Raising a Man

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I’ve been having a hard time with this. I’ve sort of been wanting to post, but on the other hand, I wanted to save my kid the embarrassment in the event that the internet is a smaller world than even I realize.

My kid is growing up.

No, I mean, really growing up.

I don’t know when it happened. He was visiting his grandparents over the summer. He came back two inches taller, 20 pounds heavier, with peach fuzz on his upper lip. His voice is deeper. I took hi shopping for some school clothes. American Eagle and Gap replaced The Children’s Place and Gap Kids on our list of places to stop. He can wear the largest size in children’s jeans, or a 28/30 in men’s jeans. The American Eagle tees I bought him in size extra small are snug around biceps that are emerging. He outgrew children’s shoes at the beginning of summer.  He’s turning into a man before my eyes.

And the little girls are circling like animals.

I should probably explain that last remark before I unravel the cautionary tale for parents of tweens. You may recall the post where I did what I said I would never do and bought my child an iPhone. We had it shipped to his grandparents’ house over the summer after ordering from 4 hours away. So when we finally went to pick him up, I asked to see his phone. I’ve held iPhones and looked at them, but when John and I bought our new phones, we were waffling between the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy line. We’re Android people, so you can guess how we chose. But I wanted to play around with Evan’s phone to ensure I made the right choice. He handed it over to me, not even thinking twice about it. He had no idea there was anything he should be concerned about hiding from me.

So I have the phone in my hand, riding in the car, with John driving. I use the little touch-slide screen lock thingy to bring the phone to life and immediately, his home screen pops up. And the background is a girl in her bra and panties. And this is not a grown woman, the photo being something he got off of the internet. This was a girl. About his age. And clearly taken at home. I shrieked, “OMG WHO IS THIS?!?!?!?” His response: “Oh, that’s just XXXX.”

That’s just…Really? Really. A kid from his class at school texted him a photo of herself in her little training bra and panties. And so I started the hunt. Through text messages and browsing histories. I found more. The images, long since deleted from his phone, are still seared onto my retinae. Little girls, all pouty lips and pushed-out butts in flowered Hanes cotton panties, back turned to the camera with a fake-coy expression. I looked and looked through his phone, his emails, hoping to find something where he solicited the pics. He wasn’t hip to the idea that he had any reason to delete his histories, so if he asked the little girls to send these, the evidence would have most likely still been on his phone. Nope. The raciest thing I found of Evan’s was a photo of him in his swim trunks, sans shirt, at the lake.  And before you think my kid is all pervy, let me remind you that he is going to be 12 on Sunday, and these girls are the same age. And I would have known this went on sooner, but he was at Grandpa’s, who apparently didn’t understand that he was supposed to watch Evan with the phone.

I spent three hours researching, trying to find the parents of these girls, assuming they would be as grossed out as I was. All I found was one girl’s mom’s name, but no listed number. I thought about calling the school, but they were still on summer break and I doubted they would give me any information. I did the best I could. Each one of the girls got the same exact text message sent from Evan’s phone:

This is not Evan. This is Evan’s mother. I am just discovering this because Evan has not been home, but I can assure you that he is home now and I will be closely watching. I do this because Evan is a child and I pay the bill for this phone. You are also children. If I see any more nude or near-nude picture of children come across this phone again, you can be sure I will find your parents and I will show them the photos. I will also alert the school you attend. This will not occur under my watch.”

He didn’t get a response. I held his phone for a week, ensuring that he got no more texts from these little girls. But it has not left my mind. I cannot speak for the homes in which they are being raised, but in this house, we do not permit r-rated movies, unsupervised internet browsing. Evan hasn’t gotten this from home. But something out there is churning out children who are over-sexed. It is disgusting. My son still plays with Legos, for crying out loud.

John joked, “Damn, Evan’s got game. All I ever got were little folded-up notes from girls when I was his age.” I saw no humor in it. I will not be a grandmother when, as of right now, I am still buying toys and reminding thee kid to put on deodorant. So I am placed in the position of being hyper-vigilant, of watching out for the actions of my son and of his classmates. And it is coming from everywhere. Girls knock on the door, call the house, text Evan. And as Evan has started middle school, I am learning the hard way that I cannot be everywhere.

This all has had other effects on me. Not only am I concerned for my kid, but I am concerned for these girls. I wonder what type of home life they have, if their parents know that they need to be watching out for them still. If there is a female role model in their lives to teach them they they don’t have to use sexuality to get what they want, that they certainly don’t need to grow up so quickly. I worry. They’re just babies.

We can blame whomever we want. TV? Popular music? Of course the now-infamous Miley Cyrus performance comes to mind. Or maybe it’s the fact that you can get zebra-print string bikinis in just one size beyond toddler sizes? I’ve heard that there are even thongs out there for the parents who prefer that panty style for their little darlings. In stark contrast, I recently bought Evan a pair of boxers that had skateboards all over them. Or perhaps we can blame technology that makes it possible for little kids to have the potential to do this stuff without parents having a clue? When I was a kid, we had a phone that was mounted to the wall in the kitchen, living room, and my parents’ bedroom, and I had to talk to my little friends in front of my whole family.

Whatever the reason, these kids are growing up way before their time. I think every generation has said this about the next one, but it seriously is getting earlier and earlier.

And the mom in me is scared for them.

I don’t want the world of STDs, pregnancy scares, complicated relationships for these kids. I want good grades, making friends, having fun, learning new skills. I want Evan to find out what gifts he has, learn how to be a good person, practice the drums he insisted on learning to play for the school band. I want him to get into a good college, be a good big brother and even better student.

I don’t want him to be an adult before it is time for him to be an adult.

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