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 helpful...

The 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 strangers.

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 mankind.

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 child.

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.