Many families have more than one computer, and as a result, teenagers find themselves in the lucky position of having almost unfettered access to the World Wide Web. Cautious parents use firewalls to protect against viruses or filters to prevent certain sites from being viewed, but among many teenagers, there is a black market of information on evading such systems. Despite the plethora of protective technology available, the average 11-year-old boy has already seen pornography, probably more than once.
The internet is as safe as having the world in your backyard, and frankly, if the world were in my backyard, I wouldn’t let my child out the door without him being firmly strapped to my arm. Teenagers are smart, but they are not wise; which means that just like a three-year-old can figure out that a table knife fits inside the slots of a toaster without realizing why she might not want to try it, a 14-year-old can figure out that looking at certain sites online makes her feel warm inside, without realizing that pornography is addicting and mind-warping. And internet filters, while helpful, only go so far.
In short, there is no substitute for human intervention. It is no secret that there are some behaviors we will indulge in when alone that we wouldn’t consider when surrounded by other people. So…surround your computer (that avenue into the whole wide world) with people. To protect your child and your family from going too far down the wrong internet thread, consider making internet use a public privilege instead of a private right.
Placing computers in the kitchen, living room or other public space forces users to be aware that they are or could be observed by other people, giving them built-in accountability. Think: is there anything worth looking at that needs to be kept a secret? If you wouldn’t let your child sneak out of the house and keep secrets about where he goes, then why would you let him sneak around the internet without letting you know where he is going? To the extent that you monitor where your children go in the real world, it is imperative that you monitor where your children go in cyberspace, and that involves more than setting up an internet filter.
Might your child be angry if they have grown accustomed to a personal computer in their room and that privilege is taken away? It is likely. But no less angry is my friend (now 24) who became addicted to pornography and asks “Why didn’t my parents protect me?”
As a side note: It may help to set the example as parents and forgo your own personal internet connection for one set up in public family space. If you set the example, your child is bound to follow.