(Note: I struggled over whether this was more appropriate for the Woundup or the Inner Dad. I finally decided that this was important enough to cross-post on both. Another first for Woody.)
So what do the Patriot Act and your own house rules for kids and internet access have in common? Hopefully, more than you might expect.
This morning during the commute I was tuned to our local news blatherers, hoping for some sort of update on the fire situation here. (For the record, the so-called "Sierra" fire is growing, but seems to be staying on the unpopulated side of the freeway for now. A couple of hot spots flared overnight, but firefighters beat them down quickly and the evacuated areas are still relatively unaffected.) One of the things the talking heads have been salivating over for the past few days is the sting operation recently undertaken to catch sexual predators as they tried to rendevous with kids they thought they were meeting over the internet.
Aside from a minor discussion regarding whether or not this constituted "entrapment," (it didn't, according to the folks who sponsored the operation) I was once again struck by the need for people to state the obvious: kids cannot be allowed to freely wander the internet in today's society. And it has nothing to do with any federal, state, or local statutes that may be on the books. It has everything to do with parents protecting their children by enforcing stricter controls over their access privileges.
I've had this discussion before; most recently in a couple of lessons at church. One of the most obvious ways to enforce appropriate access to internet resources is for that access to be strictly supervised by the parents. Liberal (sorry... the word works here) use of parental control software would be considered a bare minimum. The suggestion I liked best was having all computers out in open traffic areas, where there is no expectation of privacy. I understand that some folks get a little queasy about invading their teenagers' rights to privately communicate with friends, but the internet is precisely where that privacy often gets those kids into trouble. Trouble they are ill equipped to handle. Far better to encourage open communication at this stage of life, rather than risk having them stalked by predators who may end their childhoods (if not their lives) prematurely.
In fact, this is where this sort of policing is not unlike the Patriot Act. It has its fans, to be sure, but I can't think of anyone who enjoys the need for the Act. I'm sure we'd all like to be back in our relatively safe and secure pre-9/11 world. I can't think of anyone (excepting perhaps the FBI and other law enforcement types) who really wishes we could have regular wire tapping all the time. But the reality is that we are (as the White House is suddenly fond of reminding us) a nation at war, and war is a mitigating circumstance. We would love nothing better than to trust everyone living within our borders, but we simply can't. We need vigilance, and the Patriot Act allows a higher degree of vigilance than we might normally have.
Likewise, we are also a society at war. The enemy, for purposes of this discussion, is everyone "out there" who feels that their sexual appetites make our children legitimate targets. And one of the larger battlegrounds is no farther away than your computer. There is no "safe" age at which a child may have unrestricted, unsupervised access to that battleground. Even with all the legitimate uses for which the internet was created, the margins of safety are too slim to allow kids to use it with impunity.
Does this sound overly restrictive? Perhaps. In fact, yes, I admit it, I plan on being just that restrictive where my girls are concerned. They are far too precious to me to not take every precaution I reasonably can. Mrs. Woody and I have a deeply vested interest in both their upbringing and their safety. They will simply grow up to understand that there are, in fact, secure ways to communicate with friends. They will understand that, unless some major changes occur between now and "then," the internet is not one of them. I sure wish this were 40 years ago when such things were virtually unknown, but it's not. I wish I could trust even my closest neighbors with my precious daughters, but, with few exceptions, I can't. Not yet, anyway.
Do I have a solution? Well, for as long as the technology exists, a phone call and the price of a stamp still work for me. For pretty much everything else, Dad plans to butt in. There is, after all, no expiration date for my Patriot Act - Home Edition.