Rules for Teenage Internet Access?


There's an interesting discussion over at Slashdot about kids and access to the Internet. Below is the post, the discussion continues here.

Kent Brewster writes "Despite dire warnings, we've gone ahead and put computers with Internet access into our adolescent (11, 12, and 15-year-old) childrens' rooms. We've got a nebulous set of rules, which include several like these: Keep the door open when you're on the computer. Don't quickly exit from everything when we walk past. Don't ever lie to us about what you're doing. Unfortunately we've had instances where all of these rules - especially that last one - have been broken, so now we are looking at getting more specific. We'd be very interested in hearing from both sides of the fence: parents with Net-connected progeny, and those who are chafing under their rule. Parents, once you're past making the huge mistake of actually letting the kids have computers in their rooms, what's a reasonable set of guidlines? Non-parents, what are the rules that chap your hide the worst? Do they actually make a difference in your behavior, or do you just sneak past them anyway? Finally, and this is sort of a meta-question from an exasperated dad, does everybody lie about what they're doing on the Internet?"


My 13 year old has unfettered, in room, broadband access to the net. There are no rules. He has undoubtably seem people with very few clothes on doing rather surprising things. And that is on the fashion sites.

However, he has come to me on a number of occassions to talk about some of the stuff which he has come across on the net. He's shown it to me or sent me the URL. Most of it has been pretty innocent, some has been very hard core. Both have been discussed.

The net effect of the no rule but close relationship seems to be that he looks at a bit of porn but mainly plays online games and chats on MSN to people who live two doors away.

I am inclined to think that children, especially boys, are going to look for pictures of naked women as a matter of course. As they travel the net they will see a lot of material which is obscene. Just as I did when I was 13 and, if is any indication, as my father and grandfather did.

In the course of his surfing my son has found pretty clear information about drugs, an AIDS and STD site which scared him badly enough that he initiated a condom discussion and some really awful music.

In the end rules simply ensure that kids figure out how to get around them. Talking to your kids about what they are finding, how they feel about that and if they see anything which disturbs them is better all round.

Oh! Thanks for the explanation. I'm filing away "pure as the driven slush" for future use...

Hi, Anna.

Are you saying that you want to make it illegal for minors to access the internet? Isn't that a bit of throwing the baby out with the bath water?

I don't. I'd much rather that self-proclaimed "grown ups" just stay the hell out of the way of kids' growing up and let them live them live their own lives. Far too few people understand that the purpose of parenthood is guidance, not control.

No, I was being facetious. Well, that and bitterly cynical. At any rate, it wouldn't work anyway. Somebody's darling little angel who is as pure as the driven slush would get caught with sleaze on his computer and his control freak mommy would shower shit and derision in all directions and demand even tighter controls. Which happens from time to time already.

Hi, Fiona.

All these parents screaming about access to porn on the net should look under their beds to see if their penthouse magazines are missing.

Good point. They should also check in their children's desks to see if there are any slips of paper with credit card numbers written on them. Some sites out there use credit card numbers for identification but not to charge for access. All you need for those sites is a valid e-mail address, and nobody asks for proof of age for opening an e-mail account, and you can have as many as you like.

The thing is, the net is not all porn.

Ah, but by the same token not everything a minor can do in a bar is illegal. You can order a soda pop instead a beer, but the proscription is not alone against underage drinking, it is also against the presence of a minor in a bar. The censorship movement against the internet is a lot like demanding that minors be allowed in bars as long as they don't drink alcoholic beverages, and then demanding that all the alcoholic beverages be removed anyway.

Do us a favour and leave some comments...This is a core question behind a lot of the CIPA/censorship issues. We need lots of perspectives...

Are you saying that you want to make it illegal for minors to access the internet? Isn't that a bit of throwing the baby out with the bath water?

IMHO, the only solution is open & honest communication with your kids. If they don't find it on the internet, they'll find it elsewhere, so there's no point in trying to shield them from whatever it is that you think is "dirty". But, if the communication channel is open betwen you and your kids, then you should be able to converse about both of your expectations with this tool.

In all my years of surfing the net, I have rarely stumbled upon a porn site by accident (or on purpose, for that matter). I can't understand why anyone else would be more prone to it than I am. Well, if they installed some spyware or other intrusive software, maybe.

But we don't have ropes in the library to stop kids getting access to the adult romance novels. Sure, they might not be able to borrow an 'adult' book on a 'children's' card, but who has ever been stopped by that?All these parents screaming about access to porn on the net should look under their beds to see if their penthouse magazines are missing.Access to material intended for adults is everywhere. Not being able to drink or smoke has never stopped someone under 18 from sneaking into a bar or smoking after school.The thing is, the net is not all porn. There is a lot of good, valuable information that you can't get anywhere else. Where else am I going to find up-to-the-minute political speeches, transcriptions of Hansard, UN reports, etc. Kids use all of these in school.

I still don't really know why there should be so much fuss about it. The answer is staring everybody in the face all the time. Only legal adults are allowed to gamble, buy cigarettes or booze, or go into bars or strip joints. So why not just rule that the internet is an adult only playground in the same way and pass a very simple and inexpensive law saying legal minors are not allowed access?

Well, actually, I know the answer to that. All those vapid, blood-sucking corporate parasites who have a vested interest in promoting censorship to inflate their profit margins won't stand for that, of course.

My daughter is almost fifteen. The only requirement I have ever laid on her is to come to me if she had any questions, and we used to watch CSI together. She seems to have dropped it this year, however, in favour of Survivor. Still can't figure that one out . . .

We have one computer, in full view of all. I don't much care about what she finds on the net, but at this point she's almost solely interested in role playing (mostly Neopets) and doesn't surf widely. She used to use IM and chat for yahoo roleplaying, but didn't understand why it was really really bad to give personal information to complete strangers. Now IM and chat are blocked, via Cyber Sitter just for her safety. I wouldn't put a computer in her room, nor would I put a tv in her room (not at 12, though, and not when we have awful battles about getting homework done and everything else is a huge distraction). The guy who posted on slashdot, though--it's his family and I guess he's doing the right thing for them.

Computers, just like television and video games, are fun, entertaining, educational, and downright dangerous without supervision. I think the most important thing for the kids to know is that Mom and Dad are watching. That way, if they get into trouble, kids will know that you'll know (or find out soon enough)and help get them out of it. If they are where they don't belong, they know you'll find out and ground them from the computers; a few days of missed IM, they'll feel out of the loop (literally) and won't be so anxious to visit that site again; plus it gives them a really good reason to say no when someone else suggests another inappropriate site. The basic rules of parenting don't change, no matter how advanced the newest invention is. (Yeah- watch those new photo cell phones!) As parents you will be called dumb, old, square, stupid, assorted unprintables, whatever; but the next time your local paper runs an article about the latest pervert they caught in a teen chat room, you and your children will be thankful that there was an adult watching. Kids will always fight whatever boundaries parents impose- its part of the process of growing up. But they need to know those boundaries are there- because they inherently know that behind them, they are safe. Just like playing "tag" doesn't work without "home", kids cannot push & learn without a safe zone. Parents do know what is best for them, their kids, and their lifestyle; and if they continue to accept responsibility for all of the above, the government agencies won't have as much reason to try to step up and step into those roles.

PS: The reason kids lie about where they have been on the Internet is the same reason they lied about stealing the cookies before supper. Its just something kids do- and our job as parents is to call them on it.

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