Thursday, February 28, 2008

Internet dangers and kids

There is lots of hysteria about the dangers of letting kids surf the net freely. That has caused many parents to restrict those activities. Well, it turns out that much of the concern really is hysteria. This New York Times article by David Pogue reviews the evidence. It turns out that predation over the Internet is no more likely than predation anywhere else and the big issues comes from children wanting to seek out 'stranger contact.' He also finds the evidence on other solicitations wanting.

And then there is the whole issue of stumbling upon unsuitable materials. Here it is all about parenting styles:
One woman, for example, told me that she became hysterical when her eight-year-old stumbled onto a pornographic photo. She told me that she literally dove for the computer, crashing over a chair, yanking out the power cord and then rushing her daughter outside.

You know what? I think that far more damage was done to that child by her mother’s reaction than by the dirty picture.

See, almost the same thing happened at our house. When my son was 7 years old, he was Googling “The Incredibles” on the computer that we keep in the kitchen. At some point, he pulled up a doctored picture of the Incredibles family, showing them naked.

“What…on… earth?” he said in surprise.

I walked over, saw what was going on, and closed the window. “Yeah, I know,” I told him. “Some people like pictures of naked people. The Internet is full of all kinds of things.” And life went on.
My view is much like David Pogue's. Instead of banning or restricting net use we monitor it closely. My guess is that we can deal with the consequences like we would anything else they might happen across. Better this occur under our guidance than later on somewhere else where there is no one to step in.

The benefits are enormous. The Internet offers so much for kids and so much more if they are able to explore it and seek out stuff that interests them. It is an enabling technology that doesn't require leaving the house. How convenient is that.