Monday, January 14, 2008
The Internet: a dark alley or the neighborhood soda shop?
I will be speaking at the Parenting Forum here in Wayzata next month about Internet Safety. I have spoken on this topic before, and I always try to frame it in this way. Would you drop your child off on a dark street in Minneapolis and say, "Have fun! I'll pick you up in two hours!"? Of course not, but we stick children on the Internet unmonitored for two hours without thinking about it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a doom and gloom guy. We as parents do bring our children to a variety of places, show them the way, teach them how to cross streets, introduce them to people, etc... Over time, we entrust them with more responsibility to walk on their own or meet friends there.
So why is it so hard for us to understand what is appropriate when it comes to the Internet? I always take students to websites. We explore them together, discussing possible dangers, responsible use, and appropriate behavior. Over time, they are given more responsibility to visit those sites on their own. If we meet people online along the way, I introduce them or help them make wise choices about how to introduce themselves, just as I would if we were walking down the city streets.
The Internet to me is the neighborhood soda shop. It is a place to socialize, have fun, make a purchase, or run an errand. Good parents supervise their children going to and from the soda shop, just as they should supervise them online. We would never suggest that kids not go to the local hangout to see their friends. So why would we suggest that online hangouts are inherently bad?
We need to provide our kids and students opportunities to learn how to interact appropriately online. This is their global neighborhood with places to hang out, have fun, play creatively, listen to music, and so much more. Let's not take that away, but let's not abdicate our responsibilites as parents and teachers to teach our children to act appropriately and safely in all aspects of their lives.