My last post here was about balancing screen time over the summer months. This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought, and I can summarize my feelings on the matter this way: my personal aim is to decrease the amount of time that my kids consume utter dreck**, and balance other free time with good quality viewing that we can enjoy as a family.
Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes the usual lineup of blockbuster movies. Along with the usual cast of superheroes, spies and sexagenarian, whip-cracking archaeologists comes a somewhat unusual hero: Wall-E, the nearly mute robot protagonist of the film of the same name.
If anyone still doubts that youth need to learn how to evaluate online information, those doubts should have been dispelled by a recent hoax perpetrated by the group called the Yes Men. This group, which has a history of staging fake press conferences, decided to draw attention to Canada’s position at the Copenhagen conference on climate change by creating a number of fake Web sites purporting to be, among others, the Copenhagen summit site, the Wall Street Journal, and Environment Canada’s site. While it didn’t take long for Environment Canada to make a statement exposing the hoax, by that time many journalists had reported the story as fact and the story had been widely distributed by wire services.
If you’re a parent, chances are there was at least one video game under the tree this Christmas. Even though your kids may be thrilled by a new title, as a parent you may be less enthusiastic. Even those of us who grew up with Alone in the Dark may balk at the detailed level of violence in Modern Warfare and Fallout: New Vegas, at least when considered as fare for kids. Both of these games receive an “M” rating, which means that they are considered unsuitable for players under 17; as with all other things, though, labeling these titles as ‘for adults only’ often makes them more appealing to the unintended youth audience. In addition to the violence question, there remain issues of meaning in videogames which are harder to track but no less important. So how concerned should parents be about indulging their children’s appetite for virtual violence?
With Christmas approaching, video games are the one media industry that seems recession-proof, with games topping many wish lists. Parents, though, can find it difficult to tell just what they’re buying for their children. They may know about Grand Theft Auto, for instance, but may wonder what kind of sins are in Sins of a Solar Empire. Of course, nobody wants to disappoint their children: if parents decide not to buy Gears of War, will little Johnny be happy with Rock Band instead? Fortunately, there are both tools and techniques at hand to help parents identify games they might find inappropriate and also to pick appropriate games their children will like.
In the last year or two many writers and researchers have been trying to correct the common perception that young people do not care about privacy. While the public may finally be getting the message that teenagers do value their privacy – as they define it – the idea that younger children have any personal information worth protecting is still a new one. Certainly, most people would probably be surprised to learn how early children are starting to surf the Net: the average age at which children began to use the Internet dropped from age 10 in 2002 to age four in 2009 (Findahl, Olle, Preschoolers and the Internet, Presented at the EU-kids online conference, London, June 11, 2009); and, thanks to the iPhone and iPad, that number has probably dropped even lower.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
I’ve already written about YouTube and Instagram, but today I wanted to share some information about four other popular sites and apps that are on my radar right now: Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr and ask.fm.
Snapchat, the mobile app that lets users send “self-destructing” photos, has the distinction of being the only digital tool that does not have a single redeeming feature. While the moral panic associated with blogs, cell phones, social networks and online games has largely faded in grudging recognition of their more positive uses (indeed, research shows that many parents have actually helped their children lie about their age register for Facebook accounts), Snapchat is seen as the Q-tip of the digital age: its sole function is to do the thing that you’re warned not to do on the box.
We generally think of our kids’ online and offline lives as being two separate things. In reality, they constantly overlap, flowing back and forth face-to-face in the schoolyard and through texts and social networks at home. But on the Internet there are lots of moral and ethical choices that don’t have to be made offline.