How safe are our children in the world of online activity and communication?
This pressing concern and consideration has been at the fore of parental discussion as popular internet sites, such as Myspace, field an ever-growing community of youngsters eagerly joining and reaching to make new "buddies".
In a world where it's necessary to warn kids about the danger of speaking to strangers, many parents and guardians alike have been taken aback by the thought that only a few keystrokes separate their children from a world of 7 billion strangers.
St. Hugo, a school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, has made recent headlines as faculty has enacted a direct policy to curb and eventually eliminate Myspace use among its students.
The school has demanded all its students remove all of their files, personal information, pictures and enrollment within Myspace. Families were warned that students who did not comply would face suspension and not be able to return to the school.
While such demands most likely would only take place at a private institution, is such a policy good or bad?
Initially, it would seem parents should comply as nothing can be more important than a child's safety. The problem that can arise, however, is that by simply banning children from what is surely to become a standard norm for communication in coming years (already standard with some newer cell phones) important opportunity to instruct on proper communication and habits in an interconnected world can be missed.
Perhaps a better solution, for teen-aged children who have a good grasp of responsibility and recognize risk, is guided supervision to using new communication tools.
The thought is that children of today will continually use online mediums and the dangers posed by such communication tools will be continually present. As noted by American Studies Professor Jerry Herron, of Wayne State University, "'They (parents) may heave a sigh of relief and think maybe this problem will be solved, but a predator who wants to violate children will find a way, electronically or otherwise, sadly.'"
As online communities continue to grow and become as essential and debated as the telephone in teenage life, parents and technological experts will have to develop better strategies in ensuring safety for children.
While it should be a definite standard to block all access of young children to pre-teens from social sites, a gray area exists as teens reach their "I'm almost 18!" phase. What's a parent to do as that time approaches?
Completely blocking access to online communities at that time, of course depending on the child in question, may be a patently bad idea. In addition to encouraging rebellion, as mentioned earlier, it will be a failed opportunity to give instruction and teach your children the importance of limiting private information about themselves, in addition to the importance of not "meeting or talking" with strangers.
Instruction with supervision, and limited freedom, can go a long way.
Here are some resources that parents may find quite useful.
Alternatives To Myspace and Online Safety
Myspace Information For Parents