The internet is not only a standard part of all our lives, but now corners have been created for children barely able to click a mouse. My experiences as a parent a nine year old trying to write a report on planet X per internet search results to explaining an explicit Dora the Explorer Youtube video my younger one found. We strictly limit their online time and implement parental controls, yet we’re the odd ones of our generation.
Around 40% of all Generation X and Millennial mothers have set up a social media account for their children before the child’s first birthday, when another 7% do so before the child turns two.
What about children in between those two extremes? There are around twenty million children under 18 on Facebook. According to Consumer Reports, seven and a half million of these are under age 13, and five million of them are under the age of ten. McAfee estimates that over a third of 10-12 year old children are on Facebook. Facebook is losing teenaged users in the coveted 13 to 17 demographic. However, of those under 18 who set up Facebook accounts, around 80% say a parent helped. While many might say their parents knew to gain approval of the surveyors, I believe that many parents did help the kids set up Facebook accounts. Their greater mistake is not monitoring the actions of their kids online and teaching them proper behavior online.
I watch my oldest’s blog, once having to stifle laughter long enough to explain that just because the computer recommends a word in spell check doesn’t mean it is right. I had to CSS and HTML5 to my husband to explain the template changes she’d made and how. Teaching a child to Google themselves was quickly followed by an explanation that the best anonymity online is having the same name as 100,000 other people.
A pre-teen’s blog littered with cat videos and stock photos is a decent socialization to the digital world. Explaining how she could have hits from Romania and Russia don’t mean she’s internationally famous but one more target of email address harvesters is a good introduction to the hazards of the internet. Fortunately, we’ve yet to face the attack of the trolls, censorship for non-PC content because a group agrees to flag all your stuff as “hate”, or the general name calling of kids that becomes a permanent record online that could conceivably come up in a manager’s search for their names in 15 years.
Learning that your online posts become the public equivalent of the dreaded “school file”, but real. We thought would result in transgressions in second grade with gum in someone’s hair would prevent us from going to school. But those stupid posts from high school or drunk and crazy posts in college can haunt you, resulting in recruiters failing to call you back ten years from now or awkward questions from potential partners who learn more from a Google search now than a background check would find two decades ago.
The internet is changing the world, mostly for the better. Yet the ability to make the mean and meaningless chatter a permanent fixture on the world won’t improve anyone’s future until we teach all the kids to elevate their level of discourse – and hopefully learn better spelling and grammar, too.
If only the adults already online took the time to learn this lesson.
Lessons I’ve Learned from Teaching My Child About Online Activities
1. Don’t post when you’re tired, sick or otherwise afflicted. The odds of a mistake are too high.
2. Whether you select to edit it or delete it, it likely exists out there forever in some form.
3. What is put online is public, even if the profile is private.
4. If in doubt, don’t post it.
5. Keep your number of social profiles, accounts and so forth to a minimum. The fewer you have, the more time you can put into managing each.
6. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, certainly don’t post it online.
7. When the website is free, it makes its money from advertising – and tracking your interests and activities in a hope of improving the advertising. AKA, if the site is free and not selling things, you are the product.
8. Kid friendly websites are safer than the general internet, but kids will still be kids – especially if they feel powerful being able to bully someone they’ll never meet from their computer screen or chase someone online who they couldn’t touch in person.
9. Scum of the earth have seized too many domains that are a typo away from kid friendly websites.
10. Rule 34.
11. The awkwardness of explaining Rule 34.
12. Realize that everything you do online is tracked by someone, from the ISP to the web host to the email server to the social network. There is no privacy online short of a VPN, black web connection and multilayered software methods – and then your IP address is flagged for monitoring by the NSA.
13. If you make too many rules, whether in access controls on network or PCs, you’ll run into conflicts. If you create the ACLs on your side, you can conflict with other people’s ACLs.
14. Sometimes, an outright blacklist of sites, denial of privileges or saying “No” and sticking to it is the simplest control in any situation.
15. Users scream in any case if you invoke rule 14, but sysadmins and parents usually know best.