Let’s face it – the Internet is full of sites that are inappropriate for children and in my opinion, to most adults as well. Like me, when your children reached puberty you probably installed one of those programs or services that block adult websites – a content blocker – and like me, you probably thought you were doing the right thing.
Boy, were we wrong.
It took me several not-so-reassuring incidents with my children, some talks with experts and some quiet soul searching, to figure out why site filtering services are not the right solution for me or my family.
For start, children are smart, and they’re technologically savvy enough to bypass whatever I install on their tablets and phone. It’s really very easy for them. If you rely on a browser blocker, such as Safari’s “limit adult content” option, they can simply install another browser. Or, if you install a blocker linked to your Wi-Fi router, they know how to switch to a public Wi-Fi network. The smarter kids might even be able to install a VPN (which a friend told me stand for “virtual public network”), which will make the Internet think they’re somewhere else altogether. Or, they can guess our passwords, since we’re not THAT good.
Even if your kids are not technologically inclined, bypassing a content blocker is not that hard. As another friend showed me, all you have to do is go on google and go through the related image option. Scroll enough, and you’ll get to things you don’t want to see. And finally, there’s always the option of borrowing a tablet or phone from a friend whose parents did not install such blocker, and you can bet your socks that such devices pass through the schools like hot potatoes. Even in your kids’ school.
In other words, blockers don’t actually work. They simply give parents a false sense of assurance.
A Content blocker might only do harm
When I started thinking about it more carefully, I discovered I’m not that sure I wanted those filters to work. You see, most of those blockers rely on words, rather than context, and end up blocking the wrong things. For example, when my daughter wanted to join a breast cancer awareness campaign, my filtering program blocked her, since she was trying to get on a website dealing with breasts. Many children also rely on the Internet to answer regular health and maturation questions that they might be embarrassed to ask an adult, and I would want my children to be able to get on appropriate websites that would give them the correct info. After all, knowledge is safety. And finally, even my child wanted to watch porn, I would rather know about it and have a discussion, rather than sweep it under the rug and call it a day.
So, I imagine you’re saying
So what should I do?
The answer is the old-fashioned building blocks of parenting – trust, education, awareness and conversation. This is what I chose.
Trust – I chose to trust my children to do what is right. I recognized I will not always have the authority or ability to monitor what they do, and thus I decided I should let them practice making their own decisions now, rather than later. Blocking will not teach my sons and daughters how to make the right choices, since it gives no choice at all
Education – I educate my children, through words, attitudes and example, how I want them to behave in the world. I have conversations with them about the way some people might demean others or objectify them, and how I would rather have them respect their bodies and themselves. I tell them about healthy relationships that are age appropriate.
Awareness – I realize that boys will be boys and kids will be kids, and I keep my expectations realistic. I know they might surf sites that I would not necessarily approve of, and although they have freedom, I want to know then they do that. It is not blocking, censoring or spying – just concerned and involved parenting.
Conversation – If and when my son or daughter would visit a site which I deem inappropriate, I will talk with them about it. I will hear whether they wanted information, whether they heard about it from a friend, or whether anyone else recommended it. I would explain why it goes against my values and beliefs. I would win them over.
If that sounds too difficult for you to do, I can say that I thought so, too. Until I got the Jiminy App. Jiminy lets me know what my children are doing, and guides me on how to have those difficult and awkward conversations.
Parenting. It beats a content blocker every time.