Why parents should act as real-time censors to combat the manifold threats the internet poses to children.
The difference between a child and an adult is that children are more vulnerable to the effects of everything from sunburn and alcohol to ideas and images. And while free speech may seem a laudable aim between adults, the concept is now being used primarily by commercial interests to speak freely to our children. It all sounds very open and honest, but what children need is censorship.
This is the first time in our history that children have had the greatest preponderance of ideas, opinions, values and - most importantly - images delivered as a takeaway directly to their eyes and ears, without the knowledge and mediation of their parents. There have never been so many influences "speaking" freely to our children out of earshot. Such an imbalance has profound and worrying consequences.
While society is preoccupied with protecting children from so-called inappropriate content and, of course, online paedophiles, the main risk for children is insidious and to do with nudging our children in directions that are often at odds with our values and what is good for them. For example, accessing images of thousands of unnaturally slim and digitally enhanced, blemish-free young women is not considered in the slightest bit "inappropriate", yet there is strong evidence that this directly affects the self-esteem of developing girls and is linked directly with the development of eating disorders. And, of course, the plethora of adverts or mere images of consumer goods has created the most demanding, acquisitive, materialistic and entitled generation we have ever seen.
And then there are the overlooked effects of investing so much time in the virtual as opposed to the real world. Time spent online is increasing sharply with an enormous increase in social networking among younger children, which, according to a study this year by Childwise Monitor
, "has overtaken fun (online games) as the main reason to use the internet". The term "social networking" rolls off the tongue without much thought. Yet, for developing children, it defies the very definition of social. Those drawn to interacting with others through a screen would once have been called introverted or shy.
Now, chat rooms are hailed for giving them a voice and even the more gregarious are spending more time alone. The damage done by displacing key periods of emotional and social development with time in front of a screen doesn't have the sense of dramatic risk that internet paedophilia does. However, increasing time spent in a virtual world displaces vital development time experiencing real socialising, learning to interpret, respond to, and cope with, the nuances of real emotion, relationships, disappointments and disagreements - the human condition.
Protecting children online is, yes, partly a technical and legal issue involving broadband and browser filters, but protecting children online is really a parenting issue. If you really want to protect your children, you have to do what parents have always done: to mediate and filter what they see and hear within reason. That means online computers should be within your eye and earshot and not in a child's bedroom. It's called real-time censorship and it's the most effective thing ever invented. The main obstacle is a generation of parents afraid of confrontation and being authoritarian - or too busy surfing themselves.
[Original article can be found here.]