08/01/2013 10:16 am ET Updated Oct 01, 2013

Talking to Your Kids About Anthony Weiner's Penis


The Internet is a new media. And like all new media, it's an opportunity to behave very, very badly. Since the dawn of time, new media has given us new ways to come up with poor behavior.

Was the Venus of Willendorf a sexual totem? Was she intended to arouse paleolithic men? Was the Marquis de Sade expressing the desires of an entire class of horny and angry aristocrats? Was Barbara Eden's belly button a siren luring young people into heinous acts of degradation? I don't know. But I do know quite a bit about online porn.

Once upon a time, you could publish pictures (and later, video!) of people engaging in all sorts of sexual acts, and you could charge other people a great deal of money to look at those pictures. People selling those pictures became millionaires. People taking those pictures found markets for every bizarre kink or perversion known (or previously unknown) to human kind. A gigantic industry was born.

Nowadays, Internet porn isn't the same sort of moneymaking enterprise it was 15 years ago. Nowadays, it's hard to make money taking dirty pictures of people and charging other people to see them. That's because nowadays people make their OWN porn. The inventors of chat roulette never had to come up with content. Their users did all the work for them.

The point is, people aren't particularly bright about publicity and technology. You'd think that after more than half a century of exposure, we would have learned our lesson about being stupid on television... but no. Anybody remember elimiDATE?

The Internet is worse. Especially because, as with most new technology, the older generations (i.e. parents) have no idea what's actually going on with it. I definitely remember my friends teaching their parents how to set up nanny-ware features on the family PCs, rendering that software totally useless. And then they headed off to look at porn.

So here we are, about two decades into the Internet as we know it. And that means that you'd think we'd have gotten a little smarter about it.

Oh, how wrong you'd be.

The fact is, people assume that if they "discover" something for themselves (like Internet porn, or Twitter, or chat roulette), nobody else (except for their partners in cyber-naughtiness) will ever find out about it. They're wrong pretty much 100 percent of the time.

This brings me to this insanity around Anthony Wiener. He had no business sending pictures of his penis around on the Internet. That's just plain reckless, not to mention that it's sexual harassment. But the fact of matter is that, while this is no doubt embarrassing for him and his family, it's not a big deal in the scheme of politics and scandal. Was he caught having sex with prostitutes after running on an anti-prostitution campaign? No. Was he caught having sex with men after making a career as an anti-gay spokesperson? No. Was he caught overseas with an exotic mistress instead of wandering around in the woods? No. He was caught engaging in asinine behavior online, behind his wife's back.

This isn't a question of inappropriate sexual behavior. (Well, it is, but that's a separate issue entirely.) It's a question of having any kind of understanding about your personal media, and your publicity.

So what do you tell your kids about Anthony Weiner's naughty pictures? You tell them that the Internet if full of stupid people doing stupid things, but that they're still REAL people, and those things can still have REAL consequences in the outside world. Both for you and whoever else you might involve in your self absorbed shenanigans.

The fact that the Internet gives us access to a whole new universe of potential friends or victims, while maintaining our relative anonymity, is unprecedented. And we've never had to deal with the cultural shift in where and how we live our lives. The fact is that despite having physical places to live and work, we exist on the Internet just as constantly. We tweet every moment of every day. We have laptops and tablets, we have WiFi hot-spots and guest computers in hotels and hospitals. We are just as much creatures of the Internet as of the "real" world. But we don't teach our kids how to be citizens of cyberspace. We just teach them how to be citizens of earth, and that the Internet is somehow different.

Well, it turns out that the Internet isn't so different after all. If your wife catches you sending pictures of your junk to ladies online she'll be just as pissed as if she caught you handing a Polaroid to your accountant. It's still an inappropriate picture, and it signifies a breach of trust.

So don't just tell your kids that the important politician is in trouble because of his sexual misconduct. The most important lesson is that the Internet is a real place, and that the things they do there, from entering credit card information to bullying other kids to putting potentially compromising pictures of themselves on Twitter, matters. Just as much as it does "IRL" when you can't close the browser and make it go away.

It doesn't go away. The Internet makes thing much more permanent than the real world. The Internet takes every mistake you've ever made public, opens you up for every criticism and attack. The Internet is, in most ways, worse than the real world.

So teach your kids about the Internet and e-citizenship. Teach them not to be stupid about their exhibitionism. When you say or do something mean or stupid in the real world, after a few days or months or years, nobody will remember. If it's online, somebody is going to find out. And they'll probably find a way to use it against you.

There is no hiding from the Internet. Pretty soon every grass hut on the savanna is going to have wireless. And everyone online is going to talk about every stupid, public mistake you've ever made. On the Internet, all you need to be instantly famous is to be an embarrassment to yourself.

And that is the lesson that I hope we can all take away from this.

Originally posted at Becoming SuperMommy