Home > Misc > The Mobile Invisibility Cloak Of Today’s Internet-Enabled Kids

The Mobile Invisibility Cloak Of Today’s Internet-Enabled Kids

January 12th, 2010

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?

Categories: Misc Tags: ,
  1. January 14th, 2010 at 12:13 | #1

    Hi Joel,

    what you mention, is a serious issue. Surely, the internet and all its following development affects the way how kids grow up and socialize in our world. And thus, it affects the coming societys.

    But, as it always was, the world goes on, and new generations always work with things and have possibilities, that were unbelievable in the former generation. When I grew up, we had no mobiles, internet…not even a telephone in our house. Now my son got his own mobile, and is out of my control. If I don’t allow him to access the internet with his mobile, I’m pretty sure, one of his friends has access. But even worse, if i don’t allow him to access the internet, he will be more interested to do it with a friend.

    So the key, as you mentioned it, is faith, love, understanding. And, most important imho, you have to spend time with the kids. With an open and deep relationship between kids and their parents, i am sure, no technical development will harm kids or make them less sensible to what is good or bad. If you talk openly about all the problematic aspects of the internet, kids will learn to deal with it. Of course, they will visit some porn sites, and maybe really evil sites. But in a open, healthy relationship between parents and kids, thats not a problem. Kids will see that there is much more in life than porn and guns.

    On the other side, a neglected kid with no perspective, with wrong friends, or under bad conditions, can get on the wrong way. But thats not only associated with the internet, this can happen in all aspects of life.

    Have faith in life, in you and in your kids, be sure to be open to the kids needs, spend time with the kids and listen to them, thats all one can do (and maybe more than many parents actually do).

    Greetings, Galen

  2. January 15th, 2010 at 23:20 | #2

    Thanks Galen,

    Yes, I do have faith, and I do trust, and I do teach. I’m just uncomfortable with the fact that it’s hard to be a parent on these issues without a real level of transparency. I don’t particularly like the draconian “monitoring always on” sorts of approaches, since I think that may not really teach independent decision making. On the other hand, no visibility means kids who know there are no consequences from wandering around the agreements, which I suspect teaches counter-lessons to some that we’d like them to grow up with.

    I’m not whining. It is what it is, rather I am commenting to raise the issue for folks who may not have thought about how many bypasses there are for “the family computer(s)” these days.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and best regards,

    Joel

  3. Jane2
    January 15th, 2010 at 23:28 | #3

    In a way, it’s always been about faith…”don’t take drugs”, “don’t talk to strangers”….all of the parental rules to live by of our youths really weren’t in our parents’ control, and they could only depend on us to do the right thing….they couldn’t decree it.

    My experience on Facebook with the younger members of my extended family gives me hope….they of course are very internet-savvy and very open compared to our initial forays into social networking. But at the same time, they seem to have the same “rules” on the net that they have in their real lives. I contrast that with adults who sometimes exhibit far more questionable behaviour on the internet that is accepted by other adults who would never accept such behaviour in meatspace….and that they would never do in their real lives.

    At the end of the day, I think young people will be much more balanced with technology than we are.

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