The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a U.K.-based charity that aims to protect kids, offered up an interesting study recently. According to the organization, 75 percent of children have seen disturbing images online.
Now, it should be noted that the study polled only 477 kids who went to the charity's site and asked them if they've seen disturbing images, so it may not necessarily reflect the true number of kids who have been exposed to images of pornography, violence, or any other content that would be deemed "unsuitable" for children.
That in mind, the most we can really gather from this study is that some groups believe children are being exposed to too much on the Web. Sure, that might be true, but how can we really solve it?
Oh, wait, the NSPCC has an answer: more parental controls.
"Children are just a few clicks away from innocently stumbling across upsetting or even dangerous pictures and films such as adult sex scenes, violent dog fights, people self-harming and children being assaulted," NSPCC Policy adviser Zoe Hilton said in a statement. "High-security parental controls installed in their computers would help shield them. Social networking sites must also put more effort and resources into patrolling their sites for harmful and offensive material and ensure their public complaints systems are clearly marked, easy-to-use and child-friendly."
You just have to love it, don't you? Instead of looking at parents and saying, "Um, mama, papa, uh, don't you think you should watch your kids a bit better than you have in the past?," the NSPCC is calling on companies and service providers to protect the children instead.
What a joke.
Granted, parental controls are needed and it does help when a Web site is doing all it can to stop children from being exploited, but let's get real for a minute: how much can we possibly expect a Web site to do before we need to start blaming ourselves?
I understand that no matter how much a parent watches their child, bad things can happen on the Web. But let's be honest--if parents are really watching their kids and being proactive in ensuring that their children will see as little "bad" material as possible, don't you think that that 75 percent figure would be much lower? I certainly do.
Here's an idea for all the parents out there who don't deem it necessary to watch their children: block sites and use parental control features on your home routers, restrict access to the Internet to the times when you're able to watch over your kids, and get the computers out of their rooms and into the family room so you can monitor your child's usage of the Web at all times. Sure, a teenager may not like that and would rather use Facebook and AIM in their bedroom, but you know what? You're the parent and your teenager is your child--it's your rules and your home.
OK, so maybe I'm being a little too blunt. I know that some parents can't control their homes and teenagers decide what really happens. And I know that we can't call that failed parenting (but we can chalk it up to those awful "teenage years"), so it might be unfair to ask too much from people who decided that they had the ability to take on the responsibility of children. But should we blame companies and force them to create technology that helps keep kids safe when parents aren't willing to do it themselves? After all, if mommy and daddy won't help the vendors, how can the vendors help the kids?
And perhaps that's why I have such a problem with the NSPCC and all the other organizations that try to pretend that the onus is on vendors and Web site owners to protect children. If a parent really wants to stop their children from accessing pornography accidentally, maybe they should sit with them at the computer and direct them to clean sites. Or maybe, (just maybe) if they want their teenagers to stop talking to some 47-year-old dude from Orlando claiming he's 18, they should restrict access to the computer or stop letting little Susie access the social network alone every night.
I know that in today's world of so-called "freedom" it sounds draconian for someone to say that people should put Web restrictions on their children, but what other alternatives do we really have? If parenting groups and anti-child-exploitation groups are so worried about protecting our children, the only way to truly protect them is to stop allowing them to live a "free" life when parents aren't willing to be parents.
Now, I know all too well that the Web is filled with questionable material that I wouldn't want to look at, let alone allow a 10-year-old to view it. But as long as it's legal, what can we really do about it? The way I see it, I can make the choice not to surf to those sites and parents can decide that they're children shouldn't be allowed to surf to those sites either. Call me crazy, but I always thought that's what being a parent is all about.
I think it's time parents stop pointing fingers at everyone else for their own mistakes and start realizing that although we're living in a culture where "no-fault" is a commonly coined term, it doesn't hold any water in the world of parenting.