I am tired of the cyber-boogie-man. I am sick of hearing about how dangerous the internet is. How there are cyber bullies, and stalkers, and people out there just waiting for a chance to steal your identity.
But does that mean we have to dwell on the negative all the time?
I liken it to living in NYC – is there a constant threat of a terrorist attack? Probably. But that’s not what we put in our tourism campaigns. Nor is it how we go about our daily lives here. We couldn’t. We’d go crazy.
And that’s exactly how everyone is acting about the internet and kids lately: crazy.
Just like you teach your kids to be wary of strangers, but not to be so terrified they become recluses living with forty cats, you have to teach your kids to be wary of online dangers, but not to be so scared of it that they’re freakish Luddites, pulling down the 1962 World Book Encyclopedia to research their next paper.
Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay – at least until the next big thing my small brain can’t even imagine takes over – and our kids are all going to have to learn to live with it.
We’ve taught our kids basic internet safety. They have spyware and updated virus software. They know not to open email attachments, or give out their passwords. They know not to divulge personal information online.
But they also know how much fun the internet can be. How much learning goes on. How much information is available to them. The next time some parent tells me how they “never” let their kids on the computer, I’m going to a) Call them on their lie, and b) congratulate them on their delusion. Do they not think their kids go online at school? At friends’ homes? Any chance they get? Though I have to admit, this New York Times article about Silicon Valley tech execs sending their kids to the uber-anti-tech Waldorf School was fascinating. If you are really that devoted, and taking it to that extreme – more power to you. The kids will become tech savvy entually – they’ll have to. But unless you are that extreme, stop kidding yourself: your kids are using technology every day. And as long as that’s the case – admit it, and deal with it.
The point is, to let kids on the internet safely, smartly, sanely. That’s one of the reasons we started KidzVuz , to give kids a place to go online that’s safe, that encourages critical thinking, that doesn’t make them think the cyber-boogie man is going to get them. There are other sites, too: Zuzee is a scrapbooking site for kids, National Geographic Kids is an incredibly well-done site that manages to teach them something while they have fun. There’s BrainPop, NASA has a website for kids, American Girl is wholesome but not treacley. Lego has a cool site. SmartBoards can make history come alive in a classroom, and make math interactive and fun. Skype can bring your kids face to face with school kids from half way around the world. What’s wrong with any of that?
I think we should stress to our kids what’s great about the internet: a world of knowledge, a ton of creativity, a place to create community – and downplay the negative, rather than the other way around. Isn’t that what we do with the rest of their lives? It’s not like you stress the dangers of salmonella every time they eat an egg, or give them automobile fatality stats every time they get in the car. (Unless, of course, you’re raising your kid in the same way the mother in Stephen King’s Carrie did. And then, well, I really can’t help you.) We tell our kids enough to be safe: wash your hands a lot, wear a seat belt – and then let them get on with their lives.
Should our kids know about cyber-bullies? Sure they should. But they should also know that real connections can happen on line. Should they know that there are all kinds of crazies out there putting out all kinds of misinformation? Yes. But just like I teach my own kids how to deal with the crazies on NYC Streets (don’t make eye contact, cross to the other side, align yourself with a grown-up pushing a stroller), so do I feel like it’s my job to teach them how to cope with the virtual world.
Because, let’s face it: that is their world almost as much as this one.
So here’s to casting the internet in a more positive light for our kids.
Who’s with me?