Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (or the misadventures of proper parenting in an online world)

Newspapers carry the news that yet another girl has been abducted after online grooming and it seems that we could have a news service devoted to things that children have been doing (and they shouldn’t) online and/or what some depraved people have done (or tried to do) to children by using Internet. Probably more than half of the time/space of that news service would be filled with analysis about how dangerous new technologies in general and Internet in particular are for children…and they would be wrong. Information technologies and Internet have the potential to allow children to reach places that we couldn’t dream about when having the same age or allow them to interact with people across the globe and learn about other cultures in ways that no book or library would, but in the same way that children need to be taught how to read, they need to be taught about how to use ICT…and most parents neglect that.
A recent survey suggests that only one in ten parents talk about Internet safety with their kids and there are some cases where parents get quite amused when their kids wander alone online and get into things that they shouldn’t: take as example the 3 years old kid that bought a real digger online when the parents were sleeping…the mother reaction was “It's been a lot of fun”…was it? Or it was a monumental example of irresponsibility from the parents? Would the mother have the same reaction if instead of buying a digger the kid put herself in contact with another “online kid” that then turned out to be a grown up paedophile (like the recent case in Spain)?
It has been repeated hundreds of times but it doesn’t hurt to do it again; Internet is not the problem but parents that use it as an easy way to keep children entertained instead of guiding them through the intricacies of cyberspace, and there is no regulation that can solve that problem. There is, however, an argument that governments and international organizations should devote more resources to the education and information of parents instead of wasting resources in twisting and violating long established legal principles to maintain the profits of industries with obsolete business models. Governments could, for example, mandate the inclusion in the computer manuals and in the ISP connection packs some form of booklet teaching parents the basics of online safety and that would certaintly be better received than forcing ISPs to control users downloading patterns...

No comments: