I cannot blame technology, the Internet included, for your kid’s safety (or unsafety) on the Internet. I have spent more than twenty-five years in the technical field, and it would be ironic and shameful if I were promoting something that was putting my kid in danger. However, something is to blame, and I tend to come back to the same question “Are your kids in more danger today compared to when you were their age?”
I truly believe they are in more danger now than when we were kids. Let’s look at three different scenarios to give context to my opinions: bullying, sexual predators, and violent content.
Stop The Cyber Bully?
Think about when you were roughly the same age as your child. What were you doing in the schoolyard? If you were unlucky, you might have been bullied by other kids at the school. Maybe you even witnessed a bullying incident. Bullying in your kid-days typically remained in the schoolyard. When it was time to go home, the mental effects of bullying possibly trailed home with you, and when you returned to school the next day, the bullying may have picked up from where it left off – verbal and possibly physical abuse. The key thing is that you did not drag the bullying home with you. It stayed at school. Today, a kid usually does not have the luxury of leaving the bullying on the school grounds. The bullying can follow them wherever they go, called cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is Internet-based, and you did not have the Internet as a kid. The closest resemblance to something like the Internet was probably a telephone or a ham radio — and I’m really stretching my imagination. If someone wanted to spread the bullying word about you, the best they could probably do is tell their school friends or maybe spread the bully word by telephone — a prolonged and laborious way of spreading the bully word.
Today, however, the bullying word spreads exceptionally fast, and it’s difficult to stop cyberbullying. I have witnessed live bullying episodes on the Internet, namely Twitter and Facebook. Not only does the bullying word spread fast, but those who instigate it can do so anonymously. During your kid-days, bullying was usually face-to-face, so you knew exactly who was behind the events. Today the probability of the bully remaining anonymous is fairly high. They hide behind fake profiles and user IDs, then launch “operation clandestine bully spread.”
Predators On The Internet?
Then there is the predator world. As a kid, did you ever have a fear of being stalked by a predator? Did you ever think they (the stalker) were going to take you away and do mean? Did your parents think behind every dark corner lurked a predator? I know for a fact that I never feared such a thing, and neither did my parents. Suppose my parents had concerns. Once in a while, they may have reminded me, “Not to talk with strangers.” In fact, I felt extremely safe — I walked to school & my friends by myself and played outside after sunset. Even though there may have been real dangers, I never felt threatened. I felt totally safe! It definitely did not overwhelm or rule their lives.
Today, as a parent, I am extremely conscious of the Internet Predator. I have already educated my kid about chat rooms and how not to communicate with strangers. I’m definitely not an old-fashioned parent, but my instincts tell me to keep myself alert and watch for any tell-tale signs that my kid is in predator danger.
Predators on the Internet are a real concern amongst many parents. I constantly witness parents telling their kids not to friend anyone on Facebook that they do not know. The hip parents tell their kids “NOT TO LMIRL” to anyone they have not previously met in real life (aka. Don’t talk with strangers). In the Twitter world. Many Twitter Teens already have many followers and would venture to guess that they do not even know who most of them are. I’ve seen kids with thousands of followers, and even if they had a fraction of their number, there is no practical way that they know every one of them. So basically, if your kids are on Twitter, they are probably talking to strangers – I’m sure many more strangers than you spoke to as a kid.
The Meaning Of Violence?
There is a dramatic difference when you start comparing the violence you were exposed to today’s kids. When I was the same age as my son, the extent of the violent content I was exposed to was negligible compared to today’s kids Sci Burg.
I was born in South Africa, and as a form of entertainment, my parents rented 16mm reel-to-reel movies on the weekend. The 16mm reel-to-reel movies were South Africa’s equivalent of North America’s, once popular, Beta or VHS. The 1967 Bonnie & Clyde was the most violent movie that my parents ever rented, which we (the kids) were sent to our bedrooms to play while they (our parents) watched a movie. Every once in a while, we sneak a peek and get our dose of blood & gore. Bonnie & Clyde, by the way, is rated R by the MPAA and Age 14 by Common Sense Media.
Fast forward to 2011 — I can list at least a dozen Internet or console-based games that are extremely violent in nature and knowledge of kids under 10 years old who play these games. I won’t detail the games, but they are rated “Not for Kids” and “5 circle violence” by Common Sense Media. Today’s violent content does not fit into the Bonnie & Clyde genre – what was rated R in 1967 seems to be rated OK for today’s teens. It is relative, though, in 1967, as a kid, I was trying to watch content that was “not for kids,” and in 2011, kids are still immersed in content that is “not for kids,” albeit the content is more graphically violent — eg. “Call of Duty.”
About The Internet For Kids
So when you start comparing kids to now and when you were a kid, it should be clear that today’s kids are more susceptible to dangers than yesterday’s kids. After taking into account bullying, sexual predators, and violent content, your initial inkling is to blame the Internet probably. Isn’t the Internet the big difference between now and then? It may seem so, but I do not believe the Internet and technology are to blame.
The Internet is just an efficient mechanism to get messages, information, and content from one place to another and has not changed human behavior’s underlying cause or motivation. Many documented stories show bullying, violence, and other related incidences and are part of our history. Internet or no Internet, there will still be bullying, sexual predators, and violent content. The Internet has just made access to content, messages, and information much easier and more pervasive than it’s ever been.
I believe that we can not eliminate bullying, sexual predator, and violent content because, to do so, we will need to dig really deep and start altering almost everything about society — not a realistic endeavor. We need to live with the consequences of our progression and keep on managing and tame the elements that have put our kids in potential danger. Even though I do not blame technology and the Internet as the source of our kid’s safety (or unsafety), I fully recognize that the Internet has given bullying, predators, and violent content an easy and inexpensive way to access and abuse the unassuming kid.
The bullying message can be carried more quickly, efficiently, and anonymously than a face-to-face conversation; Predators can hide behind smoke screens and pretend to be younger than they say; Content, violent or tame, can be distributed through the Internet more easily than renting a game or a video. The Internet is not going away and is evolving quickly.
We still need to do what we do best – that is, guide our kids safely until they can take over that responsibility themselves. It is necessary and important that we continue learning how to tame the ‘Internet beast.’ We will get there, but for now, our persistence to guide our kids safely through the Internet must prevail.
Gary Hyman is an authority on Kids Safety On The Internet [http://kidinternetsafetyguru.com/blog/]. He helps parents guide their kids safe on the Internet. For tips, advice, and tools to protect your kids on the Internet, please visit Kids Safety On The Internet [http://kidinternetsafetyguru.com/].