The Evil Internet, a Rant

Last week, an 11 year old girl was lured to a hotel in Toronto by someone she met in a chat-room. Now normally, sexual assaults barely make the news (sadly). But pay attention; include “Internet” and “chat-room” and suddenly it’s all over the place, and everyone has an opinion.

On CBC’s Metro Morning today, they had a pair of individuals arguing two sides of the controversy. This is a regular feature, and usually has me yelling at the radio, to the amusement of my family. I guess it’s often hard to find rational individuals to argue for or against a particular subject, and today was no exception.

On one side, we have a (rational) parent who is not particularly concerned about his teenagers using the Internet. On the other side, we have an individual raving about the evils of the Internet, and how any parent not monitoring their children constantly is irresponsible. Most of the things he said were untenable but not completely unreasonable, but then he closed his argument by equating Internet chat rooms with “spending 24 hours alone with a convicted pedophile”. He lost what little credibility remained with that one, in my opinion.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m with the first guy. The Internet is a complete red-herring in this discussion, as far as I’m concerned. Predators are out there, and they’re going to find victims wherever they can; the ‘net is only one vehicle for predatory activity. Kids get lured into bad situations all the time in the real world. I suspect, for example, that there are more in-school sexual assaults than there are Internet-linked sexual assaults.

It doesn’t help the fear-mongers case when a man comes off the street, pretends to be a lactation consultant, and assaults two new mothers in hospital. No Internet there, just a hospital employee abusing innocents…

On the other hand, Canada recently added new Internet-related charges to the criminal code, including “luring a child over the Internet”, and this is the first case (in Toronto) to use that law. Test cases like this always bring out the radicals.

I’m not going to completely shelter my children in order to protect them from the evils of the world; that’s just plain impossible. I’m going to try as hard as I can to give them their own survival skills, so that they can protect themselves. Spying on my children, or restricting their access, is just going to make them resent me, and push their lives far enough underground that I won’t be able to help them if they do get into any trouble.

I don’t believe it’s irresponsible to allow my children to access the Internet (or use libraries, or ride the buses, or…). I believe it’s irresponsible to raise children dumb (or naive) enough to get lured into a trap by a chat-room predator.

I’m not claiming this is going to be easy; molding self-sufficient people is going to be hard, because our lives have changed so much. For example, when I was seven, I was walking to school by myself. My children aren’t allowed to until they’re in grade 8; it’s school policy). On the other hand, when I was seven and walking to school by myself, all of the neighbourhood children knew who the dangerous people were, and which places to stay away from. Kids that young can be taught street-smart skills; we even used to teach them to each other.

I believe we’re up to the challenge. My kids are pretty smart, and they get to listen to me yelling at the radio. :-)

posted at 11:09 am on Thursday, October 17, 2002 in General | Comments Off on The Evil Internet, a Rant

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