By Ted Claypoole
Co-author, Protecting Your Internet Identity: Are You Naked Online?
Like the ocean, the Internet is an enormous place where predatory wildlife roams, but millions of children play every day. By vacationing at the beach and boating on the water, your child should enjoy and respect the ocean, but not fear it. Similarly, by dipping into the shallow ends of the Internet and taking chaperoned cruises through deeper content, your child should enjoy and respect the Internet, but not fear it.
Soon, your child will be expected to know how to research scholastic topics online, correspond with teachers through email, and access school-related software tools to build projects. So those children who are not “digital natives” will be left behind. In 2001, Marc Prensky wrote an article called Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, describing the intuitively easier command of technology wielded by those people who grew up playing with that technology. Simply put, despite the dangers lurking there, your child should learn to play on the Internet.
But very few of us would simply toss a child deep in the ocean and expect her to swim her way to safety. Nor should you cast your kids into the depths of the Internet without supervision. As the loving parent, you should make Internet learning safe and fun, monitoring your child’s progress, so when teachers discuss the Internet at pre-school or school, your child is already comfortable with the medium.
How early should a child start playing on the Internet?
The answer depends on your comfort level with technology. A toddler that sees Mommy poking and prodding her iPad all day will quickly want some of that stimulation too. And the software developers have started addressing this need. For example, Moo, Baa La la la! is a book that includes skits and songs for the youngest iPad user. The Clickysticky sticker app lets a child play with stickers and learn about objects and animals, making interactive scenes. There is even an iPad version of Pat the Bunny that comes complete with Velcro sticking fur to pet, and uses the iPad’s camera so a toddler can see his own face in the mirror. Simply check sites like this for the best recent apps, and find education and fun from Elmo’s Monster Maker to balloon animals to Sandra Boyton’s character learning program.
But the iPad app world, while Internet linked and driven, is still a safe and controlled pool. It won’t be long before your child will ask to use the browser to find funny videos or write to friends or grandma. She may even learn to Skype with relatives. But you do not want her sending her video feed out to anyone online, so how do you allow her to grow online without endangering herself?
This series of blogs over the next month will explore child safety online, but we approach the topic from the starting point that kids SHOULD be exposed to Internet in a controlled fashion. We will look at an age-appropriate philosophy for online interaction, the risks involved for your child (and for you), and tools you can use to protect your family. Happy surfing to you and your child.