David Pogue has a very good and (I think) realistic assessment in last Thursday’s New York Times, in which he asks (and answers) the important question: How Dangerous Is the Internet for Children?
He starts the piece with the story of an editor who asked him to do a story about the dangers of the Internet for children and was not pleased with what he submitted. Not scary enough. And then:
So the editor sent me the contact information for several parents of young children with Internet horror stories, and suggested that I interview them. One woman, for example, told me that she became hysterical when her eight-year-old stumbled onto a pornographic photo. She told me that she literally dove for the computer, crashing over a chair, yanking out the power cord and then rushing her daughter outside.
You know what? I think that far more damage was done to that child by her mother’s reaction than by the dirty picture.
See, almost the same thing happened at our house. When my son was 7 years old, he was Googling “The Incredibles” on the computer that we keep in the kitchen. At some point, he pulled up a doctored picture of the Incredibles family, showing them naked.
“What…on… earth?” he said in surprise.
I walked over, saw what was going on, and closed the window. “Yeah, I know,” I told him. “Some people like pictures of naked people. The Internet is full of all kinds of things.” And life went on.
My thinking was this: a seven-year-old is so far from puberty, naked pictures don’t yet have any of the baggage that we adults associate with them. Sex has no meaning yet; the concept produces no emotional charge one way or another.
Today, not only is my son utterly unscarred by the event, I’m quite sure he has no memory of it whatsoever.
This is an interesting point of view about an important issue. He also recommends a PBS show now available online, called Growing Up Online. Looks like another good treatment on this subject. He concludes:
In any case, watch the show. You’ll learn that some fears are overplayed, others are underplayed, and above all, that the Internet plays a huge part in adolescence now. Pining for simpler times is a waste of time; like it or not, this particular genie is out of the bottle.
I have to agree with you on the way you handled your situation. I feel strongly that the more difficult challenge we face is the quality of the content on the web from the viewpoint of accuracy since anyone can put information on the web and most of us are terrible writers who tend to make errors and there are no editors cleaning things up behind us. The web is a place for kids to learn and they are being taught by almost anyone who has access to the Internet. That is the equivalent of allowing anyone to become a teacher regardless of their training.