The dangers of kids posting online are nothing new. From perpetrators to defamation, there are a number of things that can come back to haunt children as a result of their online communications. Tim Donovan, Marketing VP of Industrious Kid, discusses his perspective on this topic in the following News.com article: "Are you watching what your kids post?"
According to Donovan, "Kids and teens who eagerly post personal information and thoughts on various blogging and social-networking sites are leaving a digital trail that can have serious implications for their futures... We are still quite naive as a digital culture, and young people are finding out that what you put up on the Web can still be following you around 10 years later... Once you air your dirty digital laundry on the public Internet, you can't take it down and fold it and put it away. It is out there forever, accessible by search engines and completely beyond your control."
Should children have the same rights as adults when it comes to freedom of speech? "One of the harsh realities of cyberspace is that free speech can be a very loose and very big cannon when wielded by teens and tweens. Research shows that the part of the brain that controls impulses and mitigates against rash behavior isn't fully developed until well into young adulthood. [Sonja: I know several adults who still don't have a firm grip on impulse control!] It is very good to educate kids about digital trails and the effect they can have later on, but it won't change this biological fact."
"As adults, we have to be responsible for our words and actions, but as parents, we need to protect our children from themselves and their impulses. We provide safe places in the physical world for our kids to congregate and interact, and we need to do no less in the virtual world... Whether we are worried about pedophiles and cyberbullies, or about self-authored content that could brand our children forever, the answer is the same: We need a compelling and yet protected environment in which kids can create and share content. We must come up with a closed ecosystem in which our kids can safely flex their digital muscles and develop the skill sets they will need in the Internet age."
With so many popular and appealing Web sites out there, this task is not going to be an easy one to undertake. How do you make a protective environment compelling (or a "cool" place to go), especially when the tantalizingly "dangerous" places are still generating a great deal of hype - oh, and all of their friends are going there? Will Timmy settle for PupPlace instead of MySpace? Maybe when you're monitoring his activity!! I was the kid who snuck cigarettes and drank half-empty cans of beer the morning after my folks had company, before anyone woke up. Flat warm beer sucks, but the taste of the forbidden was incredibly sweet. Now, as a parent (and a believer in karma), you better believe I'll be keeping close tabs on my son's online communication and the development of compelling, protected environments.
As IT professionals, we should have a good grasp about how to educate our children about the Internet. Are you watching what your kids post? What are the Internet guidelines you set for your children? Add a comment to this blog post, or drop by this article's discussion thread and share your thoughts.
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.