Other people’s kids – The Internet is NOT a babysitter!

This is going to be a rant. You can skip it if you like.

I came across a conversation in Livejournal where one commenter was taking another to task for their YouTube offering. The video posted wasn’t “kid friendly” even though it fell within YouTube’s rules of usage.

The commenter went on to lament the long-lost “good old days” when kids could roam free with no supervision and everyone would watch out for them, unlike today where kids are targets of every weirdo around. The commenter seemed to think the Livejournal owner was being a bad parent for not caring “about kids who are online.”

I call bullshit. Bad parenting is asking other people to be responsible for your kids.

Wake up people – the Internet is not your baby sitter! It is not a particularly safe place for kids, no matter how many filters or Net-nannies you put on your PC. Why is it that a technologically inept adult will ask junior to program their entertainment center, but will at the same time believe junior is too dumb to figure out a way to circumvent technological parental controls?

I work with a lot of bright software engineers – geeks in the true sense of the word who see something like a filter as an interesting challenge to overcome. Many of these young engineers cut their teeth on computers, figuratively and literally, and certainly a large percentage of them figured out how to get around filters when they were in their early teens – and they passed that information on to others of their age group. These kinds of kids who thrive on challenge make the best future software engineers and network administrators, and I’m always happy to help them enter the workforce.

The Internet is not your child’s play pen, and I am in no way concerned about making it “safe” for your child’s use. You would be better off thinking of the Internet as a sort of social experiment with technology, more in line with Burning Man than with Mister Rogers. I can understand that you don’t want your kid to read the Kama Sutra. (Although I read it, along with “The Joy of Sex” both by the time I was 15, and all it took was a library card!) But I won’t allow you to dictate what is available to me merely because you don’t have the time to be a good parent.

And what is with this “Good ‘ol Days” crud? When a person grows up, they seem to put on their rose-colored glasses in order to view the past. In my childhood it was acceptable to give a 14-year-old a shotgun or .22 rifle and turn him loose in the woods. In my father’s time the accepted age for this was 8 or 9. One of my classmates had a hole blown between the radius and ulna of his left arm; another had to write with a rubber band strapping a pen to his pinky because he lost his 3 middle fingers and part of a hand to a shotgun blast. These were the lucky kids – some kids didn’t come home.

It wasn’t just guns. There were dangerous fireworks, chemistry sets that (unlike today) had less than benign chemicals in them, metal wheeled roller skates that strapped onto your tennis shoes and threw you on your face when you hit a leaf, absolutely no protective gear like helmets or elbow pads. Home made minibikes, bows and arrows, air rifles, bb-guns and sling-shots for kids – I’m sure anyone over 40 could add to this list.

There were also plenty of people who preyed on kids in the “good old days”. I think it was easier to do so back then when an adult’s word was more often believed than a child’s accusation – even for those few lucky kids who were actually taught how to talk about abuse.

And sometimes kids just never came home again.

For the most part, things are safer for kids today because we are more aware of the potential dangers. We force children to wear protective gear, we don’t let them run wild in the big city, we limit their access to dangerous products.

On the flip side, we also get things like watered-down chemistry sets because parents are afraid their kid will hurt themselves. It’s no wonder that modern chemistry sets are so boring – we’ve taken anything fun out of them.

And that’s what this particular Livejournal commenter was proposing – to take anything interesting out of the Internet because it is potentially harmful to a child. This is as stupid as neutering a chemistry set because you want a toy to keep your kid occupied while you’re busy. An “educational” toy so you can feel good about yourself.

Like I said, it’s bullshit. The Internet is a wonderful tool for your kids, and it is just as dangerous as a gun or chemistry set. That is partly why it is so valuable!

Perhaps your children are mature enough to use any of these wonderful but dangerous tools responsibly - and perhaps not. That is for you as a parent to determine. I suggest that parents who are concerned about the Internet put the computer monitor in full view, where the parent can see what their child is doing at all times.

Don’t trust filters. Look at my site – I speak about things that would be considered offensive to a significant portion of the American population (not to mention the occasional nude artwork I display.) But I’ll bet a lot of it gets through the filters, and I won’t take any of it down. My site is directed toward adults, and it is on an Internet that was created by adults for the use of other adults.

If you feel passionately about providing a "neutered chemistry set" version of the Internet to your kids then do so. Create a separate "kid Internet" and police it. It will take money and years of effort, and you'll get something that is as interesting and useful to kids as a chemistry set that comes stocked with salt and distilled water. And you'll still be worried about turning your kids loose on it. Wouldn't it be easier to just monitor your child's Internet usage?

Don’t ask me to baby sit your kids. You can’t pay me enough.


Anonymous said...

It's liz from I Speak of Dreams.

Excellent rant. Also see Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk rant, Due Diligence.

How many tech or IT directors have taken on the entire burden of making sure no student in their district finds anything disturbing on the Internet? I'll bet more than a few.

Doug's thoughts were sparked by this post at Tech Ruminations

He says in part:

Yes, we should use "accidental" access to inappropriate content as learning experiences. They should be viewed as an opportunity to learn to safely navigate the web. In reality, what happens is the parents call the office and the filtering policies, procedures, and decisions are challenged. "But I thought we had a filter??" "Why are we paying thousands of dollars for a filter if it doesn't keep out the bad stuff?"

In an effort to make this post part of the solution and not merely a rant, let's not continually bash the filtering decision makers. Rather, let's come together as a learning community and popularize those sites that only allow appropriate content. TeacherTube is a fine example. TeacherTube allows the filtering folks to safely open up the world of online video. Where's eduFlickr???

I know, I know... the walled garden is not the WORLD WIDE WEB.

The point here is that k-12 education institutions have always served as somewhat of a walled garden, and now that they are more permeable, the decisions are harder.

But no, the entire web shouldn't be "kid-friendly".

Calladus said...

Hi liz!

Didn't AOL bill itself as a sort of "walled garden"?

We see how well that went.

Scientia said...

Bravo! Another (almost) lone voice crying out in the wilderness, and presenting the bare fact of the matter: the world is a (very) dangerous place. All of it. This is neither more nor less true of the internet than it is of school violence and the STDs running like wildfire among our 13-year-olds. In the "good old days" kids were safer in some ways; on the other hand, they were less prone to learn about sexuality and deviance by stumbling across it on the internet and more by having it inflicted on them.

One of my pet peeves in life is people who think that it's society's job to help them raise their kids- that TV shows, net content, reading material, etc. doesn't need to be filtered and vetted by parents before consumption. This also means that even though you install net filters, you also monitor time spent on the net and configure your computer so that only admins can delete records of viewed content (and don't use your name as the password).

Get with the program, people. Watch your kids. This is your job, and slippage and error are YOUR fault- not that of the adults who use the net and have no responsibility for your children. Think that's harsh and unfair? Welcome to the world you live in. Get comfortable in it- and teach your children to do the same.

(Whew. I guess that was really waiting to spill.)

Calladus said...

Making a "Kid safe Internet" is exactly like making "Toddler safe Whisky". It's called "juice", and no adult wants it.