Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Kids and the Internet!

My kids (ages 7 and 5) have a computer in their room that's hooked up to the Internet. And they're now capable of navigating around the Internet on their own -- on Wikipedia, Google image search, and YouTube.

On the one hand, I think it's amazingly cool that they can take the initiative when exploring subjects that interest them. For example, Nico is really interested in astronomy, and he found some cool videos that we had fun watching together, such as the song Poor Pluto (which we're now singing all the time at our house), and another great video that gives a fun and clear explanation of the history of why Pluto isn't a planet anymore. On the other hand, there's a lot of PG+ stuff on the Internet, including (as I talked about here on Rational Moms) a weird conspiracy theory movie that Nico found all on his own and thought was a real science movie.

My personal inclination is to continue to let them explore on their own, and just check on them periodically, take an interest in what they're interested in, and offer advice/instruction based on what they discover. I know the Mormons advise keeping any computer with the Internet in a "high traffic area" of the house. Well, we have a small enough apartment that their room actually is a high traffic area.

Any other parents out there have opinions on this, or stories of what you've done with your kids? Is it irresponsible to let such small kids explore the Internet? We're the first generation of parents to even deal with this question, and I'm not sure if there's any consensus on it...


Scot said...

I share your concern. I wasn't too worried until after one of our twins came home from school and told me a friend told him to search for "hot chicks" on google.

So far, at age 6, they only use it with us right there. It's just way too easy to stumble into something you'd not want them to see(ever made the vs .com mistake? :-)). Next year, following the lead of parents of older kids we know, we plan on giving less-supervised access to only certain sites. Then we'll go to some sort of semi-free but monitored-and-filtered-for-porn exploration, but I'm not sure at what age. Then after that they can have full unfettered access, when they're 21 ;-).

Varina said...

I think I would want a net nanny personally. It's just way to easy to wander into something really objectionable (be it overly sexual for their age, violent, weird conspiracy theories, something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc), and the younger they are the more likely they are to accidentally do this. I do think most available parent firewalls (or whatever the technical term is) are more geared towards filtering out porn, than violence, anti-science, or bigotry though so, meh. Of course, if you have been going on the internet with them yourself for awhile, they are not n00bs so maybe it wouldn't be such a problem. It's my casual observation that almost all parenting decisions come down to "it depends on the kid".

Craig said...

I think this is a really important topic to talk about.

My parents were the kind of Mormons who not only put that computer in the main room, but they also put a password on the internet connection, so we had to get permission each and every time we wanted to use the internet - and this was when I was in High School, and even after a year at university, they still wouldn't tell me what the password was.

This on top of multiple filters/firewalls. They would even take to locking the cabinet the computer was in so we couldn't even use it to play a game.

They were, in my opinion, far too overprotective - indicative of the Mormon compulsion to control (restrict) information to ward off "evil". In wanting to shield us from all the "evils" of the world, things like sex and alcohol, they kept from me and my siblings things that I think children NEED to know about so that they know how to deal with LIFE.

I've thought about how I will deal with it once I've children, and I think that while I'd want to supervise young children, and have a filter, I'm not very likely going to be monitoring and controlling a 16 year-old.

Anyways, I think what you're doing is probably just fine. I think it's not irresponsible, but necessary for children to explore the internet, computers/technology more or less freely. I agree though, about limiting access (based on age and maturity) on certain topics, but I think by the time a child is 15 or so, s/he should be able to use the internet mostly unfettered

Unknown said...

A simple and free option is to use OpenDNS. It can be set up a couple of different ways, either on your home router or on indiidual PC's. No software / hardware installation required.

It's no substitute for education / supervision, but can at least eliminate the likelihood of stumbling onto the really inappropriate stuff.

or let me know of you want more details.

MoHoHawaii said...

I like opendns. The only problem is that it blocks sites for all computers and users on a home network identically. In other words, you get blocked, too.

Unknown said...

@ MoHoHawaii, it will block all computers if set up in your router.

Alternatively, you can just set up OpenDNS for the kids computer, or even for a specific login on a the computer. This way, if you login as you, no restrictions, Login on the kids account, openDNS works it's magic.

It's easy to set up on Linux or Windows, probably just as easy on a Mac, but I'm not a Mac guy.

Anonymous said...

Aw dammit. This problem is still far off in the future for me, but I had never even thought about it until now and now it's gonna bother me! I never worried about my future kids finding porn. Personally I didn't have access to a computer with internet until I was about 12, but at that point it was entirely unsupervised and I could browse porn to my heart's content. I had already received all the sex-ed I could need - not by The Talk (which so far as I know doesn't exist in Sweden) but by my parents strategically leaving various childrens' and young adults' books around that told me how things worked. So I figured I'd do the same with my kids. But there are no childrens' books explaining what conspiracy theories are!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!!!

I'm a little hesitant to install any kind of net nanny (is open DNS a net nanny?) because I just don't see how it could be intelligent enough to filter out what I'd like it to filter out without blocking out way too much good stuff. What I'm most concerned about is whether they'll accidentally happen upon a scary or violent video that will upset and traumatize them. It's not clear that it's possible to set a filter to filter for just that.

Like the case with Felicia's parents, I'm not too concerned about letting them explore on their own once they get to be about twelve or so and can understand what they're seeing. I'm also not terribly concerned about keeping them away from porn -- I'd just as soon talk to them about safe and responsible intimate behavior and then not try to micromanage the gory details of their private time. (Well, of course we'll have a thorough talk about the whys and why nots of meeting your online friends in person and giving them contact details, but that falls into the category of teaching them about safety.)

