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From Cartoons to Porn in Seconds – Part 1

by | Jan 11, 2019 | Friends Like Me Videos | 0 comments

  W hen  my son was nine he saw online porn for the first time. His friend had arrived for an afternoon play date. I was at home and checking on them every now and then as they ran around the house. After a while, they ended up in our guest room that had a family computer in it. I put on a movie for them and decided to go to the kitchen to make them a snack. When I came back, I found them back on the floor rough housing and playing tag. Later that afternoon, Joa’s friend was picked up by his mother and I began clearing up. As I started making dinner, I noticed that my son was quieter than usual. He was walking around the kitchen table pensively.

“Are you feeling ok?” I asked.

“Not really” he answered still not looking up.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. I feel weird.”

“Are you feeling sick?”

“No. In my head.”

I knew immediately that he had seen something online. We sat and talked. This is what I pieced together from our conversation: As soon as I had left the room to make sandwiches for the boys, Joa’s friend had quickly typed in the url of a porn site and ran into the bathroom. It was a prank. Joa told me he had stared at the screen. He saw something “weird.” Seconds later, his friend ran back into the room ready to play more tag. Joa just clicked out of the site and went back to playing. That’s all it took. A few seconds.

That evening I cuddled him. I told him that it was a site with films showing adults having sex. I also told him I didn’t like the site because of the way the films had been made. They made sex look aggressive and scary which it isn’t. (I remember very different images from the site than my son does today. I will do a follow up post in which my son reflects on this experience as a 14 year old.)

A year later, I began documenting children talking about their experiences of screen life for the project Friends Like Me. When I filmed my son, we got into a long and very interesting conversation about video games, guns, and onscreen violence (which I will share in future blogs). So when I asked about the scariest thing he had seen so far, I was expecting him to talk about the games he had been describing to me. But he took me by surprise. It was a really interesting moment for me as a parent as well as a filmmaker. He was calm and deliberate. He asked me first to turn off the camera – which I did. He then explained to me that the porn site was, so far, the “biggest” thing he had seen. After that, he was open and very willing to talk on camera (see clip above). I had chosen the word “scary” in my question but he explained, in his own words, that this incident had left the biggest impression. In our short conversation, I found it amazing that he was able to distinguish between feeling fear and feeling confused. It was a short exchange and I didn’t push for any further explanations than what you see here. But it taught me that even very young children are sometimes able to describe their feelings with immense precision. And it also taught me that listening to them express their unease can be a powerful way to reassure them that they have a right to feel what they feel.