Parental Internet Surveillance Opinions

This guest blog post was written by Jonas Quick (AKA Entropy):

Before I start, I want to say that English is not my native language since I was born and raised in Germany. I am 19 years old and have had a few years of English, so I will give it my best shot. I hope you will take the time to read this and that my language skills will suffice.

I have been watching your videos for quite some time now and have always liked your way of reporting about tech stuff, which is really one of my passions. But yesterday I stumbled upon something you said in your video regarding the “Oprah says webcams are evil” video.

I don’t care much for 1:1 quoting, but you said something like supporting parental observation or surveillance of kids’ online activity. And on this I strongly disagree. In the following I mean to tell you why and would like (to challenge) you to respond to my points.

I think I can give an accurate description or perspective and, seeing that this is a topic which deals with the significance of interaction with technology and the clash in generation, I thought this might interest you (or your viewers as potential parents) as well. Seeing that I now am “of age” (I think it’s what you call it) I am – time-wise – very close to the group you were talking about.

In the hip, modern information age, where nearly everything and anything is possible (literally) at the tips of our fingers, parents look for ways to protect their children from potentially negative influences. I think we all know what these influences could be, so I am not going to elaborate on that further. But it’s like that with all things – is it not? From my experience, one should learn to control it responsibly rather than demonize parts of it. I grew up with my parents intentionally not controlling my usage of the Internet. They concentrated on making me responsible for my actions – not exclusively pertaining to the Internet, but life in general. I think that if you raise your kid to be a critical human being, it will provide a solid foundation for everything that follows. If this is not encouraged, one can never reach his or her full potential in using the Internet – or in anything.

So I explored and used the Internet whenever I could and found need. Today I have gained an intuitive connection to computers and technology in general. I would have not done so if my parents had constantly been sniffing over my shoulder. Besides, I believe especially for youngsters who get more and more intelligent over forth-going generations, there is an urgent need for an uncontrolled medium. I can only speak for myself, but the most frustrating thing in my youth was that my capabilities were limited by my age – not my skills. I believe a lot of today’s youth problems are linked to that exact frustration. The Internet in all its uncontrolled beauty can provide an almost endless opportunity for self development in so many areas. For example, I started discussing high-level black hole physics with people I didn’t know. Surely If they’d known they were talking to a 16-year-old at the time, they would not have taken me seriously. I want to ask you: would you? (At this point I want to stress my initial reluctance to tell you my age, but for the sake of the argument I believed it to be necessary.)

Kids at that age want to do things without their parents knowing it – it is a natural tendency. At that age your parents often represent something you do not want to be yourself. True, often you really DO end up like your parents, but at that age you do not see that. So if your parents control the Internet, the long term effects will make other activities way more attractive than what could be extremely beneficial. You are looking at basically two things that can happen when your kid feels this sort of frustration. You have today’s party age with flat-rate drinking, which is just one example of frustrational relief. And on the other hand you have kids that don’t quite know what do do with themselves. They are usually not quite as far along as the drinking segment, but just as endangered.

I will not quite say that these things are necessarily unavoidable, but I find the deprivation of the “free Internet” to be something difficult. Yes there are certain dangers, but I want you to consider something. It seems (to me) an extremely American tendency to try and protect children from everything that might be potentially harmful. But in order to understand and appreciate something in it its wholeness, you have to understand the dangers too. The things I did were not always legal, I admit. But then again they taught me valuable dangers, which remain way too theoretical when one is always being always protected from them. Today I try to tell people about credit card dangers, Trojan horses, and that blindly using the Internet can – no, will definitely – be dangerous. But they are already beyond intuitively understanding what I am telling them. They missed the window I was lucky to have. Now they are kind of cobbling together pieces of the puzzle according to the advice of some expert magazine – not really getting the big picture.

Now you might say, “Well, why can this not happen under parental supervision?” The answer is quite simple. I think it was George Herbert Mead (a well known pedagogue) who said (loosely translated) “We learn through playing.” Obviously he formulated it in a far more complex way and with more of a foundation, but this is where my language skills end. Anyway, I think you get my point. Parents are a form of control in every other aspect of a kid’s life. You do something wrong, and your parents are there (to punish or to fix what you have done). For one, this is why I believe that educational institutions have problems motivating kids (for this, Google “a hacker’s manifesto – mentor” just for an example). You see, my parents, in their effort to raise me responsibly, would also – in a way – smile at their son talking about theoretical physics at the age of 16. Or maybe in more general terms, today’s parents do not have the connection to what their kids are doing and their supervision will make the Internet something less worth exploring. Or imagine being 15 or 16 with your mom overseeing your activity in a chat room (possibly even logging in under a false name to observe you). Kids have to be in control of something and I believe a lot of today’s “We have to protect our children” talk to be short sighted. Today’s youth are a lot less endangered than we believe. Kids are not necessarily sexualized too young through the Internet – rather, that happens through general society (but that’s another topic).

So where is the turning angle here? Well, parents need to grant their children a certain (and prominent) form of responsibility and not deprive them of something that can effectively not be controlled anyway. Yes, there are dangers out there, but a well-informed kid aware of these things will learn by himself how to protect himself. How else is he going to if “mommy” and “daddy” are not there to pull the USB key to the computer? I find this a crucial point of importance in our modern world, as it distorts the image of youth-Internet interaction.

I would very much like to hear your opinion on this as this is a topic I, as a well known tech-freak, had to discuss with worried parents over and over.