There's no way I would do like Craig's mom -- that is the antithesis of my parenting style. I'm thorough and uncompromising when it come to safety (you should see when I take a walk with them, how focused we are on traffic safety), but, as much as possible, I'd rather let them take the lead in their choices and then see what we learn when they tell me about what they're up to.

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

My parents had AOL, and AOL had the worst parental controls ever. The WB network had their own KidsWB website--it blocked that, even though the word "kids" was in it. Sometimes it would block its own AOL kids message boards. I eventually got pissed off and would go into my mom's account (she saved her password) and change my settings to whatever I wanted--for a while it was a switch from Kid to Teen and adding the Instant Messaging option, and then when I was fourteen I decided to go to General. So no, I'm pretty anti-net nanny. I remember needing to log onto my mom's account to do pretty much any research for school when I was in Middle School. That ain't conducive to learning, just lying..

Unknown said...

I have no parenting advice, but it sounds like you made a choice consistent with the boundaries you've set in general. I think safety, again, would be my main concern and you seem to already be aware of how to overcome that hurdle.

Yeah, scary stuff is probably a concern, but I don't think it's too much of a problem. I haven't seen too much of it on the internet, but then I haven't been looking and I'm also not a kid. :)

muskoxmumbo said...

too young, too young, too young. Too easy to stumble across something. They don't have the ability to monitor and filter themselves.

MoHoHawaii said...

OpenDNS is a pretty good solution.

I use it just to filter phishing and adware sites at the network level. This is good for any user, but if I still had young kids at home, I would insist on this. (Phishing sites look like real sites but exist to perpetrate identity theft. Adware sites violate your privacy with third-party tracking cookies and by downloading unwanted advertising and tracking software.)

OpenDNS lets you override its filter. You can block or allow any URL. This is a great feature.

My attitude toward protecting kids is pretty much like yours, Chanson. I think the approach provided by OpenDNS is compatible with that philosophy.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey UFPC!!!

Yeah, that's exactly what I'm hoping to avoid. I don't want to put my kids in a position where they fell like they have to lie to me.

Hey O.G.!!!

Thanks for the vote of confidence! :D

Hey BLAH!!!

Despite what it may sound like, we do have a pretty close eye on what they're doing. I know what Nico was looking up last night (different stars on wikipedia) and what he was looking up today (more "size movies" -- YouTube videos about the relative sizes of the stars and planets). Like I said, our apartment is small, and we talk to them about their interests.

Hey MoHoHawaii!!!

Well, maybe I'll look into it then. I hadn't even thought about phishing and adware sites! And the ability to unblock any site I choose is definitely a critical point.

Miguel said...

I have no restrictions on my 2 home computers. Both kids use them (ages 14 and 10) and they also know that I have the ability to see where they have been and what sites they've visited. I did find some sites my son had been on a couple of years after he did some googling (pron) and I didn't make a huge deal out of it, but set parameters on what he could and could not see and what the consequences might be and there have not been any problems since.

I haven't felt the need to install any kind of tracking software or nany, I pretty much share your ideas, the computers are very much in high traffic areas, we always know where they are and what they are up to. I personally try not to make too much of a big deal about checking where they go. I know the risks/dangers and know that there's a chance they might find stuff but I also want them to feel trusted and deal with the issues as they come, but that's just me.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure there's much we can do anymore to completely protect our kids from the evil that lurks on the internet. Whatever controls we put in place are going to be non-existent in the home of a friend down the block whose parents don't care or are unaware. One way or another kids are going to go exploring into the nether regions of the internet, and that exploration for most boys is going to include some porn.

I often wonder if our compulsion to be so protective isn't going to come back and bite us in the ass someday. How many restrictions can you put on a teenager before you have an angry teenager on your hands?

Personally I'd be more inclined to be harping on using a condom than I would be on trying to keep kids from ever seeing any sexual stuff on the internet. How are you going to control the kid who brings his iPhone to school and sits around with his buds looking at Nannies With Knockers at lunchtime? We only think we control teenagers when in fact all we do most of the time is motivate them to outsmart us or force them to be dishonest with us.

If a kid wants to look at naked people having sex on the internet we're delusional to think we can stop it. Yet we try and we make both their lives and ours miserable in the process.

Condom use. That's where we can be effective. I would rather have my son keep a supply of them in his backpack than be fighting with him all the time to keep him away from porn on the internet or sex in real life. With or without our consent or cooperation our children are going to find and want to have sex. Why not keep sex a smart thing and a civil thing instead of a battleground.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Miguel!!!

Yeah, it's good to keep a general awareness of what your kids are up to, talk to them about it, etc. I think that as they get older one should increase the autonomy and privacy you give them, as long is it's clear they understand you expect responsible behavior from them in general.

Hey Tom!!!

So true. I think teens can be trusted with quite a lot of autonomy if they demonstrate they're capable of acting responsibly. The parent needs to make it crystal clear what kind of responsible behavior is expected (condoms, etc.), and be open to listening to the teen and negotiating based on reasonable expectations instead of knee-jerk micromanagement. More draconian restrictions are only necessary if the teen demonstrates an inability to behave responsibly on his/her own.