Sunday, February 05, 2006

Thoughts on Internet Use Among Those Under 18, and Parental Monitoring has begun to surface more and more often in media reports. This is something that the blogging community picked up on way before news programs and newspaper articles, did, and many bloggers have been frequently putting up mirrors of Myspace pages for victims of crimes such as Taylor Beihl. So many people now in the 16-30 crowd have a Myspace profile, you'd be hard-pressed to find many high school and college kids who don't regularly use the site. Now the site has come under some amount of scrutiny for being a place where child predators are going to find victims, and parents are being encouraged to monitor their child's use of the internet.

Now it's not just this one particular site parents need to watch out for. Myspace is like many other websites, where all you really need is a valid email address to have an account. Beyond that, you can lie about your name, age, location, and even put up a picture of David Hasselhoff and call it yourself, and find a hundred people who believe are you, indeed, who you say you are. Friendster, Okcupid, and many other websites are similar. It's a sad fact of the world that there are evil people who lie and have really, really bad intentions. Still though, I want to know why parents aren't more involved in this stuff. I remember what it was like to be 12, 14, 16- it wasn't all that long ago for me, and it sucked. My mom told me what I could and couldn't do, and if I broke her rules, I was grounded, or appropriate punishment doled out, along with a healthy dose of that classic Catholic guilt trip. It wasn't always fun, but I'm still alive now, so I'd say she did a pretty good job parenting.

Kids today (and I was included in this) seem to think that they have a RIGHT to privacy. I think everyone is entitled to a certain amount of privacy, but I'm sorry, if you're under 18, your parents have every right to know who you're hanging out with, who you're dating, what you do when you go out with your friends, where you go, and when you go. This includes internet use.

So here are a few of things I would do if I had a child, which may also help you out if you're having trouble with this issue: If my child went to a friends house and could possibly use the internet over there, I would have no qualms about asking the friend's parent to monitor any online surfing or chatting done. I would check with the school to make sure they had some security measures to keep the kids away from sites they shouldn't be on, and if the school didn't have any such measures, show up to a PTA meeting and insist that something be done. If I had a child, I would make sure that I had software on my computer to block websites I don't want my child using, a logging system on all chats (which many programs like AIM now offer for IMing), and, of course, physically getting out of my chair to walk over and see what they were doing. Oh yeah, and if you ground your kid from the net, but they're using it anyways, or using it when you don't want them to, take the ethernet cable (the one that looks like an oversized phone cable), unplug it from the modem/router, and hide it. You can't do much online without one, trust me on that. But please, just be aware- if your kid is like me, they will bitch incessantly about you being too overprotective, too restrictive, blah blah blah, but then thank you for it when they are older.

On a side note: The Superbowl is today, I really need to watch it. I missed it last year, which sucked. However, since the incident with Janet's Jackson's nipple, I've been determined to never miss such excitement again. Let me tell you, when your fellow Fire Department members are sitting around talking about the wardrobe malfunction, and you confess you don't watch the Superbowl, all that respect you spent months earning goes right out of the window.

Oh yeah, and just to link that into the earlier topic, know what your kid is watching on TV too. TV can actually be a great way to get your child's opinion on some tough issues, without awkwardly trying to bring up over dinner why drugs are bad and safe sex (or no sex) is good.