that for him. We let him know that it was not wise to view these things on school equipment — and that during school hours, he was to only be working on school work.
Fast forward to a year later. My kids were back in school in person but have homework on an iPad. I try to make it a habit of checking the kids' searches every once in a while. And to my dismay, I found more secret searching halfway into the school year. I guess you can’t take the curiosity out of the kid, and because we don’t give him his own device yet, he has nowhere else to go.
By this point, though, I’d read worse stories than that of my son’s, so I wasn’t as upset at seeing the search for “kissing.” I did have to laugh at the search for “girls booties,” because to what I assume was his disappointment, he ended up looking at baby footwear. Once again, I had to bring up to him that this was school property and his teachers and school administrators could see what we were all seeing at home.
YouTube has been removed from all of the devices the children have access to. It becomes unsavory very quickly — not to mention just plain weird — and there is nothing that my six or nine year old needs to see at this point. (I ignore their complaints that I’m preventing them from starting careers as influencers.)
Someday soon I will loosen the reins, as I very well know I can’t shelter them from everything forever, and it wouldn’t be healthy to, anyway. I know I lean toward overprotecting them because that’s how I was raised, but I am open to learning and changing — with the exception of unfettered access to YouTube. That’s where I put my foot down.
Chandi Kelsey is a wife and mother two and she had her family live in the metro Detroit area. She works as a physical therapist and in her spare time enjoys reading, baking and writing in her blog mommingonfumes.com.