Illustration by Jessixa.
Last week, I was faced with a hurdle every parent must eventually face. You see, my wife and I have two daughters, the older one just entering middle school this year. With middle school comes the sudden pressures of acting “grown up,” looking “cool,” and talking about. . . wait for it. . . SEX. The dreaded moment has come for me as a father: the moment for THE TALK.
Somehow it got back to my wife and I that the kids at school have been joking around about sex. “What the hell does ‘joking around’ mean?!” said I. Well, apparently middle schoolers are getting pretty damn cavalier regarding the depth of carnal gossip. It seems that there is definitely a different paradigm these days, a higher bar set. Our youth are exposed to way more stuff, thanks to the World Wide Internets. Gone are the days of finding Dad’s Playboy under his mattress and getting a five-second perusal of some T and A. To add to the complexity of my personal conundrum, we have been in L.A. for the last few years (during the school year, anyway). My wife claims that the peer pressure on women here is indescribable. This peer pressure absolutely has a “trickle-down” effect on teenage girls, which of course “trickles down” even further to the preteens. This peer pressure has everything to do with outward appearances and NOTHING to do with intellect and soul. . . well, that’s my opinion anyway.
There are so many great kid-friendly Web sites these days that I would find it somewhat archaic to ban my kids from computer usage. Of course the downside is that 80 percent of Internet content is porn, and it only takes one wrong move for a child to suddenly access all kinds of stuff they just shouldn’t see. My kids use the computer to do homework, communicate with their friends, and access all kinds of new music on YouTube. But again, how does a parent keep on top of everything they see? The new unspoken parenting rule is to only let your kids use the computer when you are in the same room with them. . . it’s just not possible, though. My girls are really awesome and kind and would really feel embarrassed to see anything they shouldn’t on the Web, but how do I REALLY know what they have already been exposed to? In my day, you had to show ID to purchase an adult magazine. Now? It’s just a click away!I don’t know how many people read this column, and I also don’t know if anyone who reads this is a parent, but let me tell you guys something: Apparently, oral sex in middle school is approached as nonchalantly as maybe kissing was back when I was that age. There is no way my two angels are gonna be ANY part of that nonsense, believe you me! If iChat and YouTube are the new hiding places for extracurricular activities such as this, how do I find out? Fuck, my mind starts to go a million miles an hour thinking about the responsibilities and safeguards we “information age” parents have to juggle. I don’t want to spy on my kids. There HAS to be trust. They are dealing with so much more data than we did at that age. I will, however, shut down anything that brings harm to my daughters. If I were to find out that anything bad was happening, all of my Utopian hubbub would go out the window, and it would get real 1950’s in the McKagan household, and in a hurry. On top of that, I’d have my shotgun at the ready and you’d better bring an army! But I digress.
Of course I knew the day would eventually come when I would have to face the reality of my girls growing up. I really try to have an open and non-judgmental relationship with my daughters, and my goal is for them to ALWAYS feel safe coming to me with any problems or ordeals. The time, alas, had come for my wife and I to sit down and speak somewhat candidly about the “birds and bees” with our 8- and 11-year-olds. I started to sweat. “OK, McKagan family conference!” is how I always start our team meetings. The girls always get excited at the prospect of some unknown outlier that my wife or I might have in store. This time, however, when I started with “You know that you girls can tell us anything. . . ,” a slight look of dread started to spread across their faces. When I said the word “sex,” my 8-year-old started to bawl. Oh shit, this isn’t going to be easy. Things did get settled down once it was understood that no one was in trouble and that this wouldn’t be an inquisition. My older daughter really stepped up, as it were, and actually put the conversation at ease with her candor. “Yes, Dad, the older girls do talk about all of that stuff but I think that it’s pretty silly. . . they are just trying to act ‘grown up.’” The mood of the talk became lighter and our family bond became a little tighter that afternoon.
This past weekend, my wife and I had to go away, and I brought my new laptop with me. The old one is now my older daughter’s, but I haven’t gotten around to resetting any of my profiles on it. My AIM and iChat profiles show and “transmit” from both. As I was sitting down to look at some e-mail (and sports scores!), my AIM box popped up and a conversation was in full swing. It was my daughter and a bunch of her friends, completely aloof to the knowledge that I was reading their conversations from 5,000 miles away. I felt sure that I was going to see something I wasn’t supposed to, some alter-world of middle-school girls. I envisioned myself calling home to their aunt Heidi (who was staying the weekend with them) and grounding my daughters for something that I was certain to see from my newfound instant-message spy spot. The IMs remained innocent and sweet, speaking of nothing more bawdy than how cute so-and-so’s new puppy was. Boy, did I feel guilty. On second thought, maybe not guilty enough to perhaps keep my profiles in sync, for the next few years anyway.