Kids navigate through minefield of technology

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel                               January 21, 2008
I got a pornography call. I mean, the call wasn't porn. It was about porn. It was my son's school.

The middle school guidance counselor wanted me to know that there had been a "pornography incident." A student had tried to Google some forbidden words. (Big Mother was watching.) The student may have discussed the cyber crime with other students, and the school was calling their parents. A sort of "Hey, your child may actually know enough to Google bad words, so we thought you should know."

This is a post-millennium version of a 1960s puerile peek at the Playboys in the barber shop. Is there a real surprise here? Kids do what kids do.

So did the culprit get to anything, commit a felony, get hauled off bound and gagged? No. The school district has every computer filtered to prevent (virtually all) naughty searches and block (virtually all) filth from getting to innocent eyes. Computer use at the middle school is supervised by a teacher, and all use is logged so activity - lewd or otherwise - can be tracked.

Parents, be assured. The kids are in an (almost) sterile cocoon. And the Mequon-Thiensville School District, like other districts, is proud of it.

But kids do not live at school, and the world is not scuff-free beyond its polished floors. My son and many of his friends each have some combination of multiple e-mail addresses, an instant messaging account, a cell phone number and a Microsoft Xbox account. They surf MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and eBay and window-shop online - oh, how they wish they had Mom and Dad's credit card.

Through it all, they may have to contend with sex predators, porn, privacy theft, cyber bullies, copyright complications, Webcam winks and password pilfering - loose fingertips sink ships.

My son gets some incredible spam, besides the solicitations for Viagra, porn and illegal copies of Windows, that slips through the filter. Sometimes he gets better offers than I do. Unfortunately, no filter has God-like power in the ever-evolving online world.

If that doesn't leave you shaken, kids now can do much of this without a computer. The latest cell phones can browse the Web. The Nintendo Wii can communicate with other Wii's across the Internet. The Xbox 360 can browse the Internet and communicate with other Xboxes. Kids can slip from dishing out Rolling Stones renditions on Guitar Hero to cruising YouTube and slip back before the microwave finishes the popcorn.

Hey, we are way beyond "Sesame Street" and "Blues Clues." Geek has become chic. Maybe we can lock the teen-somethings up at school and remove the computers and Internet connections at home, but what happens when they go to a friend's? What do you do about wireless devices? Kids can sit in the mall and be online. While viewing "Enchanted" the other day, I could faintly make out a child in front of me text-messaging on her cell phone.

During the Christmas break, a 20-year-old stalker was arrested in Spokane, Wash. He met his intended 15-year-old victim, whom he allegedly threatened to rape, while playing Halo on the Xbox. She innocently gave him enough info that he was able to dig up the rest with a Google search.

Our kids share information like crazy, are getting exposed younger and have abilities far beyond our appreciation. Over the holidays my son found several of the neighbor's wireless Internet connections without password protection and jumped on one, unbeknownst to the neighbor. Yes, free Internet.

Do you know where your kids are?








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