You can call me RhettCheez85. That was my America Online (AOL) chatroom handle in 1992. The name of my dog, my favorite snack, and my birth year. I know, I know. I’m a creative genius. AOL was a forerunner in internet technology and thanks to my friend Jacob, I had almost unlimited access. We would sit up for hours on end in chatrooms, playing games, soaking in all the knowledge we could from this endless supply of information known as the world wide web.
For our younger readers, this may be hard to understand, but there was a time where our internet was connected by our phone lines. If you were on the internet, you couldn’t receive a phone call on the same line and the person calling would hear a tone that we called a “busy signal”. I know; its scary and confusing but stay with me here. Jacob’s family had done the unthinkable, they had the phone company come out and install a second phone line JUST FOR INTERNET! So when you hit the connect button and that glorious fax machine sound began, you knew that your access would be unimpeded. We were kings of the information highway!
Jacob and I would take turns at the keyboard each guiding the other into the deepest recess of the internet, looking for some hidden gym that we could brag to our friends about. We would chat all night and explore by asking SmarterChild what we should check out. We would look at random.com (the 1992 version of StumbleUpon) and spin the wheel to see what adventure awaited us. We would loiter in multiple chat rooms just waiting to meet girls to flirt with.
The cursor blinked and blinked as Jacob and I tried to decide who we wanted to be that night.
RhettCheez85: 13/M/NC. U?
BabyGrl3152: 14/F/NY. W2GP?
We were 7 years old and we had a 14 year old girl inviting us to private chat!? We were studs. We chatted for a while trading favorite colors, tv shows, and ice cream flavors. Everything was great! We were hanging out with an older girl who wanted to talk to us. I think we believed that we were the only ones who had thought of lying in a chat room. The she upped the ante.
We were stumped. If she knew we were two goofy 7 year olds, she’d never talk to us again but we weren’t ready to get caught. We considered sending a shot of Jonathan Taylor Thomas but that seemed too obvious. As the cursor blinked in mocking laughter Jacob had an incredible idea…
RhettCheez85: You first.
The most ingenious stall tactic I had ever seen! If she said no, we could say no! Jacob had earned the right to take the keyboard back with that one. With bated breath I looked over his shoulder and waited for BabyGrl to pull the veil back! And she did…
BabyGrl3152 sent us a picture of a topless woman. It was then that Jacob and I realized what was sitting in front of us. At seven years old the internet was no longer a resource for gaming, chatting, and learning. It was an endless supply of sexual content. I remember the reaction of my mother when I had found the picture in my dad’s yearbook and I knew there was something wrong about our looking at this, but I didn’t fully understand it. At first it was just another boyhood adventure to us. It brought the same rush as riding our bike without our helmets, building ramps to jump off of, and climbing trees.
I don’t know if you played this game or not but we would ride home from school on the bus and as we passed cars and houses we would “call them”. A red mustang would roll by and we’d say ”Ooo! that’s my car!” and then a beat up El Camino would pass, “OOooo Jacob! that’s your car! HahaI” We’d claim houses and boats and whatever else flashed by the windows of the Cheese Wagon. So in like fashion Jacob and I embarked on a nightly adventure where we set out to find our girl. For two kids who didn’t really fit in where we were, it was comforting to pretend we belong in these cars, with these girls, pulling into our dream homes.
I think my point is probably made already but I’ll state it anyway. The internet is not a safe place. Not just for kids, but adults too. Don’t be afraid to set strict guidelines for you and your kids. There are a many tools out there to help you do this on computers and mobile devices. The one I use and recommend is called Covenant Eyes and its well worth the money. I wish I could say that my story of pornography ended here but I can’t. However you can end your story today by putting some safeguards in place and reaching out to someone for help. I hope you find the courage so that you can avoid the hurt that you will read in the posts to come.