1) The entire range of human behavior, from the most inspired to the most depraved, is available on the Internet.
2) Two fundamentals of your job as a parent are to:
- Teach your children well, to be responsible and accountable for their actions and make good judgments
- Provide a safe environment in which they can learn.
I offer some simple questions:
- Are there elements from the entire range of human behavior that you feel that you would like to keep your children from experiencing at this time?
- Do you feel that you have a responsibility to supervise your children when they engage in activities "at the edge of their judgment"?
The previous responses have already talked about the many analogies and comparables. The bottom line is, in choosing to be a parent, you elect to embrace the responsibility to protect your kids from things they are not ready for, and to supervise them appropriately.
One more fundamental point:
3) Internet behavior is public behavior.
The Internet is a public place. And the Internet is a place where every and any kind of behavior is exhibited, including that which is cruel, nasty, addicitive, corrupting, seductive, and damaging. To your kid. The vivid imagery and compelling interactivity of the Internet is not to be underestimated. I submit that you have an interest in keep your kids away from this kind of experience.
Kids (and parents) need to understand that when they are on the Internet, they are "behaving in public". And that such behavior has consequences, and that there are influences out there that are not benign, not even neutral, but decidedly, aggressively negative.
Teaching kids is great -- a fundamental part of the job. But even if you do it perfectly, and they learn perfectly, they're still kids, and will still be susceptible to well-crafted influences that seek to draw them into destructive or dangerous behavior.
As parents, most of us know in our gut when something is "not good for my kid". Trust your gut. Porn is "not good for my kid". It distorts sexuality and can easily become a compulsion/addiction for many.
Lord-of-the-flies environments where kids run amok unsupervised is "not good for my kid". MySpace is where "good kids" get drawn into "bad behavior" as they experiment with new identities and get stroked for their most provocative acts and attitudes. Stroked by predatory adults as well as their inexperienced and experimental peers.
So, Supervise, Coach, and Protect.
1) Keep the computer in a visible room of the house. Make the behavior seem as public as it really is.
2) Listen to your kids - what are they doing on the net, and what experience do they get? How does it make them feel?
3) Remind your kids that Internet behavior is public behavior, and that you are responsible for their behavior in public.
4) Use tools to supervise, guide, and coach your kids. Yes, that means filtering and monitoring software. (Full disclosure: K9 Web Protection - free - is provided by my company, Blue Coat Systems.)
5) Talk to the parents of your kid's friends, and suggest they do the same. It takes a village to raise a child. The easiest way to beat a filter is to go next door where they don't have one. Demand more from yourself and your peers in protecting your kids.
I invite you to visit TheInternetParent.blogspot.com for more discussion and analysis of these and related issues.