Wednesday, January 23, 2013

children online

This morning my house is bursting with the joyful sounds little girls. An animal rescue shelter has been set-up in a closet, and stuffed animals are strewn from one end of the house to another. I am folding laundry and listening to their chatter, and I just want to wrap myself in their innocence, in the sweetness of words free from guile and the purity of fresh minds. Now as I type the littlest comes to stand beside me. She lays her head on my lap waiting to be picked up, and when I do she nuzzles her nose into my neck and I breathe in her hair and think, O God how will I ever protect these children from our evil world?
Evil has always twisted our world, I have no illusions about that. Every generation has seen its own darkness, has feared its own fears. But I don’t know that evil has always leaned so close, or been so accessible.
This week I learned a terrible thing. I wonder how even to write about the subject without a filter, but no filter can be given, and parents, we cannot hide from this issue. This week a friend discovered that her seven year old child has been viewing pornography on the internet.
Don’t tsk tsk. These parents could have been you or I. They are you and I. And their child could be any of our children.
First, understand the kind of parents we are talking about. Concerned. Involved. Protective. Super involved in their church. They are shocked, as any of us would be, and deeply sad and reeling from this discovery. I know these parents and they cannot be accused of neglecting their kids. Their tragic error in all of this is something that most of us have done, and do, on a regular basis: they handed their child the ipad. The same could happen on a parent’s phone, or any gadget that connects to the internet.
I look at my ipad: Bugs and Buttons. Peekaboo Barn. The Wheels on the Bus. PBS kids. These are the apps I assume my children are playing when they are on the ipad, I have no reason to think that evil lurks just under their fingertips, right?
This mother believes it began with one of the games downloaded for children, she thinks it was Angry Birds. Somehow the games can connect you to videos on youtube about the game. Innocent enough. As anyone who has spent any time at all on youtube knows, however, those little videos connect you to other videos, and any of us, five years old or eighty-five, are only one intentional or unintentional finger-touch away from images that no one should see. This parent believes that the child first happened upon the videos by accident, but then learned how to search for them in Safari. It is quite easy to click off a screen when a parent peeks over a shoulder.
The very fact that five, six, seven year old children can access this material, right in our own living rooms, right under the very watchful and protective eye of their parents, is infuriating. I cannot bear to think of it, the innocence of babes being shattered at this early age, children who care about rescuing stuffed animals and leaning on their mamas venturing, without warning, into dark worlds.
Parents, please, if your home is connected to the internet there are some very simple things you can do to protect your kids. On your ipad go to Settings> General > Restrictions and turn off Safari. You may need to turn off YouTube separately. If the child must for some reason connect to the internet, software can be downloaded to block inappropriate content. I would caution you to actually see for yourself how comprehensively it blocks adult material. A version of youtube on our ipad is meant to be safe for children, but a few basic keyword searches easily brought up pornographic videos.

The internet is a new world and we are the first generation of parents who must grapple with how to protect our children, how to guard their innocence and childhood. We cannot be too vigilant. If we choose to do nothing, the question is not if our children will stumble upon inappropriate content, but when. And it will probably happen much sooner than we ever would expect.

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