Immediately my mom brain raced through the usual suspects: Whatever the inspiration for her urgent need to talk to me in the middle of the night was, I knew I had to remain calm to keep her from freaking out any worse than she already was.
I sat up quietly. Instead of answering me, she handed me her iPhone. I braced myself for the awful bullying text or threats or even naked photos I worried were awaiting my eyes, but instead, I found myself looking down at a webpage with some formal-sounding legalese scrolling across it. Confusion completely swallowed my fear. Is the FBI going to be knocking on my door? Is that a siren I hear?
Would they call first? Could she go to jail? Would she be tried as an adult? Do I need to get her a lawyer? How much would a lawyer even cost for something like this? Your little girl needs you. There is almost nothing that could have shocked me more. As the mother of a girl, I had imagined so many of the difficult conversations and situations I would have with my daughter as she grew to womanhood.
I never even considered that I would have to have this discussion with any of my kids until my son, who is almost 5 years younger than his sister, hit puberty. As we sat there in the dark, I asked her some pointed questions and she gave some very uncomfortable answers. No, she never chatted with anyone about porn. No, she never contacted anyone, and no one ever contacted her asking her to send nude pictures of herself.
No, she never made any porn videos or posted them online. Yes, she watched videos of adults having sex. No, she never watched any videos of children, and no, she is not attracted to children.
I never even considered that I would have to have this discussion. As we talked, my brain and heart began to settle. My husband and I realized her confessions and experiences were probably not all that different than those we normally hear about regarding teenage boys getting caught in similar situations.
From the beginning of time, kids have been sneaking glimpses at graphic pictures and telling explicit stories. As I watched her sitting on a little corner of the bed, cocooned in her shame with her teeth clacking from nerves, I realized that while I could understand her embarrassment, she really did not have anything to feel ashamed about. She was simply curious. After we talked and she went back to bed, a little quick sleuthing assured me that she was not actually going to be arrested.
I do not know who or what put it there, but it actually turned out to be a good thing for my teen. Even after banishing her fear of the FBI swarming our home, her nerves were not immediately calmed.
I reminded her of the words I have said to her countless times since she was born: I try to show my kids and tell them every day that I love them. But at that moment I worried maybe she believed it had all just been lip service. This incident truly felt like our first real test of whether I really meant the words I had been repeatedly telling her all of these years. Three years later, my daughter is now 17 and a junior in high school.
Her early forays into porn-watching did not turn her into a crazed sex fiend. She did not fornicate her way through her teen years, and she does not equate sex and love. I would never have believed a late-night conversation about porn with my year-old daughter would end up being a defining moment in our relationship, but it was.
After that night, she seemed to realize she truly could tell me anything and I would listen to her. A lot of the walls between us came down and the secretive teenager who hid away in her room started spending more time with the rest of our family. Should I be worried about A or B?
I realized that my year-old was so curious about sex that she had turned to porn for answers. She and I started having a lot of conversations about respect for others and for herself, and she learned that if she respects herself, she will, more often than not, end up surrounding herself with people who respect her as well. That is my working theory anyway.
I like to think I would have taught her about these issues anyway, but would I have understood the importance of having these conversations with her when she was only 14 and not even dating yet?
I might have waited or I might not have approached the topics with such urgency and clarity, and she might have faced some unthinkably high cost because of it. I only have three years of anecdotal evidence based on one teenage girl, but so far she has cut all ties with a former friend who manipulated her, and she has left behind acquaintances who did not respect her boundaries or made her feel less of herself.
My girl reads a lot of articles about anxiety to try to learn more about her own, and when things were really bad two years ago and she felt like hurting herself, she told me. There was no shame in her voice that time. Instead, she was able to articulate her fears about feeling such agonizing pain. Now that my daughter is busy with her demanding high school classes and is dating, I do not get to see her as often as I once did for movie nights or marathon matches of Rummy But every once in a while, she snuggles up with me on a couch and wants to watch TV with me or show me some goofy meme or cat video.
I am so proud of her for taking the time to keep trying to learn who she is and what she wants for herself. Then a scary pop-up message forced both of us to trust each other more than we had before. My older son is turning 13 in a couple of weeks, and thanks to everything my husband and I experienced with our daughter, we now have a new ally in the house helping to teach my son about healthy relationships.
I am certain his teenage years will bring their own form of torture and drama for everyone in our home, but if he wakes us up in the middle of the night, freaking out because the FBI is tracking his porn viewing habits.