Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sharing our Kids on the Internet

There's my kid. Being dangerous.
I find this really interesting. CBC just published an article called Parents opt to keep babies off Facebook.
"Reasons for the baby blackout vary. Some parents have privacy and safety concerns. Others worry about what companies might do with their child's image and personal data. Some simply do it out of respect for their kids' autonomy before they are old enough to make decisions for themselves."

I come from a small community (800 people when I was very young; about 4000, now) where pretty much nobody is unknown - even those who attempt to be... So Facebook, and the Internet in general, has always felt to me like another aspect of my community. My kids are out there in the real world; they are seen in the streets, forests, and in the local newspaper, so why not online? I draw the line at naked baby photos, etc. because I know those can be misused, and I don't want my kids feeling shy about them, later on. I'm careful not to put any contact info for my kids online, and I hope they are too... but the proliferation of online groups that they join is definitely worrying to me, as is, sometimes, my family's general vulnerability as terrorists (or "multi-faceted extremists") under Canadian law that classifies people who sign petitions or attend environmental protests/rallies as such. This does concern me - obviously. By allowing my kids to express their views, I have potentially doomed them to the wrong side of the law (and the wrong side of an increasingly oppressive government).

My main struggle at the moment is this: My children are 9 and 12. Although it seems generally reasonable (though difficult) to keep babies' faces and names off the Internet, what do we do when they become old enough to use the Internet themselves, to set up personal profiles, etc. without us, and to access the Internet in a multitude of ways that are both beyond our knowledge and beyond our control? The massive scope of Internet activity in our lives and culture means that many children are fully connected before they are even comfortable walking alone in the dark. But I can't believe that trying to control their activities at this age is useful. I also can't believe they should be kept protected from the technology that now defines our lives. I try very hard to help them navigate the ethics and consequences of their choices. But how do I ensure their safety, especially in the long-run?

I am choosing to look at this the way I see most activities. I buy helmets. I advise them of safety measures. I remind them to be careful when they leave the house. I try to demonstrate safe behaviour. I kiss them goodbye. And then I just try to quiet the anxiety at the back of my mind until they walk smilingly in the door, later.

So... no I'm not taking down my blog at the moment. But this is a serious consideration, and I think this trend of keeping babies off social media is probably a very good thing. I'm going to have (yet another) conversation with my kids about it. And then maybe I'll suggest we go for a walk in the dark.

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