I have three children, the oldest of whom is web literate. She can work a mouse. She can open Chrome. She can type. And she can Google shit, which is terrifying because you never know when Google Image Search will decide to hand you an image of a big hairy penis, even if you're using the default MODERATE SafeSearch setting. Google isn't that smart. It can't stop all the penises from breaking through. I know it's only a matter of time before the kid stumbles upon Goatse and finds her life to be irrevocably altered. Everyone's life can be broken down into pre-Goatse and post-Goatse phases.
Obviously, you can't stop kids from growing up. Since the beginning of time, parents have tried to shield their children from the uglier side of human nature for as long as possible, only to fail much sooner than they expected to. The problem now is that the Internet is able to shatter a child's innocence instantly and severely. There's no gradual introduction into sexuality on the Internet. When I was a kid, you went from SI swimsuit issues to Playboy to scrambled Cinemax to Swank to actual video porn. That progression is over now. When you type "TITTIES" into a search engine, it doesn't ask you if you're prepared to handle what comes next. The single weirdest bit of porn I saw in my youth was when my friend Andrew opened up a Hustler and showed me a picture of "Cissy, the Texas Tunnel," a large woman with a vagina as wide as a rabbit hole. I was in my teens and it kinda fucked me up. Cissy is NOTHING compared to what's available now to a much younger group of people.
In going from a horny single fella to being a married parent, I've gone from adoring pornography to being deathly afraid of it. People like to joke about "2 Girls 1 Cup" and laugh off their need to surf for porn. But that kind of humor is usually a defense mechanism. A lot of this shit is deeply, truly disturbing. There's bestiality on the Internet. There's child porn. There's rape. And even if you install every possible firewall on your home computer and use only the strictest image-search filtering, it's no guarantee that your little ones will be protected, especially once they venture out into the world and check out a friend's computer (or the computer at the Berea public library). What does it do to an 8-year-old to see a woman being fucked by a horse? My guess is that nothing good comes from it.
Many parents aren't as web savvy as their children, so they lack the ability to properly teach their kids about HOW to use the Web. I don't think my public school system has any course for teaching young people about how to use Facebook, how to write on message boards, how to deal with cyberbullying, and a lot of other really important shit that most kids have to figure out on their own. It shouldn't be this way. There should be some basic tips for parents to follow, so that they can protect their kids and, more importantly, teach their kids to make the correct choices when they go online. Here now are a few starting points. Do not consider this list to be all-encompassing.
1. Home computers should be used in open spaces. Putting a PC in Little Johnny's room and giving him full access to it 24 hours a day without you around is really, really fucking stupid. Leaving a child alone with a computer is basically daring him to figure out what RedTube is in record time. Also, if you are a parent and don't know the basic names of large-traffic pornography sites like RedTube, learn them. I'm quite confident that this exploration process will be mildly enjoyable for you. Computers belong in main rooms, with their screens easily visible to all. Because who doesn't love having a parent look over his shoulder? If your kids scoff at this, that's fine. Fuck their whining.
2. No iPhones. A kid doesn't need an iPhone. The main reason to give kids a cell phone is so they can contact you in case of an emergency. A piece of shit free phone that comes with a basic calling plan is good enough to handle that task and allow kids to text friends. They don't need a web-enabled phone. They'll just break the fucking thing anyway. If your kids want an iPhone, they can pay for it themselves, data plan included. Also, depriving your child of an iPhone is sweet justice. I didn't get on-the-go porn when I was a kid. No way my offspring will get to enjoy it. Fuck that.
3. Children should know the difference between the public internet and the private internet. Like most politicians, kids don't know that a Twitter account is visible to the entire world. You should teach them the difference between closed internet systems like a webmail account or a Facebook profile (though a Facebook account is not exactly closed off), where using your real name on any correspondence makes sense, and the rest of the Internet, which is open and searchable. If your kid wants to hop onto a One Direction message board to tell fans of The Wanted that they eat a fat dick, he better damn well know to troll people using an alias.
