Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Keeping The Kids Safe Online

I read a scary article the other day. You've probably run into similar ones. Kids these days, it informed me, are the porn generation -- the first generation to grow up with constant access from the youngest possible age to a wide variety of free online pornography courtesy of their computers and smartphones. It went through the usual parade of horribles: twelve-year-old "sexting" each other, boys who find anything short of torture porn (including real sex) banal, etc.

There's plenty to scare parents in this sort of article, but at the same time, I tend to assume it's a source to be taken with a certain degree of perspective. Sure, what the article is talking about is clearly out there. I don't think that the author is making things up. But parents have a tendency to gather towards a good scare, so there's a tendency for such articles to search out the very worst they can find.

The first thing this kind of article always makes me think is how important it is to give our children a strong set of moral principles and to make sure that their friends at these key young ages (our eldest is currently ten) are kids who share our beliefs.

But it also served to remind me that the day is coming when we'll have to decide how to deal with online issues. Every so often the oldest two demand to know when they will have iphones -- complaining that their friends already have them. The answer right now is simple: "When you're old enough that we want to be able to call you or when you can afford to pay for one." Policing computer usage right now also isn't that hard. It mostly consists of keeping them from spending inordinate amounts of time playing computer games on the AmericanGirl website or on CoolMathGames, or watching episodes of How Its Made on YouTube and of Phineas and Ferb on NetFlix.

Some months ago we were thrown into a panic when our second oldest accused her older sister of having created a secret email while over at a friend's house. We talked to the accused and it turned out she'd simply written down on a slip of paper a fake email address, which she then used to sign up for an account on a computer game they were playing. This wasn't concerning the way having a secret email address would have been, but we did have a talk with the two of them about how they were not allowed to create online computer game accounts without talking to us first. One area that I don't want them wandering as of yet is into large online games which allow chat or messaging between the users.

In general, however, the kids are focused on having real life fun with their friends on the block and in the homeschooling group. They're not pushing to use email or facebook or spend time doing anything but the most innocent stuff online. Which, I suppose, it why this wouldn't be a bad time for us to figure out how we'll address the issue when it comes up in earnest.

My family was fairly tech forward. We were on Prodigy and GEnie back in the early '90s. One of my best friends moved out of state when I was ten or so, and she and I corresponded for up through college via email. We had a single email address that the family shared, but my parents were conscientious about not intentionally reading my email. (Her father, on the other hand, believed it was his duty to skim over all communications going on via their family email, so we also wrote snail mail letters where things like crushes and teenage angst were discussed in secret.)

When the web came along I was able to use that quite freely as well -- though since this was well before wireless routers the only computer that could dial (yes, with a dial up modem, this was the old days) the internet was in the middle of the living room, so it's not as if I could have sneaked off to look at bad stuff even if I'd been particularly eager to.

My subjective impression is that it was easier to stumble on the bad parts of the internet without meaning to back then. The primative search engines that were around in the mid '90s would sometimes send you to some pretty hair-raising stuff completely by accident. I don't think I've had that sort of thing happen to me in five plus years now.

Based on my own experience my initial instict is to be fairly open with online usage, but to restrict where people can access it. I'd rather keep the kids' internet access restricted to the desktop computer in the library, which with seven people in the house always has someone popping in or out. And I don't intend to be handing out smartphones to kids any time soon. I'd lean towards restricting any use of social media until fairly late teens, but that's more because I"m concerned about the massive time wastage that it might result in that because I worry about the kids getting into trouble with it.

However, every time I run into some particularly scary article I wonder if I'm being to blase about the whole thing. Any advice from those who have been young more recently or who have older kids?


Rebekka said...

No help with your mission, although I'm interested in what others have to say. I did get a flashback to the late 90s, though, when I had to write a paper for an archaeology class and ran "dating methods" through a search engine. Ouch.

And it's really hard not to use google as a verb when talking about Internet searches.

Anonymous said...

My oldest child is a 15 year old boy. You are right about keeping access centralized, and he still has no phone. However, we've had trouble with him "sneaking off" during online classes to search the back alleys while he should be at class (while Mom is tending to the other homeschoolers). He's also admitted to getting up at night while everyone else is sleeping to search around.

So here we rely on his moral grounding and thanks be to God, we usually know when he has slipped because he tells us he needs to go to confession.

So maybe with visual-oriented boys especially you need to remember the adage: "treat them like little angels, but watch them like little devils..."

Jeffrey Kinney said...

We've used a slow rollout. Brendan (14.5) started using our house cell phone (cell (phone with the house number attached to it) last summer, mostly due to the fact that he started having activities outside of the house frequently, including lawn-mowing gigs that he needed rides to and from. He's had an email account for a about two years which I freely told him we'd be checking. We had one issue where he and a few friends had rude comments in their chat logs, but that was resolved fairly quickly.

Recently he asked for his own laptop due to copious amounts of online or typed schoolwork, plus for use in his upcoming journey into high school. While I was completely willing to play the "too expensive for us/you" card, his godmother decided that this would be his birthday / Christmas / pre-graduation present. So far no issues, though I know it gets used more for Team Fortress 2 than homework!

I guess so far we have been lucky that both Brendan and Nathaniel are willing to stay on the beaten path we've set for them. We've got ways to find out if they leave (web surfing monitors) but I know if they tried hard enough, they could circumvent them. Thankfully, they seem to take our judgment as in their best interest and steer clear of people and events that are contrary.

Jenny said...

Since my oldest is seven, I've got no real advice for you. She is already asking for an iPhone--um, I don't have an iPhone. She also wants a TV in her room. That's easy. No. She is also asking more and more to get online to play games and whatnot. Very innocent stuff.

