15.3 THE ROLE OF PARENTS

The question of how to deal with inappropriate material goes back to the role of responsible parents. This burden falls on parents, teachers, and librarians by default because the technologies are not strong enough, and the regulatory responses generally run into First Amendment issues about free speech and have a tough time in the courts. By default, responsible adults have to stand up and take the lead in combating inappropriate material.

The central role of responsible adults is the reason why, as businessmen, we made a product that would appeal to parents as the primary decision makers. We demonstrated with the product adoption rates that there is a lot of demand for solutions from parents. Parents are concerned; they want their kids to have a positive Internet experience, and they are searching for solutions.

I do not let my kids go on the Internet without my presence. Of course, they are young (5 and 7), so we will see how vigilant I am in 2 or 3 years. I have a cable modem, and my kids are examples of how band-width constraints are a problem. Even when my kids go with me online and we look at something together, they get frustrated and go back to their rooms to play with Barbie dolls. The Internet is slow.

There is concern about whether we want 2- and 3-year-olds on the Internet. By being offline, we could make a completely simplified interface that could be used by 2-year-olds, who did use our service without knowledge of how to use the Internet. I will not say whether this is right or wrong, but the children’s educational software industry targets kids starting at that age and even younger. A year or two ago, The Learning Company introduced software that teaches toddlers how to bang on keyboards. My kids were using the computer with multimedia software at 18 months. They are not gifted children. But they happened to be the types of kids who would just as soon be playing outside and would do a little of both. But this is a concern, and it goes back to the assumption that the Internet is a good medium for educating kids. That assumption should be challenged.4

4  

Sandra Calvert said the issue should be researched. The discussion points to the lack of a database on whether and how little kids should use the Internet. She has seen 4-year-olds who have been online for 2 years, and they are not “hunched over.” They are curious; they want to know where the “Back” button is. They are knowledgeable about the Internet. She does not think it is damaging them, but she would pay attention to the sites they visited and whether their parents were with them at the time.



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