The Mobile Invisibility Cloak Of Today’s Internet-Enabled Kids
It is getting harder and harder, as a parent, to even pretend that I have visibility into the Internet use of my children. Back in “the good old days of the Internet”, computers were computers. Only things that were obviously computers could browse the Internet. Parents got comfortable with guidance such as “make sure that the only way to get on the Internet is in a common space in the house.” This popular strategy was designed to discourage children from visiting places on the ‘net that were inappropriate, since at any point someone (a parent type in particular) could wander in and see what is happening. Today’s personal communications tools obliterate the utility of that advice, making the computer protection approach ineffective. Pervasive txt messaging and smartphones like the iPhone, Blackberry and now Android OS based mobile communicators radically change the landscape for kids and parents.
These phones are really computers, have built in browsers and access to thousands of applications, many of which bypass any browser facility in the phone (and thus most browser based limits.) Phones are the first level of always-on bypass to any parental visibility. These devices are small, unlike the things we used to know as computers, they have tiny screens, so the likelihood that anyone else can see what’s going on is low, even when sitting nearby.
In the last week or so I realized that it’s not just phones that provide a bypass to parental visibility. Much of today’s electronics, the little mobile things that we don’t really think of as mobile connected devices have direct Internet connections. The iPod Touch is in this category. It has WiFi built in, allowing for apps to be downloaded, to browse the web, to get to the music and videos. I hope that my younger son is only using that always available WiFi connection to access things that are appropriate for him, as we’ve talked about, but it’s all basically on faith. At any moment, while sitting on the couch, that browser could be pointed anywhere on the ‘net, and no one around would ever know.
What are best practices for parents this world where access to the Internet is in every child’s mobile device? Are we left with “educate and hope” as the only remnants of visibility and coaching? Will teens who grow up in this world have less respect for rules, given that in their world they can do almost anything without a chance of being caught with their hand in the cookie jar? How will this influence the cohesion of our society going forward? Has it already?
A world where children have effectively no limits to communication, no parental visibility, and thus far less feedback as a result, seems to change the nature of growing up in some fundamental ways. I could be taking this “all too seriously,” but I just have to wonder… is there any way to reclaim some of the visibility we had as parents? Without any visibility, does this put kids in a position that may not be good for them?
What do you think? What are your ideas, solutions and perspectives on parenting with always-on, Internet-enabled kids?