Restricting Access to The Web

It is undeniable that the internet is a fantastic source for information and communication tool but it is also a cesspool of problems if a child has unrestricted access to it. As my eldest child inches ever closer to teen hood, my wife and I are frequently evaluating how much access is too much access. As educators, we hear about all sorts of unsettling things that kids are up to online and most, if not all of it, avoidable if only parents would restrict their children’s access to the net.

So many of us simply hand over all these wonderful technological gadgets to our kids without so much as a thought about the grief they can get into.  When it comes right down to it, kids do not need their own cell phone or computer. My kids don’t even have a gaming system of any kind. Their access to the web is limited by the fact they do not have the tools to access it and nor will they until they are 16 or older.

Now keep in mind that I am not advocating an absolute ban on internet use, it is a necessary tool for most people in the modern world and we need to teach our kids to use it properly. What I am advocating is, being cautious about how much unsupervised access to the internet you give to your kids prior to the age of 16. Why 16? Well it has been my experience that if you can get your kid through grade 10 without too much damage, they usually come out alright by grade 12 and at some point you have to let them off the lead to run.

What follows, are some points to ponder as they relate to the three most common pieces of technology which allow kids to Social Network. All three have proven themselves to be problematic for kids without some kind of limits to their use and before you make any decisions about how you will deal with these items, you need to think about the issues around them.

Computer Access

The Problems

  • A computer in a child’s room or unfettered access to a laptop is a recipe for trouble. When a child can surf unsupervised they can Get into all sorts of trouble.
  • They can freely bully or be bullied. This sort of activity thrives of the absence of parental supervision.
  • Readily available access to the latest porn or (god forbid… and it has happened) become a home grown porn star themselves. I have heard of children as young as 8 surfing porn sites on their very own laptops.
  • Online gambling is another HUGE danger and has caused all sorts of problems for families when a child gets addicted. It usually starts off as a “Social Networking” activity but frequently blossoms into a real problem, especially if your child has access to a credit card.

Possible Solutions

  • Computers should be where the parents are and if there is no parent, there is no computer use.
  • Password protect your home computer so that they cannot get access unless you allow it.
  • Unless your child is in some kind of computer immersion program your child does not need a personal computer until grade 10 at the earliest. Don’t get snowed by the “I need it for school” line. If they need one for school, your child’s school will tell you and if that is the case they can have used laptops.

Cell Phones/Smart Phones

The Problems

  • Many kids spend more time focused on their cell phones then they do any other aspect of their lives. They have become all absorbed in “keeping in touch”. Texting, social network updates and video uploads become all consuming. They are a distraction in school; facilitate unnecessary social drama and teenaged angst.
  • GPS location capabilities of the cell phones can provide up to the second location information of your child not only for you but for predators.  There have been documented cases where kids have been sexually assaulted because of a status update that provided the time and their location.
  • Sexting is the newest risqué thing to do between boyfriend and girlfriend. Take a half or whole naked pic of yourself and send it off to your high school sweetheart. Problem is (besides the obvious over exposure issues) these “Sexts” frequently end up spread far and wide due to a serious lack of discretion between partners or as a form of revenge when it comes break up time. These sexts will frequently make their way to the social networking sites by which point they are virtually irretrievable and a reputation is destroyed.

Possible Solutions

  • Don’t buy your kids a cell phone
  • If you have to get one, buy one that is just a phone and no other features. Kids don’t need a smart phone… hell, parents don’t need a smart phone. They are a colossal waste of money. Trust me, I have one and want to get rid of it.
  • Some cell phone providers will allow you to custom make a plan that severely restricts your child’s cell phone use. Use it, if only to drive your kid nuts.
  • Lend you kid your cell phone if they need one when they go out. Chances are they won’t be messing around with your phone and if they do you will know about it.

Gaming Systems

I include Gaming systems because virtually all gaming systems today have a internet connection and a social network to go along with it. There are HUGE gaming communities which kids participate in so yes gaming systems are included.

The Problems

  • Kids who have unrestricted access to these devices will frequently spend all if not a good portion of the night gaming with others online. Sleep deprivation and a seriously messed up sleep patterns are common issues.
  • Other than the sleep deprivation, kids are failing to attend school because they are too tired or all consumed with gaming. The word psychologists are using for this type of behaviour is addiction and school performance is a common casualty.
  • Kids become socially isolated from the real world and do not develop proper real world relationships.
  • Serious cognitive development issues have been tied to excessive gaming.

Possible Solutions

  • Don’t get a gaming system. Kids do not need to have one. They may even try reading or playing outside if they don’t have one.
  • If you have one, restrict their use to weekends ending Sunday before dinner.
  • Remember that you dictate the rules around use not your kid and if they try to pull any tantrum nonsense, the gaming system goes bye bye. Not for a day but for a week minimum or perhaps as much as a month for a first offence.

We all know that kids make stupid mistakes, that is a given. You made them and I made them but most of our parents didn’t make it easy to get into trouble and if we did… god help us, we would pay and pay and pay until they felt we were sorry for our sins. Today, we seem to hand over the tools of self destruction and let our kids have at them and when things go terribly wrong we look for someone to blame, rather than looking squarely in the mirror and saying to ourselves, “What the hell was I thinking?”

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