Much of my education regarding the more mature spheres of life came from books. Using only my hidden book light, I would hungrily turn page after page of my historical fiction novel set in Tudor England. In the darkness of my room and quiet of the night I felt grown-up and rebellious, as I learned in a little more detail why women were only allowed to ride side saddle.
When my eyelids began to droop or the story came to an end, I would put my book away and I could only imagine answers to the questions I still had. Or, for a particularly burning question, I could ask my parents the next day. But that was pretty much it; because when I was in elementary school the idea of googling something provocative on our family desktop computer seemed unnecessarily risky.
Today’s generation of curious minds have quite a few more resources at their fingertips. The internet is a vast place, and for a particularly striking snapshot of just how vast it is, the website One Second offers a head-spinning look at how much new information is added every single second.
Needless to say, if a child is reading something online, it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of clicking from one link to another, all of a sudden ending up at a site or image that might not be age appropriate. I, personally, am still traumatized by the time I was trying to go to American Girl.com and accidentally ended up at Americangirls, which served a very different clientele.
As a future educator I fully support children’s curiosity. It is 100% normal for children to have questions, but sometimes an open-minded parent or big sister can answer questions and assuage fears better than a google search. Pew Research Center reports that 78% of all American teens have an internet-accessing smartphone, so the clandestine ‘research’ of children today might be different than my own book light driven learning.
As the Internet is the great equalizer, virtually anyone can share their opinion but not all opinions are good for children’s impressionable minds. A study found that unfortunatley pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia sites increased by 470% percent over a two-year period. And while there is no agreed-upon number, a modest estimate reports that 14% of all Internet searches are for pornography. The New York Time’s ran a “Room for Debate” feature on whether or not internet porn was actually harmful and while opinions were divided, the majority agreed that the bulk of porn on the Internet is not intended for young, inexperienced viewers.
As users of the Internet, we have the power to choose what we watch, read and post online. But there are a lot of freedoms I have as an adult that my younger sister does not yet have. I would not give my 11 year old sister keys to a car or her own apartment because that would not be developmentally appropriate. There are 11 year olds who can drive and 11 year olds who take care of themselves, but that does not mean that is the ideal scenario.
Handing over a smartphone or laptop to a child involves a huge amount of trust, but it also involves management of this freedom by parents. Fortunately, digital parenting websites are now popping up. Two examples can be found here and here. One example of a tip they offer is to use an internet contract that is written and signed by parents and children. Another idea is to require children to take the laptop out of the room and into a public space, just like we all used to do with our clunky desktops!