They're going to take over the world, you know. Computers. I've seen it in the movies. I've read books. I hear tell. Technology will be our undoing. And as with all big, scary things, it will start with the children.
The internet isn't something we need to teach young people to fear, but if you watch the news you might think so. I've always been cautious with regard to exposing young people to the web. I used to work in internet security as an off-shoot of my language forensics background, and believe me... it's actually safer now. We simply need to respect the powers, dangers, and freedoms that come with a username and password just as we do those that come with a driver's license.
Not as wacky as it sounds. According to the American Psychological Association, there are serious benefits to being a computer nerd. And this news is not new. A study in 2006 showed that between 75 and 90 percent of teens were using the internet for texting, messaging, and email. Even in economically depressed areas most students had access through their schools. And the great news is that kids who use the internet frequently had higher test scores. Low income children show the greatest benefits with internet use.
But that doesn't mean it's all smilies and sunshine. Recent stories in the news of a teen committing suicide following harassment on MySpace and the constant stream of cautionary tales of internet predators abound. It seems almost daily a pedophile is plastered on a front page somewhere and images of a dirty old man crouched over a porn-filled laptop in a dark basement terrify parents.
I think the key should be an obvious one: the aforementioned responsibility. Net Nanny and similar programs can often be counter-productive, limiting access to valuable information about sexuality, STDs, even in some cases blocking sites about breast cancer and HIV. I'm not a fan of censorship. But I like what I see some friends with kids doing; which is monitoring and having open dialogues.
I asked my friend Roxanne, who has two boys breaching puberty, both big fans of the internet, how she handles it. Her solutions seemed wise to me: no online access out of eye-shot; mom and dad are allowed to check browser history; questions such as "what are you doing? always get a straight and verifiable answer or use is restricted. Of course, nothing is a more valuable tool for parents and kids than just talking about it.
It really is no more nefarious, dangerous, or frivolous than a driver's license. You follow the rules and the restrictions appropriate for your age. Parents monitor and pay attention. Kids take precautions and adhere to the rules.
I know technophobia is both contagious and a seductive fear. The world is scary, but we live in it. Chris Hansen has us all scared to death, and that's a good thing. Information is power. And the Information Superhighway now dominates the landscape of our world. It's how we get around. It's how we keep in touch, self-educate, and entertain ourselves. And it's not going away. We might as well prepare ourselves and enjoy the ride.