Mom, dad & net nanny
But it has the F word in it —you want us to see a book like that?" they asked, part daring-part disbelieving, as we announced the month's title to pre-teens of a reading club I run.
The book like that was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Beyond the expletive, of course, they discovered a fine novel about a 15-year-old's mission to investigate the suspicious death of his neighbour's dog. The simply told story raises issues kids long to discuss — Asperger's Syndrome (films like Barfi and My Name is Khan are often their sole brush with this), broken families, acceptance and abandonment.
A day later, I strolled into the Bandra bookshop of my childhood... and remembered my brother boast news of the store's mother branch in Colaba once rocked by scandal. Held in the 1960s for stocking copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover (our thrilling first look at the F word wickedly out in print), that bold bookseller had to pay a 20-buck fine or spend a week in jail. The ban was blasted for its subjective Victorian view of what constituted obscenity. With the tantalising logic of forbidden fruit, everyone dived into more DH Lawrence fiction with gusto.
Those were laughably innocent years. Of "bad books", "dirty mags", "blue movies" rewound to lovemaking scenes. Tame today when expletives are regular punctuation marks in children's speech coloured with cuss and trickily explicit images flash at a click. They are all disturbingly violent rather than sexy.
The thing worth worrying about is easier-than-ever access to porn. iPads and smartphones in the pocket, every child greets graphic porn with natural curiosity. The problem looms on this assuming power as a guilty pleasure. When children without an honest adult role model blindly encounter pornography, shame turns into addiction. This is dangerous for them to deal with. But no police state need play Net Nanny as you do.
Parenting in the age of online sleaze is tough. The hold of porn grips deeper than other visible addictions. A counsellor trained to help kids cope with substance abuse finds the penchant for porn similar to where information on drug and alcohol addiction was a while back.
Viewing smut releases chemical cascades in the brain of the kind meth or cocaine can. As kids live to defy diktat, anything prescribed or proscribed seldom works. So what does? Not losing sight of three Cs: keep Current, keep Checking and keep Communicating.
Keep current by being abreast of how it's possible to steer clear of all that's vile in the virtual world. Families are aware of filtering filth from home computers and laptops; such safeguards are also available for game consoles and the biggest culprit, cell phones. Talk to them about why you're doing this. Self-control beats control.
Keep checking what children use frequently in a casual, non-judgemental manner. Ensure they know you will be reviewing their devices periodically.
Connect technology hubs in openly visible areas of the home with at least some measure of monitoring. If you spot them slyly catching salacious stuff on screen, it's cool. Follow it up soon, though calmly, telling them you've been there too at their age — to find that porn is the opposite of freeing, it portrays the unreal, the extreme and the twisted.
Keep communicating because filters offer limited help. A direct, forthright flow of conversation is the best bulwark against child porn. Chat about the risks of trawling through titillating content alone. Explain the Internet is a public forum, never fully private as people lead them to believe. Guidance coming across as positive, protective and proactive is usually received better than you think.
Prevention wins over cure. Be ready with a reassuring action plan in case a child runs into porn that is uncomfortable yet compelling, at home or outside with peer pressure. Suggest switching off the screen, confiding in a trusted adult or calling for a ride back. Encourage reporting feelings of either fascination or revulsion at what's watched.
The basic idea is to take the fuel out from the fire. With a killed appetite for the perverse, children learn to appreciate sexually liberating art, literature and cinema in a wonderful way.
Write in to Meher at email@example.com