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ABC's Nightline Guest Advocates 'Taking Risks' with Kids' Internet Safety

Even though he acknowledged a British poll reporting that 25 percent of children meet in person with somebody they met on the Internet, Nightline reporter Nick Watt suggested in a story that parents should allow children to decide for themselves what information to provide to strangers online. 


On Friday, Watt reported on a new study on child safety on the Internet by Tanya Byron, host of two popular British parenting shows, Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways. Byron advocates that parents should allow children to take risks as they learn the danger of giving out personal information over the Internet.


Nightline failed to present an opposing expert voice to discuss the potential harm such freedom could create, particularly with violent internet games or pornographic sites.  Or personal contacts.  Watt cites, but does not identify, a British poll saying 25 percent of children meet up in the real world with people they have met on the Internet. 


Byron suggests that children be given some freedom to navigate the safety of the Internet, particularly about judging the appropriateness of making contacts with people in the virtual world.  She asserts that children are becoming too controlled nowadays, stunting the development of the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for critically evaluating experiences.  But should such developing judgment be relied upon it comes to choosing a game to play or a site to visit?


Watt reports:  “Kids need to know how to behave when you [parents] are not around, and in the risk-averse world in which we live, says Byron, kids must be allowed to take some risks on the Internet.”  Byron adds, “Childhood in itself is becoming so sanitized.  Children are being deprived of what I would say are really important childhood experiences about risk.”


She continues:  “As kids get slightly more savvy, as their frontal lobes are developing, they're taking risks, but they're beginning to assess risks.  Maybe you have some filtering on your computer, but you'd also give your child some freedom and flexibility.” 


Watt does not report the other side—the evidence for the dangers children face when allowed such freedom and flexibility.


Watt does interviews his nephew, Ben, who knows he should not give out personal information to people he doesn't know on the Internet.  When asked why that is not a good idea, Ben says, “Because then they could take that information and use it for doing bad things,” which he says he learned on his own.  Watt then reports, “He might not know what those bad things are, but he's making choices.”


But if Ben cannot know or understand what those bad things are, should he be relied upon to determine whether a certain game or site is harmful to him? 


Watt fails to answer the question by not offering the voice of an advocate for tight parental controls.  For example, Parry Aftab, founder and director of wiredsafety.org, an Internet safety group, suggests that children's limited judgment blinds them from fully understanding the danger of the Internet.


Aftab was interviewed by Maggie Rodriguez of CBS's The Early Show on June 5 to discuss the growing trend among teenagers of sending nude photos of themselves or others over cell phones and the Internet.  When asked whether kids understood how serious such actions were, Aftab responded:  “Kids—the kids have no idea of consequences.  That's what they do at that age.”


Aftab says it's up to the parents to keep control on their kids.  “Well, I think we need to start putting some control back into the parents' hands.  You're going to buy an expensive cell phone with video capability, look at it, see what your kids are posting, what pictures they're doing.  If they don't follow your rules take it away.  You have to think before you buy.”

 

Julia Seward is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.