It’s been fun to write about how parents and educators can act as leaders in our children’s use of digital media and the Internet. Today, I am going to write about Internet-safe practices for the 10 to 14-year-old age group.
This is not a topic that I am comfortable with, for I have no pat answers, I don’t feel that I can make any sweeping statements (usually love those), or that I can give advice that might be applicable to the mainstream. It is a situation though that is very near to my heart and with which I am currently struggling with. For, you see, I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who is challenging my parental wisdom and skills in a manner that my eighteen-year-old son never did, when it comes to wanting free access to the Internet.
My daughter is more challenging than her brother, just because my son didn’t spend any time in the Internet until we got a DSL connection at home about 2 ½ years ago. There is also a difference in their personalities that contributes to the situation. My son is a very reserved and private person when it comes to verbal communication (a diplomatic way of saying he doesn’t talk much). I tend to say, he is an active, but silent participator in our family unit.
My daughter is just the opposite: an active and vocal contributor to our unceasing domestic chaos. Her interest in the Internet is influenced by her older brother, fellow classmates, friends, and, to a lesser extent, her parents. Up until about six months ago, these Internet activities were:
- The occasional YouTube session of watching “Who’s Line is It Anyways?” (You have to understand that we don’t have a television in our household, but embarrassingly, we own six computers.)
- Playing (wasting time) online games for her one-hour gaming allotment (3 days/week). Her favourite sites were (online J&R games, zefrank programs, and the stardoll.com site).
- After she turned twelve, she was allowed to play one hour of WoW (World of Warcraft) once a week. The first six months or so, she could only play in accompaniment of her father or brother. This was a precaution we took because the “tone of voice” on the game chat between the players can get nasty when new players don’t play well and cause their group to lose a game challenge.
The time she spent in the Internet was restricted, the content discussed or approved. She also, occasionally needs to research information for school homework, but that is so minimal it hardly bears mentioning.
About six months ago, my daughter asked us whether she could set up a profile on a national high school student community: sort of like Facebook, but only for 12-18 year olds. No adults are allowed. They also need an email address to use the site.
I wasn’t so thrilled with the idea. My husband, a WoW fan(atic), was neutral on the topic. He gets the online thing, but not if there is no gaming. His WoW activities have more to do with gaming than they do with social interaction.
So, my daughter and I had to battle things out amongst ourselves. We asked my son to contribute to our discussion, as a neutral, but informed, moderate. These are the guidelines we worked out:
- She could put a photo of herself on her profile page, if it was in no way provocative (my stipulation)
- Her profile can only be accessed by her friends (her suggestion)
- There was a six-month trail period, to see how much time she tends to spend on the site (her brother’s suggestion)
- Copies of all her emails and message announcements are forward to my email account. I will not read the emails or messages; just register their quantity or frequency (my stipulation)
The reason we created a trail periods, was so that we could eventually talk about the amount of time spent on the site. This is because her brother thinks the only real risk of being a member of this site, is the amount of time you waste. One or two of his friends spend hours every day doing this.
I stipulated that her emails and message announcements be forwarded to my email account for two reasons. First, it is a matter of trust. I am trying to trust my daughter. She’s trying to trust me. I’m trying to live up to her trust. The emails come through my account, I register this fact, and then I throw them unread in my trash.
Secondly, it has to do with the potential danger of my daughter encountering a perpetrator or bully. A friend of mine, who worked for many years in a shelter for abused women and children, once told me that the media was fond of supporting the myth that most perpetrators are strangers. When the reality is most often otherwise; most victims know their abusers. Certainly, the friends and acquaintances I’ve known who suffered abuse or rape nearly always fell into the later group.
So, my reasoning for forwarding the emails is, if my daughter is running into a dangerous situation, maybe just maybe, she’ll tell me, or maybe I can see the signs of obsessive activity though an increase in correspondence, or maybe, hopefully, she will be able to avoid the situation right from the beginning. I just don’t want her to feel alone with the situation.
Also, I do wonder whether setting up a system of checks and controls has other pedagogical uses. I really have no idea. This is very dark swampy ground I’m navigating through. I can’t imagine what it must be like for my daughter.
P.S. Thank you to my daughter, for reading this article and giving me her permission to post it.