BUSY IN BRISTOW: Are Yesterday’s Safety Nets Insufficient for Today’s Internet Age?

| April 27, 2014 | 1 Comment | Busy in Bristow

It was the 70’s, and we came and went as we pleased. We rode banana seat bicycles without wearing helmets or shoes, and paddled around in our above ground pools without ever having had swim lessons.  I got strapped into a rudimentary carseat when I was a baby, but by the time I was 4, I stood in the backseat of my family’s Pontiac, straddling the “hump” on the floor, staring out the front windshield as if I were co-navigator.

I don’t know current safety statistics, but surely with all the precautions we’ve put into place on our roads and waterways, our children are safer than we were.

But does your child know how to navigate cyberspace safely? Until quite recently, I didn’t think mine needed to know because I was always there watching for missteps when they were online.

With school-age children, I’ve built in more rules for their outdoor activities than I ever had to follow when I was a kid. They are only allowed outside without me as long as I can see them from the windows. Every single one of them has had years of swimming lessons, and I’m one of the only parents I know whose kids are still in booster seats since the belts don’t fit properly unless they’re up a little higher.

Indoors, I hawk their screen time: they have to read for a minimum of 20 minutes first to earn any at all, and only then can they watch or play approved shows, movies, and games. I used to think I knew what they were doing at all times, but a recent incident with Oldest Son proved to me I am not as on-top-of-things as I thought I was.

As experts suggest, my husband and I limit computer use to the spaces in our house that are easily observed, and we check in often to monitor their activity. Our children cannot download anything without using my apple ID … that is unless they procure a different device and separate phone number to create their own ID as Oldest Son did.

With all of our precautionary rules in place, how did this happen? Like all of the parents who have come before me, am I more focused on yesterday’s dangers than today’s?

In 1979 when I turned 7, my older parents left Northern New Jersey for Southern Virginia. I went from having a handful of playmates on our neighborhood block to having none at all. In practical terms, I was also an only child since my kid sister wasn’t born until I was 12.

The biggest worry my parents had was that I’d get shot during hunting season. We lived at the end of a mile long dirt road, and I often wandered through the woods that ran alongside our property. I loved nothing better than taking a walk to the creek behind our house. In retrospect, the fact that the property wasn’t ours and that I did this all by myself made it adventurous and therefore more alluring. I knew not to trespass on the neighbor’s property from October-January. I knew that even in the spring when I did walk through those woods, I was to wear bright colors and to talk to myself periodically so that anyone who was hunting off-season would know that the footfalls were caused by a person, not an animal.

Do not misunderstand me: this was – and is – a real danger in rural areas. Today, however, different threats lurk right inside our own houses that we’ve worked so hard to protect by buying property in neighborhoods with low crime rates and installing security systems.

Two weeks ago, we discovered that Oldest Son – grounded from iPod privileges for misusing the internet – upgraded to an iPhone without our knowledge when a kid whose family has enough money to lose track of their outdated electronic devices tossed one his way. He used this device for two months before we caught him, and if it hadn’t been for his flagrant use of social media and connecting during school hours, we wouldn’t have caught him when we did because quite frankly, we never suspected. I mean – where would he get a device without our giving him one?

One night, he stretched and yawned at 8 p.m. A second night, he did the same, and I asked if he was feeling all right. I thought he must be sick, but as it turns out, he was hiding under the blankets in his bed navigating the internet without any adult supervision … a parent’s nightmare.

Although we now look back on the freedoms our parents afforded us … biking the streets and wandering in the backwoods for hours without supervision … pushing our bodies through space without the benefit of knee pads and helmets … as irresponsible, perhaps yesterday’s parents were busy protecting us from dangers that we weren’t even aware of back then … like lead poisoning, asbestos, and cavities. Dangers – that in 2014 – we take for granted we’re no longer in danger of.

Meanwhile, maybe I’m overly focused on how to minimize the threats to my children’s physical safety like using booster seats and wearing bike helmets when – as they grow up – I need to be more aware of how to minimize their vulnerability to the ever-pervasive peer pressure surrounding them in cyberspace.

Even with the rudimentary rules we had in place to protect them from downloading games like Grand Theft Auto, my child fell prey to a system I thought was flawless but that was actually riddled with holes. I will be forever baffled that he was able to register for accounts and download items without my permission. I want to blame the companies that don’t have more effective protections built in to ensure minors are not gaining access to age restricted sites. Prior to this incident, I trusted both my son and the internet more than I should have.

Likewise, maybe my parents trusted their Pontiac too much. Maybe they thought their Bonneville was so solid that my little head wouldn’t pierce the windshield if they had to brake fast, throwing me through it. Perhaps we’re all a little too proud of ourselves for outsmarting predictable dangers while leaving our kids to fend off – for themselves – the ones we have yet to understand.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. smaltzmw says:

    Yea !! nice article !

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