You can get your point across and start whatever flame war you want without bringing your real name into it. Ditto using real names of other people or obvious identifiers as to where you live. Using your real name on Twitter or in a blog's comment section is fucking stupid. You don't want the first Google result of your name to be some comment you made on HuffPo when you were 8 years old. And tell your kids they should only post and send pictures of themselves if they're OK with 6 billion other assholes seeing them. Your kid needs to know that, even if he trusts the people on the other end of an email, those people may forward the email to someone they trust, and so on and so on until some random guy winds up in possession of that photo of your kid licking a bus aisle and decides to send it to The Daily What. And then your kid is the Dirty Bus Licker FOR ALL TIME. Not good.
4. Children should realize that not everything they say online will be received warmly. They should know about trolls. And they should know that anything they say online invites a rebuttal that can be both highly personal and utterly withering. When you're a kid and you're passionate about something, it seems almost inconceivable that people would think and feel differently from you. But the Internet shatters that illusion quickly. Kids need to be prepared for that. They need to be told that there's a tidal wave of assholery coming their way, and that it doesn't mean anything.
5. Know what they browse. Know which browser they use. If you have seven different browsers on your desktop, it's altogether possible your kid is using the one you aren't, and using it to search for "PUPPY FUCKING." Limit your computer to one or two browsers at the most. Check their history. Disable private browsing if at all possible (I've looked around for tips on this and it's not all that easy, probably because no parent wants to deprive himself of the option). Being present and having your kid aware that you're staying vigilant is often a good deterrent. One time, my dad discovered that I had been dialing phone sex. The second he confronted me with it, I wanted to fucking die. You can make your kids want to die, too! It's fun!
And, most important, TALK to your kids about what they saw or read on the Web that day. Is anyone annoying them online? What did they write about today? Did they see something they wish they shouldn't have seen? Don't be judgmental about what they did. Just be open about it. Give them the support they need, so that they don't get emotionally crushed from a troll attack.
6. Get a decent security system. Your computer has the East Poland MegaStuxnet Worm, and your moron kid is likely the reason why. Pony up for Kaspersky or some other decent security suite that alerts you when the system has been HAXXORED. And teach your kid about malware and worms and Trojan horse viruses, and teach them to look for the telltale signs that they're on a dicey website: multiple cascading pop-up windows, banner ads featuring men with giant penises, a warning from Google Chrome, etc. Kids happily ignore those "THIS WEBSITE MAY HARM YOUR COMPUTER" warnings. Smack them in the head and teach them that those warnings actually mean something.
7. Teach them about the sites they visit. Explain who owns YouTube. Explain how it works. Show them other sites that are like it. Do your best to surf the Web WITH your kids, so that they know what they're looking at and why it's been posted there. Even if the info goes over their heads, it's still important to give them as much of it as possible.
8. Teach your kid never to burn bridges online. Patiently explain to them that telling a person off via email or a Facebook message is always, without fail, a lousy idea. Not only is there a chance that the person they tell off will exact revenge on them by shitting all over them online, but they can also access that email your kid sent at any future point and be hurt by it all over again. Please note that telling off Peter King or LeBron James online is an acceptable exception.
9. Do not ever give them a credit card number to use online. If you do, you're a fucking idiot. You deserve to pay $5,000 for a monthly subscription to RapidLibrary.
10. Your kids should never arrange to hang out with strangers they met online. That seems obvious, but kids are breathtakingly stupid. They need to know that there are any number of Sanduskys out there online dangling kiddie bait. Do not let them get into an intense email relationship with firstname.lastname@example.org.
11. I'd tell you what to do about Facebook, but I have no fucking idea. Facebook's privacy settings are such a fucking train wreck, even I barely understand them. I suppose I'd best learn, because that's the best way to protect your kids when they decide to go online. You should always try and know the Web as well as your children know it. Otherwise you'll whiff on the last rule ...
12. No Fuck Lists.