Kevin Cheng  

The Net Generation

November 21st, 2004 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

The Net Generation

Raising children has never been a simple matter but the Information Age has spawned off a whole new set of potential problems for today’s parents. Never has there been such unrestricted access to so much. The Net Generation are defined by unborn babies with their own domain names, toddlers with instant messenger accounts and preteens with personal journals open to the world.

Just as it’s become nearly impossible for a country to truly control the information flow in and out of the country, so it is in the home. How do parents cope with the fact that you can find websites on literally anything the mind can imagine - and more?

As I explored this topic, I came to find I had more questions than answers and decided to pose these questions to the readers for insight:

  • Whose responsibility is it to regulate the content children see on the internet?
  • Can we look at other media and apply their usage of regulatory agencies (such as the FCC for television)?
  • Being an inherently technological medium, might we look at technological or automated solutions (such as watchdog programs, blacklists, or mayby a V-Chip equivalent for the internet)?
  • Are there more potential dangers for offenders to seek out children through public information a child might broadcast on a blog, or IM or chat rooms?
  • How might the topic of the comic - monitoring of children - be used? Should parents monitor their children’s e-mail?
  • and perhaps the biggest question of all, is the internet actually creating a less safe environment or are people over-reacting?

I’m interested in opinions on these questions as well as any research anyone might be able to point to in relation to this topic.

7 Responses to “The Net Generation”
Dominik wrote:

I admit, this is a complicated matter. And just like everything in education, I feel spending time with the kids and showing a healthy amount (not too much) of interest solves most of the problems.
I know from my “research” - subjects being me and my younger sisters - that no matter how those things are regulated, children and young adults will always find a way to find what they are interested in. And at that point the education in young years kicks in. For example my parents always made sure I know people using violence to reach their goals are pathetic little losers - and what child wants to be a pathetic little loser?

Bob Salmon wrote:

I have three children - the oldest just starting school and the youngest just learning to stand. My oldest two play on the computer, but it’s a special treat, just like watching TV. They can play with toys or look at books as much as they like, but TV and the computer are rationed. (The above is all subject to “No, you’ve been indoors too long; go outside and play.”)

I agree with Dominik - it’s down to your relationship with your child, and education as part of it. Setting a good example is another part.

I suppose a peculiar aspect of modern technology is the communications changes is allows. My oldest sometimes emails his friend who moved to the other end of the country, but also talks to him on the phone or sends him things in the post. We’ve yet to face the questions of mobile phones and IM, but I’m sure they’ll come in time.

I was challenged once by a book I read about (spiritual) discipline. If you sit down to eat with your family and the phone rings, if you let the answer phone get it you’re telling your children that they are more important than a phone call. This was particularly pointed as the author is a busy minister, and I know from friends with clergy parents how often their meal times get interrupted by people phoning. Just because it’s their, doesn’t mean we have to use it. Who’s in control? You or the technology?

Good timing - GPF happens to have a series about this kind of thing

Withay wrote:

I totally agree with the poster above. I’m 19 and since I was a kid I was taught to be honest with my parents and earned their trust. In return, they let me have my privacy and respected me to make wise decisions.

Of course, a friendly reminder of some basic boundaries kept me in course…

I would prefer it if they participated more in my “digital” world and looked at some of the cool stuff I see on the web. They’re starting to become savvy now. It’s good to have trust. Share some links with your family and it can feel great!

Meri wrote:

I tend to agree with Bob — if you have a good relationship with your kids, then you can trust them to not get too deep into the full range of information available on the net without the parents being aware.

Equally, I think the approach of having the family computer(s) in a “family” space, so essentially the child can ask questions about anything they find and also be aware that someone might be looking over their shoulder, that can help them self-regulate.

There’s a separate issue of educating children about how to avoid being preyed upon, but that really isn’t too different from the real world — don’t talk to strange adults (OK, more difficult to discern online), don’t take people at face value, don’t share personal details without checking with parents.

I think the real issue is the same as with TV — if you expect an electronic device to parent for you, you can’t blame it when it does!

Bob Salmon wrote:

Embarrassing their/there typo above (sorry). Also a link to the discipline book, for you detail / spirituality fans.

As for all your questions, KC, I have no ready answers. I think that I’d hope that my spam filter would catch porn coming my children’s way when they start emailling on their own.

Also, I think before they started emailling a lot or using chat rooms I’d warn them about the dangers and give them the associated rules of the road (from avoiding flame wars to giving out personal information in chat rooms).

I think the internet is creating a less safe environment in terms of easy accessibility to content not suitable for children, e.g. porn and hate sites. This isn’t the only place though, as lads’ magazines have moved pornography down from the top shelf in newsagents to the ordinary shelves (*sigh*).

Also I think that a post in the other thread this week is relevant here. I think there is modern trend towards being completely risk-averse, which finds a willing helper in technology (of many varieties from net nannies to anti-bacterial chopping boards).

So, while I would never wish any harm on my children, I also wouldn’t want them to grow up completely wrapped in cotton wool as they would then be ill-prepared to cope with danger. I suppose this means I have to accept an amount of risk associated with my children’s use of technology.

And, at some point, as Withay pointed out, I’ll have to expose them to a range of options that includes things I don’t like - in order to prove their trustworthiness to me, I have to trust them. Developing sound judgment and having free will requires the presence of bad things, otherwise all they learn is to choose between are various flavours of saccharine.

Wow, this is getting all philosophical, even theological! Hurrah! Cheers for a good forum that lets us think about these deeper issues and pretend we know something about them!

LaQuisha wrote:

The internet is for grown ups!

Paul van Dinther wrote:

I fully agree with Bob’s last post. Especially about our society being risk averse. Life is about dealing with risk.

So if there is Internet then we need to learn to deal with it. Young and old. If there is AIDS we need to learn to deal with it too.

Just because something challenges us in our set ways does not mean it should be banned or regulated.

The matter of trust was raised. I like to make this differentiation:

“I trust my child not to break my rules”

or

“I trust my child in dealing with issues that may arise”

I prefer the latter.

The Internet does bring porn right on our doorstep. So far we have succesfully managed to stop children from seeing people love each other while they are exposed on a daily basis to violence, murder and war. Now our own hypocrit censoring is challenged as much as any other form of censorship.


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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?