The Internet Is Not Disneyland; People Should Stop Demanding It Become Disneyland
from the bad-ideas dept
Disneyland can be a fun experience for kids (and potentially a frustrating one for parents), but it’s a very controlled environment in which everything is set up to bend over backwards to be welcoming to children. And that’s great for what it is, but the world would kinda suck if everything was Disneyland. I mean, some countries have tried that, and it’s… not great, especially if you believe in basic freedoms.
Here’s the thing: Disneyland’s limits are great for a place to visit occasionally. As a vacation. But it’s not the real world. And we shouldn’t be seeking to remake the real world into Disneyland. And I think it’s especially true that most parents wouldn’t want to raise their kids in Disneyland and then send them out into the real world upon turning 18, and assuming they’ll be fully equipped to deal with the real world.
Yet that’s exactly what some busybody politicians (with support of the media) have been trying to do. They want to pass new laws that effectively demand that the internet act like Disneyland. Everything must be safe for kids. That means much greater surveillance and much less freedom… but “safe for kids.”
Except it’s not. Disneyland is fantasyland. It’s not real life. And we don’t train kids how to be thoughtful participants in society if we raise them in Disneyland.
I had a discussion recently about these bills — things like California’s Age Appropriate Design Code or Congress’s Kids Online Safety Act — where there are legitimate concerns about kids being safe online, but it seems like we ought to think about the digital world the same way we think about the real world. Parents have a role not just in limiting where kids can go when they’re young, but also giving kids the tools, as they grow, to handle various situations.
Sometimes when I talk about this people think I’m suggesting that parents should hover like a helicopter over their children when they’re online, or spy on everything they do online, but that’s not the answer either. That’s normalizing surveillance, and teaching kids that you don’t trust them. Instead, parents (and school teachers) can help kids learn how to use the internet appropriately at their age. That’s giving them guidance on where is safe, but also teaching them how they might sometimes come across unsafe areas online, with content that is not meant for them, and teaching them how to deal with it appropriately.
We do this already in the outside world, in which we try to teach children how to handle various situations. When you should be careful around strangers; when you should seek help from trustworthy adults. And, of course, when it’s appropriate and when it’s not appropriate for kids to be somewhere with or without supervision. That’s called being a parent.
What we don’t do is insist that we need to turn every shopping center into Disneyland. We rely on parents to teach kids how to deal with the real world at an age when they, the parents, decide what’s appropriate.
We can (and should) do this with the internet as well. Let kids know that not everything online is appropriate for them, and teach them how to alert parents or other trusted adults if things are clearly not right.
Nothing is perfect, obviously, and everyone can point to this or that horror story, but on the whole this system has worked well in the outside world, and it can and should work well on the internet. We don’t need to turn the internet into Disneyland. We can and should teach our kids how to appropriately use the internet, including how to deal with it when they come across questionable situations. That’s actually training kids how to become proper adults and how to deal with things, rather than raising them in Disneyland and expecting that it teaches them enough to handle the outside world on their own.