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Parents Who Are Overly Concerned About Their Kids' Virtual Lives Need a Reality Check

Does the virtual world pose more threat to your child than the real one?

I began blogging 18 months ago. Shortly thereafter, a friend of Caroline’s told me that I was putting my family in harm’s way by doing such. “How do you figure?” I asked. “Because anyone could find you,” she answered. “They could look you up and get your address.”

“Call me crazy, but couldn’t folks find you?” I countered. “I mean, you’re in the phone book. Your kids are in the school directory.”

“Yes,” she admitted, “but I don’t tell stories about my kids on the Internet. I don’t have their pictures online for anyone to see.” I didn’t bother to correct the woman (she has plenty of pictures online via Facebook), but I did tell her this: “You tell plenty of stories about your child in real life. And more folks see your kids each and every day in the real world than see my kids in the virtual one.”

My point? Sure, people could “find” me or my kids (should we be hiding?). But there’s no more or less likelihood of that happening to me than it is to her. Creeps are creeps, whether they’re online or lurking in the dark corners of the toy store.

Today I read a piece on Salon written by pediatrician Rahul Parikh which echoed those sentiments. The piece centered around parents’ paranoia as it pertains to children and Internet use. And Dr. Parikh ultimately concludes (with the help of plenty of evidence to back him up) that children are no more or less likely to encounter things like bullying, sexual solicitation in general, pedophilia in specific, and depression online than they are in real life. Here are but a few of the compelling quotes from his piece:

  • The authors (of a Harvard study) noted that the prevalence of cyberbullying is similar to that of offline bullying.
  • [Sociologist Barry Glassner] looked at the well-publicized statistic that “1 in every 7 young people has been sexually solicited online,” which came from a University of New Hampshire study seized upon by child advocates who spread it in the name of Internet safety. But Glassner points out that less than 10 percent of those solicitations were between adults and teens. In fact, almost half of cases were teens soliciting other teens. (In the rest of the cases, the ages were unknown.) That doesn’t necessarily make it acceptable, but is it really that different from two teens passing notes during English class?
  • Research studies do not show an increase in overall sexual predation as a result of Internet use among young people.
  • The kids most at risk of online harms are the same as those at risk for offline harms — victims of sexual or physical abuse, or children in unstable homes, for example.
  • Sensible reports… [about another recent internet concern known as “Facebook Depression“] emphasize that excess time on social networks may just be a contemporary symptom of depression and not, as the terminology would suggest, that social media is the latest public health scourge.

I can’t emphasize enough what an enlightening read I found Dr. Parikh’s essay to be. I think so often as parents, we’re out to identify the next big bad wolf. In year’s past, it’s been the radio, TV, rock ‘n roll, drugs, and, of course, the Internet. We tend to fret that our children’s exposure to whatever is currently identified as the big bad wolf may take them away from us forever.

Don’t get me wrong. With anything, there is peril, including all of the aforementioned things that really do plague parents. So I’m not saying you simply ignore any of them, including your child’s use of the Internet. In fact, I’d recommend you learn as much about the different mediums through which your child operates as possible. But I am saying this: overreacting to the perceived dangers of the Internet by, say, banning your kid from a life online isn’t going to do anyone any favors—especially given all of the good which has been proven to come from our children’s Internet use (which Dr. Pariks specifically points out).

The simple truth is this: As we all know, the real world, can, indeed, be a bad place. Bad things can happen to our kids out there. And it’s the exact same thing with the virtual one to no lesser extent. But, also, to no greater one, either.

Parents who are overly concerned with their kids’ virtual lives need a reality check. Because it’s official. The virtual world is part of the real one. A big part.

Image: stock.xchng
Visit John’s personal blog.

The Littlest Surfer: Should toddlers be using the internet?

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