Monday 27 Nov 2006
Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
As an adult whose work-life centers around the Internet, it may be that I have an important perspective to share about children and computers. In my childhood, a computer was something to play video games on, a safe at-home pastime that didn’t require direct supervision from one of my parents. Then came the Internet. Over the past decade or so, a computer has become a home appliance that would appear to be as much of a no-brainer as a stove. Most families own at least one, or more than one computer these days. The Internet can be a wonderful educational tool, connecting you and your family with the learning, art and traditions of cultures around the globe. But, it is this very interconnectivity which makes the Internet an unsafe environment for the most vulnerable and precious members of our society – our children.
Likely you’ve heard of Myspace.com. In just a couple of years, this entity has come to be the most popular hangout in cyberspace for young people. It has been promoted as a way for youths to chat with their friends, share photos, and information about themselves. The ugly truth behind this Internet goldmine is that an ever-growing list of children have been assaulted and abducted because they joined Myspace. In their poignant innocence, children post not only images of themselves, but also give out their addresses. Criminals trolling Myspace for exactly this type of evil opportunity then make use of the information to find and attack the children. It is truly distressing to realize that Myspace is responsible for creating this false sense of friendliness and security, where a child who may know better than to give out their personal information to a stranger, is lulled into a sense of privacy because, after all, they think they are talking to their ‘friends’. Whether their friends are the children down the block, a nice kid living in Idaho, or a criminal who wants to harm them simply may never occur to the child.
My concern is that this may also never occur to the parents, either. As I’ve said, modern people accept computers now as a part of life. Acceptance often means comfort – letting your guard down. A parent living in a society that has laws about publishing minors’ information in newspapers may still not be connecting the dots when it comes to the fact that anything their child publishes on the Internet is then public information, available to anyone who wants to use it, for whatever purpose. One need look no further for proof of the real dangers of Myspace than the fact that police use it as a way to locate predators who are using Myspace to find children.
I want to be as clear as I can here. Being on the Internet is not hanging out at the local burger place. It’s not being involved in an activity at the Boys and Girls Club. It’s not being amongst friends. Being on the Internet is being open to the entire world and all of the lunatics it contains. While this may be a risk you are willing to run for yourself, is it one you feel good about your children running?
Unfortunately, some parents are going to be foolish enough to go the route of telling their kid they can set up a Myspace page, so long as they don’t give out such-and-such information. Don’t be stupid, please. Your kid is going to do whatever is cool, no matter what you tell him. He’ll probably smoke cigarettes, try drugs, speed in his car as soon as he turns the corner of your street. Children almost never take a shine to learning from your experience. They learn by making mistakes and realizing how stupid it is to do things that harm them. However, there are some areas in which we cannot afford to let our children make mistakes. Myspace is most definitely one of them.
Even if your kid throws a fit and tells you that you are making her a social outcast, put your daughter’s safety first. But, don’t just lay down a law. Explain to your child why they may not go to places like this. Make a strong statement by having your child read the following articles:
If you take your child’s welfare seriously, do not let them participate in Myspace or any similar socializing website. Yes, your child will need to use the computer for their homework, and this should be done under direct supervision by – YOU! This is the ONLY way to keep your child from being exposed not only to inappropriate material, but also to dangerous criminals.
Sound outrageous that you need to be in the room whenever your child is on-line? Then think of it this way. Going on-line is the same thing as walking down the most dangerous street in the most dangerous city in the world. The street may have nice shops on it, but the sidewalks are full of insane people who are either convicted offenders or who are about to become offenders. Still feeling too busy to hold your precious child’s hand in yours as she walks down that street? Yes, this means serious, full-time parenting by you, your spouse or a trusted caregiver, and it is the only way you can be certain that your child will not meet a criminal on-line.
And, please, don’t be fooled by Myspace’s claims that they are trying to crack down on this. Again, as a woman who works on the Internet all day long, I want to tell you that there isn’t a company in the world I would trust with my child’s safety. I am by no means asserting that Myspace launched their entity in order to provide criminals with access to children, but the fact that they didn’t burn the website to the ground the first time a child was assaulted lets me know instantly that what they care about is money. Myspace’s projected revenue for 2006 is $200,000,000. They have already made it clear that it is more important to them to keep making money than it is to protect your child. Their chance to win your trust is already over.
I fear that people in my own web/SEO industry may be even easier to fool when it comes to this. If the parent spends his life on the computer, he may simply assume that it’s okay for his child to, too. So, to my fellow web people out there, think about all of the awful stuff you see out there in forums. Think about the crazies. Think about the fact that, for all you know, some guy you chat with who gives really awesome SEO advice may not be who you think he is at all. The Internet has created a never before seen scenario in which total strangers speak to one another, deprived of the sight and sound that often helps us to judge whether a person is safe to talk to or not. Even more, it deprives us of the ability to see a person within a setting of their home/work/family/real life. The Internet makes deception easy for deceitful people.
I’m a grownup, and so are you. We know that life is full of risks. We know that our children have to be prepared for a world that is full of risks. But no sane parent prepares their child for this by throwing them into the shark tank. Your job as an adult is to fend for your child until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Even if you are new to Internet technology, and feel that your kids know more about it than you do, don’t let them be in charge of their own safety. I know that, like me, you mourn when you read the stories of missing children. So often, children are taken right out of their homes, while their parents are sleeping. But the Interent is one area where you can always be wide awake, and valiantly protecting your loved ones from very real danger.