Thursday, November 27, 2008

Raising kids in the age of Google

Last night Rob and I got our first kick on the pants for not realizing sooner how computer savvy Alex had gotten. When we first gave him a user account we didn`t think much of it. He was quite new to the whole thing and, frankly, showed much less interest in the computer at first than we expected him to. On his account I put up a bunch of shortcuts to kid friendly sites like StarFall (a reading site) and PBS Kids. We didn`t know that the site he would adore (and frequent) most would be a catalyst to bigger and better things not at all appropriate for a 5 year old boy.

He discovered mini Lego movies on the site which were actually shown by YouTube. Once there he could click onto other YouTube videos and keep moving from there. He also figured out how to use the google search engine, funny enough by going to find more Lego videos on YouTube, and when we checked his search history that is mainly what we found. Unfortunately he also opened a couple of other videos that were not for kids. The main computer is in the basement and that is where he spent most of his time online. The truth is he doesn`t even spend that much time on the computer yet but when he does he can sit there for hours.

So once I had been enlightened I spent several hours reconfiguring Alex`s user account. I gave him a child friendly home page - (with Lego Star Wars Wallpaper, no less), a new email account (set up from my account) to send mail to close family and friends, bookmarked a bunch of appropriate sites, then blocked Google and replaced it with a kid friendly search engine. Sadly Google has no appropriate filters for young children. I also went through and started placing locks all over the place - starting with YouTube. He`ll have to wait until Rob and I can sit with him to watch those mini videos now.

I know this is just the first step. Rob and I are going to have to sit the boy down and have the first of many talks to him about computer safety and our expectations. I think this is even harder than the sex talk. Computers and the internet are a huge part of our lives. That`s how Rob makes his living. It is an invaluable resource and a great form of entertainment for all of us. The consensus in our home is that we would get rid of every other electronic machine in our house before we let go of the computer. I expect the kids will be similarly minded. The hardest part will be trying to stem the flow of negative information so easily available to this generation of kids. I mean we had to search high and low to find a picture of a nude person when we were kids. I can`t even let my mind go to what Alex and Izzy could find in a two second search.

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