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'At the weekend I found porn on my son's iPad. He's 5.'

A girl in a bikini, tanned, large breasts, staring seductively into the camera. 

Swipe. 

A woman peeking over her shoulder wearing a g-string

Swipe.

A close up of a woman’s arse.

Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. 

Photo after photo. All women. All in various states of undress. 

My stomach knotted. My throat dried up. It was not the images that stunned me. 

It was where I found them. 

On my son's iPad.

He is five. 

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Video via ABC News.

My first thought was, "how did I let this happen?"

I thought I had done all the right things. My son has incredibly strict rules in place with devices. No internet access. No YouTube. No TikTok.

No one else has access to his iPad. We don’t share things across devices. No other kids play on it. He only has apps and games I approve.

I followed the guidelines. I read the articles. I listened to the experts. I thought I had done it all. 

When Victoria went into lockdown and we were forced into remote learning, I had to unlock the internet restrictions. 

At the end of the school week, after trying to entertain three children and a toddler, I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. This was when I realised I had forgotten to put the restrictions back on the iPad.

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When I checked it, I found the photos.

One week was all it took. One week for him to use the voice button on Google, find those pictures and screenshot them.

Once my shock subsided and I had put the restrictions back on, I gently approached him. 

He looked up at me from his toys with his innocent blue eyes. I took a deep breath, knowing those were the same eyes that had been looking at those pictures. 

What had he been thinking? Was he just curious? Did he find it funny? 

I had been so prepared for the porn chat. To talk about the difference between porn and sex, the objectification and degradation of women. That women don’t always look like that and sex is not always a performative act. 

The reassurance of how okay and normal it was to watch. How everyone does. 

I wanted to hammer home the importance of being aware of things like porn addiction and your brain's desensitisation to the graphic content you feed it. 

Consent. Condoms. Communication. 

I had it all ready to go. The embarrassing, necessary conversations in places like the car where they couldn’t run away or slam doors in my face. 

What I was not ready for, was what the hell you say when you find photos like these on the device of someone who hasn’t yet mastered the ability to tie their own shoelaces.

Red faced, he admitted he found the photos. He told me he was searching for "bums" (apparently when you're five there is a particular interest and hilarity in "bums") and then found them.

I nodded and said it was ok. I asked a lot of questions. I asked if anyone had ever showed pictures like that to him. I asked if he had ever spoken to anyone he didn’t know online. I queried as to why he wanted to keep those pictures and how it felt when he saw them. 

We talked a lot. We talked about curiosity of the human body; we talked about why he wasn’t old enough to look at those kinds of pictures; we talked about his growing brain. He said he didn’t really know why he did it and why he took screenshots of them. 

I said that it was okay not to know why you do things sometimes. 

It was hard. 

But do you know what made it so much harder? The opinions of others. 

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Swift judgements were cast, shadowing further doubt on the whole situation. 

Mostly I just wanted to make sure my son felt no shame and knew he wasn’t in trouble. 

He, of course, would not be punished. 

Instead, I punished myself. 

My brain began to spiral into a familiar sea of doubt. Doubt about my parenting abilities, about the kind of humans I was raising, of the future and how history would reflect my parenting skills. 

Guilt-ridden sleepless nights were spent cursing my inability to protect him from the adult world. 

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I had vivid daydreams about how my mistakes would one day be scrawled into a therapist's notepad to be studied and critiqued.

But then I stopped myself. As I looked at my son's carefree smile, I realised enough was enough. 

Time to step off the torturous treadmill of mum guilt

This year and a half has been extraordinary. Four lockdowns. Months of being confined in the same four walls. 

Remote learning with four children had stretched me to my limit.

Through sheer exhaustion, I made a mistake. I dropped the ball. I forgot to put the restrictions back on.

But perhaps it was time to put my own restrictions on when it comes to parenting. 

Time to restrict the judgment, the shame, the guilt. 

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We make mistakes. We have to be allowed to make mistakes. 

It's about doing your best. And when I talked to my son about what I found on his iPad, I knew that is exactly what I was doing.

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Feature Image: Getty.