I can tell you about my parents' experience with my brother. In the late 90s, we had one computer in the living room. My parents have always gone to bed early. Nine is late for my mother. He would wait until they went to bed and then surf the web for porn. He was caught repeatedly and eventually he stopped getting caught. I won't say he stopped looking at it because 1) I don't know and 2) I suspect he got better at covering his tracks.

I would definitely say the best defense is the development of virtue. In my house growing up, the overriding moral principle was, "Be nice because it's nice to be nice." Very thin gruel. And confession? Not likely. I was brought to confession twice in my whole childhood. Once at first confession and then once again, randomly, in the eighth grade. I am almost sure that my brother has only been once, the first time.

I would think that developing the habits of virtue are the best defense. If you are only relying on your supervision as a defense, well, that's easily bypassed.

entropy said...

Our oldest is a 14 yo girl. Her and her 11 yo sister have had email accounts since they were 8 or 9, mostly to email grandparents. The oldest has had a pre-paid phone with no internet access since she was 12. She still uses it (if she uses up the minutes before time to renew...too bad, so sad).

We've talked about the rules and been more explicit in the things that are unacceptable as she's gotten older.

She's a great kid so we're not terribly worried that she'll start sexting anytime soon but to make sure she stays a great kid we keep reminding her what is expected of her.

Also, we absolutely don't put up with any lying or sneakiness ever. If we can't trust them they get no privileges (as in her entire world would shut down--no tv, internet, phone, or friends--if she was caught surfing the web for porn or making secret accounts.)

That said, we have a kids' computer in a central location which has unrestricted access to the internet but the (littler) kids know which sites they're allowed to visit and doing otherwise gets their privileges taken away.

The oldest has a laptop for school and unrestricted access to the internet which she sometimes uses in her room for research or games because we trust her. We don't look up her history or read her texts but she knows that if we felt there was a reason to, we wouldn't hesitate.

She doesn't have facebook, much to her dismay, but she does have an instagram and we've had some discussions about appropriateness based on things she's posted. (Even though we'd already had those discussions--somehow she missed the point!)

So, that's what we do (so far). We reserve the right to change the rules.

Brittany @ Kids Email said...

You've got it right, there are a lot of scary things easily accessible to kids.

We have a couple tools to help parents be safe online. We have a Kids Browser and Kids Email service. I'd invite anyone with children 6-12 to come try us out. Gives parents a peace of mind :)

Anonymous said...

If you are looking for complete parental control for the iPhone/iPad, check out FREE McGruff SafeGuard.

You may remember McGruff “The Crime Dog” - Take A Bite Out of Crime - from your youth.

They also provide have a Windows Parental Control system: (

McGruff SafeGuard offers a Child Safe Browser app that is identical to Safari, but provides a parent with full control of the categories of websites that a child can visit.

It also provides a summary of activity to the parent via email.

Look into

Anonymous said...

Ha! Parents, trust but verify! My oldest had an iPhone and laptop and we trusted her. Until I needed to use her phone, managed to crack her code, and discovered sexting, self harm, satanism, and an eating disorder. This from my seemingly smart sweet helpful daughter who loves babies and dancing, and went to mass communion and confession with the family regularly.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not sure what we're going to do as they get older. Right now they play a few games on the iPad while I'm nearby. My parents never talked to me about chastity or avoiding things that would be unchaste. I want to do that, but I don't know when to do it. My oldest is seven now, so hopefully I have a bit more time. I am afraid of saying things too early; or worse yet, too late.

JMB said...

My oldest is 17 and he has had a cell phone since 4th grade. Our biggest problem with him and his phone (and his bike, retainer, jackets, hats, sports equipment, books and homework) is losing it. We had a big scandel in town regarding a 14 year old sexting and the PoPo came in and scared the &*&6 out of the middle schoolers about child porn and passing on images etc that thankfully that hasn't been an issue here. As for the computer, I've always kept them in public rooms. I'm around a lot so I will hover about and keep close. When our son was at private school we had to buy a laptop for him and the school put a ton of blocking software on it. I don't think he's tech savvy enough to get through it but I could be wrong.

By and large, I think you have to be present and remember that teenagers will screw up, sometimes big and sometimes little. I've had to work on finding a balance between giving them freedom and pulling back the reigns when necessary.

Foxfier said...

Well...I'm all of at most five years younger than you, but the ideas of "internet is in family areas, no private email until you're a teen" is a good one.

If someone's worried about their kids having an email that is theirs, use the gmail linked account feature-- I believe Hotmail has it, too. Explain that there are some very nasty things out there, and you want to protect them. Some of the spam I get these days, I can almost see my mom dying of a heart attack if she'd seen....

I wasn't exactly a high-risk kid, and we didn't have internet until I was a teenager, but it was pretty much the same as books. Mom would ask what I'm reading, borrow books from me and we'd talk about them. (I got her hooked on Drizzt.)
Never did tell her about slash fiction, but that was more not wanting to have her deal with the mind-breaking notion of Kirk dating Spock.

With my other siblings, lack of physical supervision is what caused them problems. My folks trusted some parents to actually parent that they shouldn't have. Nothing fatal, though.

Anonymous said...

If you want complete parental control for the iPhone/iPad, look into FREE McGruff SafeGuard.

You might remember McGruff “The Crime Dog” - Take A Bite Out of Crime - from your youth.

They also have have a Windows Parental Control system: (

McGruff SafeGuard provides a Child Safe Browser app that is a look-alike for Safari, and provides parents with full control of the categories of websites that can be visited.

It also provides a report of activity to the parent via email.

Check out