Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's been awhile since I posted, I know. Today's going to be a good one though. It's not really about a gadget, but it's a rant on something that needs to be addressed by the world, like NOW, because wake up people!
I have two boys, ages 6 and 8. Believe it or not, they can read! And even worse, they can write! Oh my God, can you believe it? Guess what else? They have their own computers! I realise that last part may not be completely mainstream yet, but as life and technology have evolved, more and more children - and I mean really young ones - will have their own computers, or at least access to them all the time. Mine have had their own computers since they were roughly two years old (both my husband and I are software developers, and when you get a new computer every two years, you tend to accumulate them - may as well put them to good use).
Both of their machines are set up in a "public" area of the house - namely the family room. They have no privacy while surfing the Internet. But that doesn't mean that I'm sitting right there with them, either. They are old enough to type in their own searches and look for and view whatever they want to on the Internet at their leisure.
Now, before you misunderstand and think I feel there should be parental controls on everything, please finish reading. I know there are plenty of parental-type controls to install (remember what I do for a living? I spend much of my time on the Internet myself). I also know that a lot of those controls are all-encompassing for your household (if you block a site at your router, you're screwed; using online family tools requires everyone to sign up (sometimes); it's a hassle because frankly, there are plenty of sites that have perfectly suitable content for my children as well as things that are completely unsuitable for the entire world to see). So, basically, I'm not talking about a children's browser or parental controls.
For instance, my kids adore YouTube. There are plenty of child-friendly videos on YouTube that I let them enjoy, that's perfectly suitable for them to watch (and gasp! even age appropriate!). The rub is that while they are searching for Harry Potter, they may stumble upon something that isn't really Harry Potter related, despite being tagged as such (for instance, a teenager home-made movie with lots of blood and gore in it and one of the characters is dressed up like Harry Potter). I have no problem with those types of videos per se, and I certainly don't think they should be banned. What I do think is that if you're going to have parental controls on your web site, they need to address the fact that people under the age of 13 are viewing it.
Now, I'm picking on YouTube because they are the flavour of the day (and the current problem in our house). However, to their credit, they do mention that only people 13 and older are allowed to create an account. I also have no problem with this; it's their business and they have the right to do that. I just wish there were a way to convince them that really, just because a six year old has an account, they can still read and write, and they can type their own stuff in - and wouldn't it be nice to treat them as the (somewhat) responsible children they are and flag the material that's appropriate for them, just like the pre-teens? What a concept! It's what, one more record in a lookup table, right? If the content is being flagged by the parents anyway, why not allow younger kids to sign up and be protected? What about something like Fred? My kids adore him, and he's perfectly safe for them to watch. Why not let them? Because if they type in "Fred" as a search item, they are also likely to get "Fred Kruger" of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame, which I don't want them watching. If they were 13, I wouldn't care so much, or at least they would be better able to understand that the boogeyman isn't real.
And yes, I know there are plenty of sites out there for kids. My boys actually spend a lot of their online time on Webkinz. They've tried Club Penguin but my oldest found it boring. We've checked out a few of the other online things for kids but they are either too new when we check them out (read: there are no friends to play with there) or it's made for kids five and under.
No, I'm not trying to absolve myself of any responsibility of protecting them. I'm just saying, if you're going to have a policy for protecting children, it's time to go younger than 13, or even 10. There are a whole bunch of kids on the Internet that are under that age, and who's to say there's nothing on YouTube for them to watch? Maybe it's a better policy to opt-in on things like that, rather than opt-out?
I'm not saying I have all the answers, because I really don't. I'm just sick of "everyone" assuming that "Internet safety" applies to ages 10 and up. It doesn't - it actually applies to everyone, including the youngsters.
End of rant, thanks and have a great day.