Friday 25 January 2008

Worrying . . .

This is something I worry about on a daily basis. Like most children, mine use the Internet - especially the eldest, who is online most of her waking life, it sometimes seems.

There are sooooooo many issues to deal with - a whole new world of worrying that is new to our generation of parents, and it's such a fast-moving world, with so many implications, that one has to worry overtime to keep up.

The frequency and ease with which I find myself faced with a Google page full of ultra-hard-porn sites having innocently entered a key word/phrase in search of, eg, missing bibliographical details in an academic book on international law . . . well, it's frightening. Frightening in that I would not wish my children to encounter such sites accidentally and enter them out of natural curiosity.

Yet, it is virtually impossible to researching Year 9 homework topics if high-level child security is switched on. Constant adjustment is required. Even my 10-year-old son's PC had to be re-adjusted because child-safe settings wouldn't allow him to access the thing he's most interested in at the moment - sites selling model aircraft kits, and sites with information about the historic aircraft he's mad about. Why? Because they have the word 'war' in them (as in Second World War Spitfire). Again, a daily reappraisal is necessary and I know we haven't got it right.

And daughter #1 is clever - very - and far more Internet savvy than me, despite my being welded to my own PC. She chats on forums devoted to seemingly innocuous subjects like Strictly Come Dancing or Casualty . . . but who is she chatting to, exactly?

We're all advised to 'keep a careful eye on our children's Internet use'. But how?? By standing over their shoulder the whole time? Impossible. I'm delighted that she researches her homework topics so fully, and I'm delighted that she has a wide circle of nice real-life friends to chat to on Bebo etc. I don't want to intrude upon her privacy, nor can I afford to give up my working evenings in order to stand in the corner of her room watching her every keystroke.

So we talk about it, and she's like, yeah, whatevva, it's OK. I'm cool, I know what I'm doing, don't worry.

And I worry. And worry. And worry. And read articles like this and sites like this this and this . And worry some more.

And I've signed this NSPCC petition, because of course it would be a start if PCs were sold with security options ready installed. And I applaud the NSPCC's campaigning, which often has a big influence on public policy-makers.

But . . . it's not the whole answer. Not by a long, long way.
How do other parents deal with these worries?


monix said...

I sympathise with you, J. Youngsters today are subject to so many pressures that parents and teachers struggle to understand, never mind know how to deal with.

I'll bet your eldest daughter is aware of the things you are concerned about. You could test that, at the same time demonstrating your trust in her, by asking her to talk to her younger siblings about keeping safe online. Listen in - you will probably learn something and also be surprised at how wise she is!

Good luck. I'm glad my children are now both safely married and off my hands - at least until the next phone call!

cabalamat said...

monix: "I'll bet your eldest daughter is aware of the things you are concerned about."

This is very likely the case. There was a survey about a year ago that suggested teenagers and older children were very much aware of the issues involved. (Sorry, don't have the URL to hand).

The problem with the NSPCC petition and with "child safety" software is that it doesn't work; not only that, it cannot work, even in principle.

This is because the problem -- of allowing desirable material through but preventing undesirable material -- is AI-complete, i.e. it would require human-level artificial intelligence, a technology that doesn't exist. (And if it did exist, there would be MUCH bigger issues involved than censorship software).

Juliet said...

Yes, I agree that teenagers are aware of a lot of the issues involved in social networking/chatroom sites etc. But on the other hand, at 14 one tends to 'know best' (certainly better than one's parents) and also to believe one is invincible. She thinks she's chatting to a girl of her own age in Manchester. She probably is. But I know enough to understand that she might, just might, be talking to a clever, patient, biding-his-time man five miles away.

On the issue of 'child safe' software: as a 'responsible' parent I make my own judgments about what I allow my children to watch on TV and DVD and Playstation games, guided (though not blindly - I make my own decisions) by the 12,15, 18 etc rating system. There are degrees of sexual and violent imagery which I simply do not wish them to be exposed to and have to deal with.

Yet I cannot find a combination of 'safety' settings on their PCs which works in anything like a feasible fashion. I err on the side of liberal access - for a quiet life as much as anything, but this makes me a totally irresponsible parent because I simply don't know, at any minute of any day, EXACTLY what my kids are looking at. And I should, shouldn't I?

Anonymous said...

I don't feel you should know exactly what your kids are looking at, certainly after a certain age. There comes a point where you have to trust them enough to talk frankly about the issues and hope they make the right choices.

I find it interesting that some people get so frustrated with this subject when to my mind it is no different than the "Sex Ed" question. You wouldn't stop your kid hearing any and all references to sex, depending on their age you'd explain to them what it means. If they're too young they get the Disney version (Consider this your parental controls and internet safety software) and when they're old enough you have "the talk" with them. You don't just continue for as long as you can with the Disney myth until unfortunately one day your daughter finds herself in a situation that she isn't prepared for do you?

No, parents need to have the internet safety chat at the same time as the sexual awareness and safety chat. Give your kids your understanding about how they're growing up, pass on your wisdom, and then step back while never being truly out of reach. It's my belief that this way is the best for their development in the end, and the "dangers" really seem to be less possible than a multitude of others that perhaps we pay less attention to.

But until they reach that age, the search for an adequate filter software continues :)