Later, when I was sure he was finally out for the night, I snuck into his room. He'd fallen asleep with the tablet under his pillow and I had to gently reach under and slowly remove it—a visit from the Truth Fairy. Back in my room, I fired up his browser of choice and typed in the omnibox, “chrome:history,” thinking I was prepared for what I would find. As it turned out, my suspicions were confirmed. He had been watching GTA videos—plenty of them—but that wasn't the first thing I noticed. My brain registered the title of a web page in the middle of the history list before my eyes really focused on anything.
8:41 PM http://www.bimbos.com Free XXX Vids: Sheila, The Queen of Ana…
I expanded the Page Title column to see the whole thing and was dismayed, but not surprised, to find that Sheila was not the Queen of Analogies. There were several more pages visited in rapid succession, all featuring women giving jobs that had nothing to do with our nation’s unemployment rates. Finally, the browser history showed, a Google search for "sex videos" had led to brief visits in the Internet's nether regions before he'd apparently seen enough. I called his mother the next day.
“So, I have to talk to you,” I told her, and then quickly reassured her I wasn’t mad at her, she didn’t do anything wrong, but there was this thing that I knew and it had to be out in the open. I let her know what I found, and she gasped. I told her the extent of it and she sighed—poor little guy, she’d said. And then I reassured her I would be talking to him about it and she exhaled in relief. We discussed what ought and ought not to be said. I told her I was going to wait a week or so, partly because I wanted to see if he’d go back and look at it again—he didn’t—and partly because I was terrified of the conversation. She laughed and expressed how happy she was that it happened at my house. I laughed and said our daughter’s eventual menstrual cycle was now officially her responsibility. A week later, Oscar was waiting nervously in the car for me to say something else.
I tried to think back to my own childhood, and how my parents would have handled such a conversation. I was a year younger than Oscar when I got my hands on my first Playboy, which I’d kept stashed under a messy pile of Archie comics on a shelf in my closet. The problem was, my folks never found my secret—never had reason to suspect I even had the thing, since it wasn’t exactly easy for an eight year old to procure such “Entertainment for Men”—and so we never had anything like the conversation Oscar and I were about to have. The Internet has changed all that, with adult websites always a single click away. The content is far more explicit than what was in Playboy, too, and sites like bimbos.com aren’t exactly attracting an audience that claims to visit for the articles.
In some respects, though, this might be a change for the better. Without anyone to provide context to my 8-year-old self for photo spreads like “Campus Cuties,” I was left to formulate my own ideas and impressions of women and how to regard them. I suspect I was not alone in this experience; many men my age still hold on to their adolescent attitudes towards sex—with women playing an almost secondary role—as a badge of their manhood, rather than an experience shared. Technology has allowed our 21st century boys to more easily access the kinds of things boys have always wanted to see, but it’s also enabled the more vigilant parent to confront these topics head on. Parents never could, and never will be able to, shield their children from the things they’re curious about. Plenty of kids are crafty enough to cover their tracks online. But the browser history may be the single best tool we have to start these conversations, to execute a kind of parental jiu-jitsu and turn these curiosities into something that strips taboo of its power.
“I guess the first thing I want to tell you,” I continued, “is that you didn’t do anything wrong. But you also can’t look at that stuff again, at least not now while you’re so young.”
Oscar, ever vigilant for continuity errors in a rule, asked why he couldn’t look at it again if it wasn’t wrong. I explained that “wrong” maybe wasn’t the best choice of words before clarifying that he didn’t do anything unusual or unexpected. He explained that he wasn’t even looking for that. The basement-dwelling gamer whose GTA video Oscar had been watching mentioned a website called bimbos.com, and he was curious what a bimbo was. He thought maybe it was a wild dog, or some kind of small monkey. When he’d found out the true meaning, though, he confessed to becoming much more curious.