Perhaps you’ve seen the Disney movie Fantasia, a cartoon movie from the 1940’s comprised of different shorts. One of them was the famous story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Mickey Mouse, as the apprentice, discovers the sorcerer’s magic powers and is delighted to start using them. Mickey quickly realizes he’s in over his head, however, and is overwhelmed by what he has unleashed.

Effectively, for Mickey, he’s not ready for these powers.

It’s too much too soon.

In a similar vein, what happens when kids are given relatively unmonitored access to the internet (as many of the kids that I know do)?

What are they watching? What are they doing?

Is the power they are given on the internet too much too soon?

Some time ago, when my kids were younger (with the internet emerging as a real presence in our lives) we comforted ourselves with the notion that the family computer was always in a public place. Whether we (as parents) were kidding ourselves or not, it seemed that the likelihood of our kids going on inappropriate sites was not something that could be easily done. The computer was just too visible.

Mind you, this was the dark ages, pre-smart phone and iPads. (Yes, there was such a time.)

Thanks to a summary of a study on kids and technology (“Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives (Digital Natives ) here are a few fun facts to consider:

  • The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.
  • 39% of kids get a social media account at 11.4 years. 11% got a social media account when they were younger than 10.
  • 64% of kids have access to the Internet via their own laptop or tablet, compared to just 42% in 2012.
  • The autonomy and access kids have to the Internet in 2016 jumped significantly compared to just four years ago, across all electronic devices.

Bringing these facts closer to home, was the frank admission recently from two adolescents who were pretty honest with me about their porn-watching habits. Back when I was young, if a teenager wanted to watch porn they would have to watch on their TV when nobody was home. Long gone are those times.

One boy, Gerald, watched porn on websites like on his phone so frequently that by the time he turned 18 he was afraid that his sex drive was already diminishing due to overuse of watching porn. Effectively, he told me he was very bored. (Mind you, he still hadn’t had actual sexual relations, but was still feeling jaded.)

Another, Francis, aged 14 was struggling with his own sense of personal guilt going on adult sites like that he sensed were inappropriate for him with his anxiety was sky-rocketing along with his increased use of porn.

From where I sit we are facing the proverbial “Wild West” when it comes to kid’s access to the internet. I know there are controls and apps that can be put on the phone to limit internet access, but few do this and kids will find ways to beat it, like going on their friends’ phones to get on the sites.

The fact is we can’t monitor the behavior or the sites like we think we can.

I wish I could tell you exactly how to handle the Wild West of kids’ internet usage. My best advice is that you talk frankly and openly to your kids and let them know that there is a lot temptation out there. If they want the privilege of having a phone or iPad there is a built in trust with its usage.

It’s sort of the same thing when kids become of driving age. There’s an implicit trust that says something like “I will grant you the privilege of this device (or car) until you show that you can’t handle the privilege. Then you are inviting me in and I will have no choice but to remove the privilege until the time that you demonstrate that you can handle it.”

Takeaway Point

Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Kids are being given many powers that they are questionably able to handle. Speak plainly and directly about these powers and privileges you are granting them.