From porn and bullying to being groomed by strangers, California’s most qualified parents are taking a cautious approach to their kids’ internet access
Even in Silicon Valley, parents struggle to navigate the online risks and opportunities for their children. The internet might be the first place to turn for homework and entertainment, but how much should parents intervene to protect their children from adult content, cyberbullying and being contacted by dangerous strangers? Thirteen-year-old Nicole Lovell was murdered by two students who authorities say met her on the messaging app Kik. One in 25 young people aged 10-17 have received aggressive sexual solicitations online, researchers found. And 34% of students aged 11-15 say they have experienced cyberbullying.So how should parents handle this digital minefield? We asked the Silicon Valley experts.
‘Trying to control access is massively complex’
Jon Gillespie-Brown is a British entrepreneur and author who has been in Silicon Valley for nine years. He lives in Portola Valley, California, with his wife and two sons aged 13 and 15
My kids have access to pretty well everything. Both my wife and I work in technology – she in gaming, I in software – and we’ve got every gadget going.
The kids have got smartphones, laptops, iPads and game boxes, and every one of them is connected to the internet. Trying to control all that access across a mishmash of platforms and devices is massively complex. I am a programmer. I know how to program every single one of these things but the tools we’ve used to try and restrict access to certain types of sites – such as porn sites – are ineffective and block content needed for them to do their homework.
Now our method for control is training. Both our kids have been curious and looked at pornography. We try to teach them about the internet just like you’ve got to teach them about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.
Our older son uses Ask.fm, Snapchat and Instagram a lot, and there was lots of inappropriate texting and commenting in his early use of social media. However, he’s also really into sports and wants to go to college, so he’s starting to control his use as he knows that the schools [universities] are going through social media and using it as a means to exclude people. So he’s gone through every account and deleted all the bad language and inappropriate content.Because there were some cyberbullying cases at school – and lawsuits when parents found out – a lot of the chat has moved to Snapchat, which is like the magically disappearing piece of paper I used to pass round when I was a kid. The Bay Area is a very aggressive environment for children and their parents, and there have been a lot of teen suicides. Parents are all working very long hours in stressful jobs and don’t have as much time to be with their kids. We have drilled into them what is appropriate and what is legal, and that if they get caught sending stuff online it’s a legal document and will be used against them in a way that whispering something mean can’t be.
‘We told our son to use Snapchat, not Twitter’
David DeMember founded digital agency Toi, where he builds apps and websites with his wife, Betty. They live with their three boys, aged five, 14 and 17, in Millbrae, California
We try to treat our children as adults. I don’t believe in spying on your kids unless you have to. It’s crazy that parents think they should have their passwords and use tracking tools. Before these things existed were you bugging your kids? It’s absurd that this is the norm these days.
The main concerns when it comes to the web are: overusage, pornography, the fact that you don’t know who you are talking to online and cybersecurity. I am mostly concerned about usage and security.
There was a weekend when our middle son played nine hours of video games – World of Warcraft and Gears of War– so we are now monitoring his usage. We also ask them not to take their phones into their bedrooms at night because it affects their quality of sleep.
If you binge on anything too much – TV, computer, phone, candy, fatty food, salt, whatever – it’s bad for your body and mind. If you are constantly playing games eight or nine hours every day it will erode your interests in other things.
With porn, we know they are going to watch it – it’s natural to be curious. So we talk to them about how certain kinds are better than others. If we tell them not to watch it, it may push them into the darker corners. You can’t shelter your kids from the world. The internet is accessible everywhere and they know how to use private browsing.
There was a time when our eldest son and his friends started to use Twitter and would post anything – some of it borderline. A fellow player on the football team posted about spilling bong water in the car and lots of kids were using the N-word. So we talked about that. We reminded him that everything you post online is there forever and if he wants to have those conversations he should use Snapchat (which might sound crazy).
We’re fairly liberal people, both politically and in our parenting style, so you would think our kids would be crazy. But I believe that by creating a more inclusive conversation we’ve demystified some of this stuff.
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THEGUARDIAN.COM: How Silicon Valley’s parents keep their children safe online