*****This is a piece I had published to my school online magazine called Lexspects. There is fantastic work on their site, if you would like to read more work from young people (lexspects.com). For now, enjoy my most recent piece on the influence of media on children.
A boy runs around the kiddie pool yelling profane language. The other children are curiously listening while horrified parents are frantically searching for the child’s guardian. They’re confused and disturbed, unsure of where the language came from.
The little boy had previously been listening to some songs on YouTube and stumbled upon the new word in the comments section. He felt proud that he had something to show off. Little did he know, no one would be impressed.
Today, children have easy access to the Internet, which leads to frequent exposure to swearing, mature content, and sensitive issues they cannot fully comprehend and interpret. Many sites have age restrictions that attempt to solve the problem but these can be easily bypassed by curious kids. This leaves families at a loss for how to maintain their children’s innocence without depriving them of the Internet as a whole.
Age-sensitive material can be found anywhere, even on easily accessible sites such as YouTube. Children do not have to create an account to access most videos, including music videos with swearing and references to sex and drugs. For more explicit content, YouTube asks the viewer to log into an account, but this age-block is easily dodged by writing a fake birthdate.
Not only can a person view R-rated videos on YouTube but there is a plethora of explicit content in the comments section. Users are typically uncensored and often engage in heated discussions that can include forceful language. As a result, it’s not unusual to see an 8-year-old child conversing with a 25-year-old who won’t refrain from swearing, especially when they can’t see the person behind the username. This trend continues on other social media platforms. For example, on Facebook a person may be warned about an inappropriate video or photo. However, most kids would choose to view it if they were curious since they could easily lie about their age when a pop-up appears. Consequently, even though you have to be 13 years old to legally make an account, this can be bypassed and is unregulated.
Instagram and Snapchat are fun platforms with photos and videos that can automatically disappear if the poster wishes. This is no longer fun and games when an online predator sends a child a revealing photo or a kid stumbles across one of the many public yet uncensored accounts.
So, what do we do next? Are we doomed to live in an unsafe online frontier? There are no perfect answers for how to solve the problem of bad media influence on youth. However, this problem does not have to be so significant. Everyone can play a role in making the internet a more realistic place.
Since it is impacting us the most, students and youth play a large role in that environment. We must learn to be considerate, as well as learn how to respond to the problematic content we see others posting, content that could even pose real-life threats. Recently, I received an invitation to hang out with a guy I didn’t know. There were no photos of him, and the whole situation was creepy. At this age, I know how to politely decline and keep myself safe. However, when I was younger, I may not have known how to handle the situation, because these types of Internet safety rules weren’t set in stone. As a generation growing up on the internet, we have the responsibility to make it a safer place, and help write the rulebook for safe use.
This is not just on us. Parents do not fully inform us about Internet safety, nor do they seem to fully understand just how much of a wild west it can be. Kids as young as the upper elementary level should be involved in a discussion about online safety. Teachers must learn more about this digital age in order to support students who are also trying to navigate their online world.
Parents, we know you are trying to keep your children safe. That being said, the problem is not solved by confiscating electronic devices. While it is tempting to shield children from the worldwide web, it does not give them the skills to appropriately interpret what they see online. A realistic solution would be to have an open conversation with your kids, so they know the dangers of the Internet and feel more comfortable coming to adults if things start to get out of control.
No, there is no concrete answer to the question I posed earlier. There are smaller things we can all do in order to help the situation, but do remember that it does not solve the overarching issue. Continue to use the internet and social media, but be mindful of what you are doing because we are creating the future. Slowly but surely, we can impact the younger generations and how they perceive the internet.
*****Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading. Happy snow day to anyone who got one.