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?