When I was around 12 years old, I started to notice that my parents stopped caring about what I was browsing on the Internet, what TV shows I watched or even the types of movies I watched. When I was younger, I was used to them often asking me what I was looking up, trying to keep a close eye on my search history and telling me what I could and couldn’t watch, deeming certain shows too inappropriate. It was a bit surprising to have these sets of eyes stop peering over my shoulders. However, I noticed that this wasn’t the case for a lot of my friends. Their parents still wanted to know what they were searching on the Internet, what TV shows they were watching, and if any new movies came out and their parents thought it was too inappropriate, it was added to the long list of things that are off-limits. To this day, at the age of 16, I still have friends that aren’t allowed to watch certain shows and movies that are judged by their parents as too mature for them, even if the rating says otherwise.
With the rapid growth and popularity of the Internet, teenagers have never had so much access to unrestricted content, and one question that comes up frequently is: is it okay as a parent to censor their children’s Internet usage? While this question is often debated as to whether it’s ethical to censor a teenager’s Internet usage, according to Pew research center, approximately 60% of parents with teenagers aged twelve to seventeen monitor and censor their teenager’s Internet usage. The main reason for censoring is to protect the teenager from harmful content, such as pornography, extreme violence, gambling sites, etc.
Protecting teenagers from harmful content is as easy as a few clicks to install the latest web filtering program or even just coming up with a few clever passwords. Programs such as Net Nanny and CYBERsitter promise to keep all teenagers safe while they surf the web.
Web filtering programs, also known as babysitting programs, are programs that block certain web pages by either blacklisting them, which is blocking websites that are known as dangerous, such as gambling websites, or by keyword blocking them, which means that the program looks for certain words on websites and blocks them if that word or similar words are found. Although this might seem like a good system, the keyword blocking method often blocks websites that are harmless, such as educational websites or even the news. As well, these programs often lack security and can easily be disabled by a teenager with minimal effort and without the parent’s knowledge.
Furthermore, parents censoring their children’s content demonstrates a lack of trust in their relationship and this can often lead to a bad relationship between the parents and teenager. My friends that have parents who censor their content aren’t that close with their parents, and they blame the nature of their relationship on the fact that they believe their parents don’t trust them. As well, these teenagers often feel they are being treated unfairly and want to have their privacy. This compels them to be sneaky to get around the censorship and defy what their parents try and do to protect them, ruining the barely existent trust in their relationship. Therefore, while the gesture of censoring comes from a good place, it often has negative consequences on both the parents and teenager.
The truth is, most of this Internet censorship is completely useless. While it is the easiest place for teenagers to see harmful content, teenagers can see harmful content anywhere. Have you ever been to high school? It’s filled with crude and inappropriate jokes and all the ‘harmful content’ that parents are worried about.
The best way to protect a teenager is to just let them be a teenager. They need to experience things on their own and to live and learn. They’ll become their own censor, and figure out what bothers them and what doesn’t. The best thing is to just talk to them about how to be as safe as they can be, but aside from that, there’s not much more that can be done. Teenagers are practically adults, and should be treated as such. They don’t need a babysitter to watch over their online activity. If teenagers don’t need babysitters in real life, they shouldn’t need one online.