On a Friday morning walk with friends, a fellow walker is talking about how her son deals with where and how his children explore sites on the Internet. Not only does he have parental locks on certain sites, but he keeps the computer in the living room--the main room of the house. Whatever some one is looking at is available to anyone passing by. Then change reared its head. For her grandson's 13th birthday, the other grandmother bought him a laptop to use in his room. He was thrilled. The parents--not so much.
In this age of the Internet, we parents of grown children are innocents. We never had to deal with the risks the Internet poses: it's not just the availability of pornography or of the ability of unbalanced people to prey on children, but there are a host of privacy issues inherent in social media contact--to say nothing of concerns that what your grandchildren post today is out there forever, what they link to can be linked back to them, and that there's an impulse control issue: it's easy to say online what they wouldn't--and shouldn't--say in person.
My friend's son can't keep his teenage children "in the living room" forever. As Carl Pickhardt writes in a recent posting in Psychology Today on Parents, Adolescents and the Internet, "This isn't Kansas anymore. Computer travel on the Internet has vastly increased the field of play for adolescents, in the process vastly complicating the responsibilities of parents."
I plowed through Pickhardt's piece as a way of sensitizing myself to what my grown children will be facing in dealing with their children and the Internet. I don't want to break a "house" rule or misunderstand why a rule (say, no computers in the bedroom) is in place. Here are some of the points I picked up about parental controls on Internet use:
Gaming and the endless social networking may seem a waste of time to some of us, but it's part of a kids acquiring Internet proficiency. "Any use is practice, but not all use is otherwise beneficial," Pickhardt writes. "However, competence on the Internet has become an essential life skill."
For safety's sake, parents need to set rules for where on the Internet their children can go (and we grandparents should find out what they are): "Because the home computer is a major portal to the Internet, [parents] may impose conditions that prohibit certain destinations for the present, explaining why."
Kids need to maintain a healthy balance of life experiences. "It's easy to sacrifice physical exercise, face to face socializing, creative self-expression, family time, household chores, and homework, for compelling Internet activity. At issue is the balance between how much of life is lived online and how much is lived offline."
As part of the offline generation, we may encourage our Grands to be up and about in the real world, but we also need to stay up to speed on the online risks.