It seems our leaders are worried that we Mom’s aren’t up to the task. They are hatching a scheme toÂ require that the Internet bend over backward to make up for our shortcomings. According to a press release issued thisÂ morning by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, “Prompted by child safety concerns, some legislators and state attorneys general have proposed that social networking sites impose age restrictions or verification schemes.” Maybe you are thinking that’s fine. Kids have to show ID to buy alcohol, go to R rated films, and buy cigarrettes. But in those cases, they are actual people dealing with another actual person who can look at the kid and his ID. Online no one knows your 11. Which brings us to verification, the main problem with this idea. (Aside from the paternalistic assumption that Mom’s are not up to the task of regulating their kids online exposure, which offends me but I suppose might be true in some cases.)
Verification will be invasive. It will mean keeping records of our kids social security numbers or something like that. (Lots of sites require kids give up a parent’s email address; that works for me though I suppose kids get around it.) A more appropriate response is education. Education of the parents. Sites already state that they are not for kids under a certain age but making sure no kids get in is impossible withouth some insanely invasive scheme. And that’s what our legislators are asking for.
Adam Thierer of the Progress and Freedom Foundation is advocating educaing parents and I agree with him. In his paper on the question of age-verification he says, “There is no substitute for good parenting and mentoring of our kids. We should not be calling in government to act as surrogate parent when parents already have the tools and the ability to handle much of this problem themselves.” I spoke to him recently about this subject. (And you can read more about this in my upcoming book.) He suggested that our government can do a great job of educating people when it chooses to and that’s what is appropriate here. You know who Smokey Bear is right? And would you think of putting a baby in a car without a car seat? That sort of campaign isÂ what this problem needs not a crazy, technical scheme that involves collecting personal information about our kids that can be then lost in an airport by some disgruntled government employee.
You can ban social networking sites on every computer in your house for around $40 a year and an easy software download. I recommend you do exactly that if you aren’t completely sure that you have taught your kids how to handle themselves online because social networking sites are a predator’s dream come true. But kids also love social networking so the goal is not to make them forever off limits but to make them the end goal of an extensive education campaign. Maybe you and your kids want to go through this education together? Whatever works for you. Here’s a good place to start. Or you can get a full-on training class here.