“What about their privacy?”
The never-ending struggle of parenting is finding the right balance between giving your kids enough autonomy to learn and grow and enough supervision to keep them safe. When kids start spending time online, many parents wonder if checking their browser history, demanding their kids’ passwords, and otherwise keeping tabs on what their kids do online violates their kids’ privacy. Checking your kid’s phone or tablet can seem a little too invasive– like reading their journal or taking the door off the bathroom.
It’s interesting that electronic use seems so private. On the one hand, adults often send and receive confidential information online. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers are all clearly designed for one user at a time, and peeking over at someone else’s screen runs counter to modern social etiquette. On the other hand, the very nature of the internet is intensely public. With a keyboard and an internet connection, everyone and anyone can publish thoughts and ideas for the world to see. Each link clicked and website visited is stored in your internet browser and available to anyone with any computer savvy. While online journals exist, nothing online is really a secret.
The lines between the online and off-line world are blurring out of existence. This means everything in the physical world– the beautiful, the horrific, the virtuous, and the evil– is reflected on the internet. When your child opens a browser, he or she is walking into the world. THE world, mind you, not his or her own world. We tend to think of social media as a digital tree house or school yard– something intimate, juvenile, innocent– when, in fact, the ocean or New York City would a better comparison. The internet is beautiful, loud, unforgiving, stormy, and yes, dangerous. If you wouldn’t let your child dive into the ocean alone or wander a metropolis, you should not let your child use the internet unsupervised.
An internet connection is access to every corner of the earth, and almost every person alive. And yet, we hand this power to children too young to walk out the door alone. Leaving our children to explore the internet alone is not respect for their privacy. It is tempting fate.
Use the internet to show children the ocean of humanity. Teach them to respect the roaring waves of politics, art, music, and ideas. Demonstrate to them how to stand on the stage of the internet and fight for what they believe in. But please, don’t let them swim alone.
Keep your family safe online!