By Rachel Hynes.
I can’t shake the feeling that I may have let my teenager down when it came to how we handled the Internet in our house.
In 1998, the year my daughter was born, it really was a new frontier. Australia was one of a handful of countries with a significant number of Internet users – 5.7 million Australians were online, and Telstra and Optus were emerging as the main internet service providers. (For an interesting snapshot of world Internet use at this time and how it’s changed over the years, see this interactive map from the BBC).
I remember signing up for my Yahoo email account around this time. Heaven knows who I was emailing. I also remember playing messages of congratulations for our new baby on a cassette tape in our answering machine, so there was plenty of low-tech action as well.
As my daughter grew, so did the spread and sophistication of the Internet. She’d already learned to handle the iMac G3 and its mouse around the same time she’d handled her own spoon. As a school-aged child she was playing on basic kids’ websites and early social platforms like Club Penguin.
We’d spoken with her about the “dangers of the Internet” – ie communicating with people she didn’t know. Which didn’t stop her entering an adult chat room at around the age of 8 or 9 and saying “Hi, I’m new here, can anyone show me around?” Which is an instructive example for other parents. You can be as Internet savvy as you like, give your child contracts to sign and know all their passwords. But kids are curious critters and there’ll always be those munchkins who want to open the door that says No Entry.
I thought about parental controls back in the day. Looked into them, tried them a bit, got annoyed at always having to make exclusions for every site I wanted to visit, gave up. It didn’t occur to me in those early days that my child would see pornography online by the time she was a teenager. It seems almost quaint that I’d been more concerned about a pig-tailed and sexualised Britney Spears on Video Smash Hits.
Fifteen years later, even though the horse has truly bolted and was last spotted running for the Great Dividing Range, I am finally going to get on top of this issue. It’s no longer about just accessing “inappropriate” websites, it’s also about managing the time spent on numerous screens and balancing it with life and school, it’s about Internet security (apparently – I’ve always been a bit head-in-the-sand with this and don’t even really know what it means) and it’s about taking it all a bit more seriously with my two younger children, considering I have some regrets about how I treated it first time around. I would like to have protected my YouTube-mad 5-year-old from Nicky Minaj a bit longer too, but again I’ve acted too late.
So over the next few weeks, I am going to address my challenges one at a time. This way, I’m hoping I won’t get overwhelmed by the task, which has put me off in the past, and I can do some research and let you know how I go in case you are facing the same challenges as I am.
I am finally going to get on top of:
- managing my teenager’s time online, without complicated schedules or relying on her or me to monitor her time (because that’s just tiresome and doesn’t work around here)
- the fact our children’s innocent little eyeballs are always one click away from adult images. This needs to be achieved without our teenager losing access to teen staples like Tumblr
- Internet security, because I’ve been told it’s important and I think that maybe I should check it out.
There, I’ve said it now. The Internet is my witness and there’s no turning back. I’ll be back next week with my research and findings on how to manage time spent online, with minimum effort required from myself and her.
How in control of your household’s Internet use are you?
Have you tried parental controls?
Are you worried by what your children can access and have you ever done anything about it?