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Perils of the Internet

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I had an incident last year when 3 of our first grade boys drew a sexually explicit picture that was passed around the room amongst giggles and surreptitious glances at the teacher who eventually confiscated it. Of course, the situation came to me, and frankly, it was a first for me. I was shocked; not at the picture, but at the young age of its artists. I wouldn’t have been surprised if middle schoolers had produced the artwork; but first grade! It went beyond “boys will be boys” for me.

I know enough to know that you don’t want to plant ideas in these young heads. Most 1st graders only mimic older kids and adults. When little ones swear, they have no idea of the impact of the word. Usually, if you ask them what it means, they don’t know. But this was somehow different to me. I talked to the boys and, again amongst giggles, one finally confessed to being the chief artist and the others his advisors.

I emphasized that they shouldn’t be using class time to pass around pictures of any kind. I asked them if they knew why I was concerned, and wide-eyed and a little nervous, they explained the picture was “inappropriate.” I called parents. I spoke to colleagues I trust. I talked to a psychologist I knew. Should I worry that something bigger was going on? I spent hours – days actually – making sure I knew all I needed and would deal with the situation appropriately.

I brought the boys back in to my office and asked the question I should have started with: “What in the world made you draw this particular picture?” I asked. “We saw it on the internet.” I sent them back to class, told the secretary I was going to research on line and she needed to be prepared to vouch for me that I wasn’t spending my time looking at dirty pictures on the internet. Sure enough, I typed in Mario and Princess Peach in the search line and all sorts of things came up, many of which were “inappropriate.”

I now know that it is common practice for predators and other bad people to post ugly things under titles that children might search for on the computer. Type in anything – Harry Potter, Sponge Bob, Elmo – and you are likely to find inappropriate choices in your search. I’ve said it before: the internet is not necessarily a good place for kids to be, certainly not unattended. Your internet service provider can help you keep your kids off the internet.

I also learned that I shouldn’t overact. A lot of time and worry could have been avoided had I asked the right question in the first place. I did call all the parents and told them what I’d discovered and recommended they keep their kids off the internet, and they were all surprised when I told them what had happened. None of us knew. We should have known. Now we do. Make sure you know what your kids are doing at the computer.