Kids and the internet
I wrote this article in response to the growing numbers of questions about
the internet, and concerns from parents... I hope it is informative and
Internet, the Good, the Bad and The ugly.
With the rapid growth of technology, particularly
the Internet, instant messaging and other high tech communications systems, it
is hard not to be left a little confused about what our kids are really up to.
More importantly, we need to understand that fundamentally these technologies
are about consumption, so whilst your kids or grandkids may flit around in
cyberspace without thought, they may not be aware that somewhere, somehow,
someone is gaining profit from all this. Whether this profit is financial,
political or personal is irrelevant, there is still a cost.
Older people will remember always being told,
“Nothing is Free”, and we lived our lives on this simple understanding. What we
must now comprehend, is that this is a foreign concept for our children. They
have grown up with Free Mobile Phones, Free Internet Downloads, 12 months
interest FREE and a host of other commercial misdirections.
What they may not realize is that the old adage
still really applies. When you go into cyber space, you visit sites, you get fed
advertising, in some cases your Email address is added to marketing databases,
Cookies are loaded to record your traffic so marketing companies can measure
your buying habits, and sometimes much worse.
Yes, our children are much more technologically
savvy, but the majority don't realize that this tech savvyiness is about getting
them to consume more. The underlying technology is still a mystery to most kids,
and companies are trying harder and harder to remove the consumer from this. Our
children can claim to be able to download, buy, or even steal from the Internet,
but in most cases, this belief is belied by the fact that they are also being
feed advertising, viruses, Trojans, Pornography or worse.
Combine this with the fact, that whilst some
Enforcement agencies may claim that rules apply, on the whole, the Internet
represents a place with little or no morality. In fact, legitimate users spend
enormous amounts of resources to protect themselves from this very issue. So, we
let our kids into a system that most would now agree is an essential resource
for education and business, but are unable to correctly police this system.
So, do we try to protect our children from this
with expensive software, firewalls and other things, when the chances are our
kids, because of this savvyness can by pass most of our futile efforts. And how
do we stop them from accessing the system via friends or relatives machines that
don't have these protections. The other alternative is that we give them free
rein, but educate them to the level that the start to understand that by logging
on, they become part of this system, and teaching them about the dangers, just
like we educate them about crossing the road, or not hopping in the car with
I am partial to the second, but this is the choice
that only a parent can make for their own children.
A pedophile is still a pedophile, even if they are
on a computer 8000 Km away. A thief is still a thief whether he pulls a gun, or
steals your bank account details from dads laptop. A bully is still a bully
whether in the playground or Sm Sing your child's mobile phone.
Kids more than ever feel the pressure to belong,
to be liked, to have new clothes, a new phone etc. Estimates on the amount of
consumer messages an average child is exposed to can range from 250 to over 3000
per day, depending on TV watched, and all this has combined to create a
generation of children who are conditioned to want constant messages, whether
this be through advertising, text messaging or emails. Their minds have been
trained to feel like they are missing out if this external stimulus stops. So
children actively are taking in all these messages, and creating a desire, a
need to be flooded with information, much of which is about self esteem, self
Worth, and often tied to the need to gain possessions. This is the super
consumer and business will do whatever it has to perpetuate this mentality,
because as individuals, we now consume more than we have ever in the history of
Imagine living in a small town, where you know
most people, you make friends, and really only feel the need to impress you
small group of friends. On the other hand, maybe you feel you don't have any
friends, you think your fat, or ugly, or haven't got the right clothes or game
console, then suddenly you get access to a world were no one can see you. You
can be anything you want, say anything you want, tell the truth, tell a lie, who
cares? who knows?
This is what the Internet offers our children. But
what our children sometimes fail to see, it that the friend they made on the
chat site, or in our on line game, or who visited our Face Book or my space site
and left a nice email, might also not be who we thought. That person we told our
kids not to talk to when he pulled over with his car at the park, has now walked
into our home, shut the door, and is now slowly gaining the confidence of our
Yes, this is the worse case scenario, but we don't
put seat belts in cars for the 99.9% of the time we haven't crashed. And what if
someone decides that you look like a good victim. What if they start emailing
hate, or Sm Sing abuse. Our kids must understand that no matter what their best
intentions are, they are entering a virtual world with no rules. Their want to
communicate with the unknown is potentially there biggest danger. By using these
sites, they are inviting both the good and the bad to come visiting. If we don't
educate them about how to recognize the difference, or how to avoid becoming a
victim, we fail as parents. More importantly, if we don't teach them to
question, then they could fail themselves.
A famous Pornographic director from the seventies
was asked about the death of the “Classic” porno film. His response was that the
Internet had destroyed the ART. Now whether you would categorize pornography as
ART or not, is up to you, but with estimates that 18.8% of Internet WEB traffic
is pornography, I could not help but agree with him. He went on to say that with
the advent of the Handy Cam, and the desktop video editing system, you no longer
needed a film production studio to produce pornography. So, anyone with $3000
worth of hardware and some actors could produce product. The flip side of this
coin is that if you have no ART, how do you differentiate your product. In
simple business terms, how do they sell more porn?
Unfortunalty the answer has become make it more
extreme, violent, degrading and in some cases lethal. This means that young
people who are visiting or being exposed to this material are not getting the
same old stuff that used to float around the football change rooms. What they
are seeing is extreme acts, and unfortunately, this leads to a desensitization
of the viewer, and also the creation of unrealistic expections.
So, we end up with some young men who have
unrealistic expectation of there girlfriends, and some young women who feel that
they have to degrade themselves to get a boy friend, or to keep one happy. In
fact both end up feeling they can never do enough or get enough to be fulfilled.
Recent studies have expressed this phenomena as a future major social issue.
There was also recently a lot of press coverage of
the two young Goth or Emo girls who committed suicide. It is not unusual for
young people to question or have alternate ideas about how society should be or
how it treat them, but most people are able to work there way through this with
family or friends. An unfortunate side of the Internet is that groups of these
people can now find each other on chat rooms etc, and instead of questioning
these views, find these ideas being strengthened, distorted or manipulated by
others. In fact the Internet is basically a forum for any crack pot to express
their views, no matter how immoral or corrupted they be.. So our children are
not only exposed to sexual extremes, but also hate politics, racism and other
extreme political views.
The Internet is a tool. It can be used to build or
to destroy. As a resource for information is it unsurpassed. But never forget,
it is on the whole a self policing business. History shows us that this concept
is open to abuse and corruption, so unless you are very lucky, at some stage
your child is going to be exposed to the seedier side of the Internet. Make them
aware of the dangers. Remember the Internet is reflective of an adult world, so
if you are letting them on unsupervised, you need to explain some of the adult
concepts they may face. You can't take away their curiosity, but you can empower
them to make smart decisions.
Most of all, make them understand that the
internet is not always a reflection of the real world. There is a reason extreme
stuff is put on there. To make you look..... Because by looking your becoming
part of someone else's agenda.