Parental Whoa-vershare

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

So the most egregious example of parental overshare that I’ve yet encountered has just appeared. Depressingly, it’s in the same publication as my own first published piece on the topic. It’s from a father who caught his 9-year-old son looking at porn:

His eyes darted back and forth, as if looking for an escape hatch inside his own head.  He was formulating a plan, something to get out of this situation, and then he stopped. His brow furrowed.

“Wait,” he said, sitting back upright. And then he followed up with possibly the sweetest thing he ever asked me, given the context. “What’s porn?”

I couldn’t help but smile. His defense hadn’t been self-preservation so much as it was genuine confusion. “It’s videos and pictures of people having sex,” I told him. He slumped back into embarrassment. “Oh. Then, yes. I looked at porn.”

Totes adorbs! Oh, and the author’s writing under what we can assume is his real name, and provides his son’s name and nickname. In case this wasn’t traumatizing enough for the kid, we also get specifics of his surfing habits:

My brain registered the title of a web page in the middle of the history list before my eyes really focused on anything.

8:41 PM    Free XXX Vids: Sheila, The Queen of Ana…

I expanded the Page Title column to see the whole thing and was dismayed, but not surprised, to find that Sheila was not the Queen of Analogies. There were several more pages visited in rapid succession, all featuring women giving jobs that had nothing to do with our nation’s unemployment rates. Finally, the browser history showed, a Google search for “sex videos” had led to brief visits in the Internet’s nether regions before he’d apparently seen enough. I called his mother the next day.

What’s so jarring to me is now normal this sort of essay has become. No one bats an eye! Everyone’s happy to discuss their thoughts on this father’s approach to childrearing, happy to have the ‘so how does one address porn with young kids?’ conversation, and somehow missing that the most private moments of a specific child’s life are not fodder for an article in a much-shared publication. And the worst of it is, the father here totally got that this wasn’t a public moment. Recounting the talk, he writes, “‘So, I have to talk to you,’ I told him, once we were inside the car and away from other ears.” Other ears? Does the Atlantic‘s readership not count?

Inspired by this article, a parental-overshare checklist, to go through before pitching a story about your kid:

  • How would you feel if such an article existed about you? As in, from your childhood, by one of your parents? How would you have felt if you’d discovered such an article at 14, 17, 22?
  • Is what you’re sharing something you’d feel you had the authority to share, on that scale, about your best friend or partner?
  • Is there a way to address this issue without talking about your kid? Who is identifiable even if you’re a woman with a different last name from said kid? Who, even if reasonably unidentifiable (i.e. no first or last name given) will still read the article and know exactly whom “my daughter” refers to?