Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

The Safety Dance

Posted on Jun 17, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

The Safety Dance

Yesterday a slew kids were playing on their teacher’s computer during summer camp — one of them called out “FACEBOOK!” To the poor teacher’s horror, her FB page had popped up, photos and Wall posts and all, simply as the result of a kid clicking around on her browser.  Ugh. The afternoon was filled with fits of laughter from kids screaming, “Maestra has a FACEBOOK PAGE!,” to the hum of nan-er-nan-er-nan-er.

Now, I’m not a super security freak when it comes to online safety for my kids. La Gringa and I have worked building, managing and monetizing online communities as long as they’ve been around. (She didn’t get the name Yahoo! Sheriff for nothing.) All along, we’ve had a simple philosophy: teach the kids to utilize the web properly and we won’t have to use security measures to block out content. We put rules in place: browse the web at-will, but you must (a) use your laptop in a public place in the house (b) you may not watch video of any kind (c) you may not click on an ad of any kind (d) you may not speak with someone online of any kind with the exception of sites like Club Penguin that we trust for kid-centric communication.

You are freaking out, aren’t you? I bet you are. And so did my friends at BitDefender. And so did some moms in Chicago who sat shocked as I told tales of not using parental controls on my kids’ computers. Just hear me out.

I want to teach my children to understand fully what the power of the Internet means. I want them to learn to scope out dangers, understand potential hazards and learn to manage risks online. I am convinced that my children are smarter than I, and will figure out any barriers to entry I put before them to keep them from online dangers. We as a family decided to face the fears, point out the dangers and teach our children to respond appropriately to them. I am right there with my children when they call out, “Mom, a pop-up ad! Mom, they are selling me something! Mom, look!” And I do, I look and show them the little X box at the top to remove the ad, and we discuss what they did to get to the place online where they’d be subjected to such things (Sports Illustrated is famous in our house, as you can imagine).

One major pitfall for us has been Search. I’m beginning to understand that Search is wildly imperfect and that despite Yahoo! Search being a default on my kids’ computers, it does have danger. They are old enough to spell and type in the search bar for terms; however, they are not mature enough to know what results pages can render. And 6-year-olds misspell often. So a search on  C3PO (Star Wars is an obsession in our home), can result in a kid typing just “C3” which results in Cleveland Communities for Christ. Fine, right? Not so fast, it actually links to a Facebook Fan page which in turn links to photos, people and more.  An easy search on my son’s version of spelling “Korea” came up with results for “Karreena,” a sultry, scantily dressed Bollywood actress. Clearly, my Learning Through Transparency model doesn’t work for search.

I continue to push back against over controlling my children’s presence online. I want them to learn rights, wrongs and potential dangers online. If I constrict their web so intensely, I worry that they’ll explode with obsession when they learn that their version of the web has been so small, so protected, so unrealistic. At the same time, I am learning, day by day, that there are pitfalls to this philosophy and as my children age, the needle will have to move on just how  wide I let them explore.