[thelist] Kids on the net

David Kaufman david at gigawatt.com
Fri Aug 1 18:58:18 CDT 2003

rudy <rudy937 at rogers.com> wrote:
>> Have any of you parent 'volters come had to deal with this yet?
>> If so, what worked for you and what didn't?
> here's what i did -- i warned them that there are bad sites out
> there, that contain all kinds of bad stuff including hatred,
> misinformation, stupidity, and porn
> [more good stuff snipped]
> basically, the parental filter that i've installed is their good sense

+1 to all of that.

my daughter has been online since she was 9 (she'll be 15 next week!)
and the only thing i'd add is to make sure to stress to them that they
should use only made-up nicknames when chatting and posting to web
boards, etc. and to *never* give out their real name, address, phone
number or even the name of the town they live in, or the school they go
to, to anyone they meet online.

she tended to be a little *too* trusting of her chatmates (at the time
it was Xena's web-based chat boards and fan sites).  i stressed to her
that *no* one that she met online needed to know where she lived or
her real name or phone number.  i may have scared her explaining that
with just her (somewhat unique) first name, and the name of her school,
which pretty much included the name of the town, a would-be kidnapper
living anywhere within a hundred miles would know exactly where to
stand and wait on school days, if he decided he wanted to meet her in
real life.  and i stressed that online she needed to protect and control
that personal information, and keep her online friends where she wanted
them: online.

this seemed to impress upon her that someone even *asking* for such
personal information was not to be trusted, and before long she learned
on her own to how to block people who IM'ed her that she didn't feel
comfortable talking to, for any reason, and she had quite a long list!
she soon realized that her real friends online didn't care where she
lived, and accepted her nickname at face value, and it was the rest of
them that were to be avoided and now brags that she can "spot them a
mile away".

another important thing i've always done, and i think this is perhaps
the *most* important thing, after security, is to just occasionally ask
her where she's been hanging out online and get her talking about where
she goes and what she does.  show an interest.  let them know you're
interested and concerned about their wanderings.  she's always been
happy to tell me all about the latest cool places, things and people
she's finding, and i get to listen, *and* put my two cents in, *and* try
to help her sort out fact from fiction sometimes, or voice my concern
that the websites and opinions of skinheads' and anarchists' might not
be the best place to learn tolerance and get a well-rounded outlook on

these little conversations, and her out-of-the-blue questions about
stuff she found, heard or saw on the internet, have stimulated
conversations between us many times, on topics that probably never
would have come up in the normal course of parent/child life that
looking back, i'm really glad we had.  but most importantly, i've
learned *not* to come down with my instinctive parental judgments too
quickly, to keep an open mind, and foster a trust between us, that she
can talk to me about *anything*.  i think she sensed that she was given
that *respect* to make her own informed choices, and her judgment has
been all the better for it.  kids really do care what they're parents
think of them.  and i think the pride she felt the first time i noticed
her blocked list, and said something like "wow, *no* one can talk to
*you* unless they behave, can they?  good job!" or complimenting her
on her new nickname, or choice of fanciful hometown (she's lived
everywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe, as far as her online friends were
concerned) was more important to her than peeking at porn or reading
"adult" stories.

as she got a little older, she has always found her classmates online,
and i think they communicate more electronically than we did in person!
in fact, i do think that rather than becoming introverted (like her
father, as i'd feared) she's made *more* and better friends among her
real life friends, after getting to know some more online, as people
tend to open up more to a PC than than they would in school, or in
their normally peer-pressured social cliques, for some reason.

the rules have relaxed quite a bit, now.  i trust her judgment
completely and the only real restriction now is that the broadband
ceases to function at 9:30 on school nights, and 11:30 otherwise.  this
of course is *completely* unfair, and *nobody* else is treated like this
by *their* parents.  every single one of her friends is allowed to stay
up all night *long* chatting on AOL (to hear her tell it).  but i've
always stuck to my guns on bedtimes and the need to get off the computer
at least a half an hour before bed.

some people recommend keeping a watchful eye on your kids while they're
younger and online, looking over their shoulders from time to time, and
not letting them have a computer in their room, and that may make sense
for some families -- i don't know - but i do feel that the use of
so-called "filtering" software is exactly like telling kids they can go
to the store, but not to look at the magazines.  it just piques their
curiosity even more :-)  i'd much rather tell them how i feel about a
particular type of subject matter, so they know "what dad would say",
and then show them that you trust them to use their *own* judgment,
encourage them to ask *us* about anything they're not sure about, and
make sure they feel safe telling you Absolutely Anything without you
freaking out on them (because sometimes they will, and you'll want to).

i'm glad we did it this way back then, because by this age she knows a
lot about the world that, had we "filtered" from her, or otherwise just
told her was forbidden, she'd be now feeling old enough to sneak around
and find out what the big deal is with sex and drugs and skinheads.  and
she wouldn't even know what our honest opinions about this controversial
subject or that bizarre corner of society is, and now at least she does.


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