Where do we draw the line between being a good parent and being "big brother" when it comes to the Internet? Even the few comments to my post below shows the difference of opinion regarding how to help our children navigate the Internet safely. Where do our responsibilities lie as their parents?
Even more interesting is to read the comments on the "Family Safety on Windows Vista" blog. Some would have us believe that ANY attempt to monitor what our children do online, much less actually stop them from doing it, is a criminal offense.
The Internet is indeed a dangerous place, but then so is our own backyard. In the very recent past there was a case here in Utah where a young girl walked into her backyard and was lured into the home of a neighbor who almost immediately killed her. So, do we stop our children from leaving the house? Of course not, but I guarantee that any parent who saw that story certainly thought twice about letting their children play outside for a few days.
So, where are we on the continuum of Internet freedom with regard to our children? There are certainly many very good things that they can experience on the Internet today, as well as some time-wasting opportunities (my kids have recently discovered runescape), but there are also some very bad areas of the Internet that our children can wander into - or even worse, can search out. Even when we apply the "safe search" in the popular search engines, some inappropriate things can still appear.
Technology is far from perfect, and there are people out there who work every day to find ways to get their content in front of our children, regardless of what technology is in place to prevent it. Pornography is a huge business. Last year pornography generated $57 billion, which is more revenue than ABC, NBC and CBS combined, and more revenue than the NBA, NFL and MLB combined. The statistics boggle the mind.
So, what do we do? Do we turn off the Internet in our homes? Do we monitor their activity, and talk to them after-the-fact, or do we actively block access to the "bad" areas of the Internet? Personally, I believe that we are not fulfilling our responsibility as parents if we do not put some technological restrictions on their Internet access. Having unfettered access to the Internet is akin to leaving a loaded gun where the children can play with it.
However, as I said above: technology isn't perfect. Filters will block too much, safe search will allow bad things through, and monitoring software will miss some things. So, it still comes down to us. We need to keep computers out of bedrooms, we need to teach our children not to share personal information over the Internet, and we need to be constantly vigilant regarding how they spend their time online.
If we rely too heavily on technology to protect them from the dangers on the Internet, we will find ourselves dealing with some issues that we had hoped we would not have to deal with. The average age of first exposure to pornography on the Internet is 11 years old. The FBI has recently stated that if you frequent chat rooms, you have a 100% chance of interacting with an online predator.
Doing nothing is not an option. Installing monitoring or filtering technology and assuming you are protected is not responsible. It sad that we have to discuss these things, but the bottom line is that having the Internet in our homes requires that we take action to ensure it is handled responsibly - and that is more than just throwing more technology at the problem.