My brush with Internet censorship

We are by our patch of daylilies, next to the barn. And the boys are playing with sticks, while my husband and I watch. It is a perfect moment. One of those moments when I feel like maybe, just maybe, I can stop worrying if I’m a good enough parent.

My son says, “Look! The stick is a laser and I’m killing villains!”

“Look! The stick is a ship in outer space and I’m flying!”

“Look! The stick is a pole and I’m dancing!”


I say that. I say, “What?” And he says it again. And he moves his hips in a perfectly pole-dancing way.

“Where did you learn that?”

“On YouTube.”

I don’t make a big deal about it because I know by now that if I have a shit fit then pole dancing will be the single most interesting thing in the world to my kids for months on end. I pretend it means nothing. I applaud when the stick is a tightrope.

Then I check out the viewing history on YouTube. The last forty videos are women pole dancing. The search string he used to get there was “sexy grls.”

I make a note to tell him how to spell girl. Then I start investigating how to ban certain search strings from YouTube. I learn that the term for censoring the Internet to protect kids is “filtering” and everything I read makes it sound pretty bad. If I believe in teaching my kids via self-directed learning, then I need to teach them how to avoid stuff that is bad for them or a waste of their time.

I procrastinated putting censorship software on our computer. And, around that time, the kids discovered how to use my Amazon account. So I canceled one-click ordering, after it cost me about $300. And I showed them how to put items in the shopping cart to buy later.

I worried, at first, that even though we are living on a farm where the kids are rarely exposed to consumerism,  I’m ruining that by showing them how to use Amazon as entertainment.

But I found that almost immediately Amazon replaced YouTube in my son’s hierarchy of fascinating web sites. The search history on YouTube reflects my kids researching things like, “how does slushy magic work” because they don’t want to spend their Amazon money on a dud.

And, you know what I saw the other day? My son was buying my niece a birthday present on Amazon, and he typed in “girls watch.”

“Nice spelling,” I told him.

12 replies
  1. Mark K
    Mark K says:

    I’d say you hit a home run your first time at bat, Penelope. Well done, especially staying calm. It’s not always easy.

    For all the criticism I have heard of home-schooled kids being sheltered, that has never been one of my son’s problems–thanks to the internet–despite my best (and at times more clumsy) efforts.

  2. Andi
    Andi says:

    We caught our son watching similar material several years ago by checking search history… It was enlightening, to say the least. Once he realized we could see everything he looked at online, he cleaned up, lolz, so no “punishment” or censorship / filtering was necessary. I’m sure he looked / looks at stuff elsewhere, but then again, he’s 18 now & still asks my permission to go out with his friends. I believe honesty & openness to ideas & questions helps alleviate confusion, & ultimately builds much stronger relationships. Of course, I might just be biased because I think my son is such a badass, lolz, but I’m okay with that, too! :)

  3. karelys
    karelys says:

    haha! this cracks me up! it’s really endearing.

    I am still back and forth on the whole cursing in front of kids. I mean, they’ll hear and learn it later! Might as well know that curse words are for specific situations and that some are demeaning and some are just….nothing.

    But I don’t know when it’s “okay” to let your kids curse.

    Also, the fact that your kid was looking up sexy girls make me feel old. Is he really that grown up?

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Nice story.

    “I applaud when the stick is a tightrope.”

    Reality TV tonight when Nik Wallenda attempts his highwire over Niagara Falls. I don’t know if I’ll watch all of it – maybe just segments of it. Hopefully we can all applaud when he completes it. It will also be carried by Twitter at!/search/realtime/%23Wallenda .

  5. toastedtofu
    toastedtofu says:

    Strict rules are okay, as long as they are age appropriate, because at some point your rules regarding internet content will be in direct conflict with your kids’ unbearable urge to masturbate.

    In a few years you will probably be better off teaching your sons to be feminists (and teaching them the difference between porn and feminist porn) than you are trying to censor the internet, because some day they will have the internet without filters anyway.

  6. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    Ha, at first I thought someone had tried to censor you!

    My concern has never been with the stuff that they might choose to see (even sexy girls, which is not a whole lot different to the cover of a Bratz storybook we saw in the store today, shudder)… it’s the stuff that they could end up seeing unintentionally.

    Visual images are so powerful, and once seen can never be unseen. I’ve been mentally traumatised by some of the things I’ve accidentally stumbled upon or have had thrust upon me by links hiding as valid search results – and trust me, I’m no prude.

    I want to protect my kids from that. It’s not about age or maturity or ‘oh they’ll see it all eventually anyway’, it’s about waiting until they have a larger context in which to frame what they’re seeing. As adults we have a lifetime of experiences of ‘normal’ to counter the freaky. So if we see something scary, tragic, debasing or abusive we react based on our knowledge that this is thankfully only a small part of the world. Kids don’t yet have that knowledge, and I really don’t want them growing up thinking it’s normal for girls to poop in a cup.

  7. gradalis
    gradalis says:

    A bit OT, but did you know daylilies are edible? Bulbs, young shoots, and, i’m pleased to say, flowers – both fresh and dried. And they’ll grow everywhere.
    So there’s another small idea for reducing consumerism on the farm.

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