Saturday, March 13, 2010

At the risk of sounding like a Puritan...

I consider myself fairly internet savvy. I mean, I have a blog, I tweet, I Facebook, all that stuff. I know about Nigerian princes and have a good idea of how people act when they are anonymous (dreadfully.)

My kids' school held an internet safety seminar last week held by the good people at Let's just say I'm now ready to move my family to a yurt in rural Nepal.

My kids are not online yet. They've played a few games, but mostly screen time is limited to weekends, and between fencing and tournaments and blah blah blah, our weekends are overscheduled (which is a completely different problem.) But. See it, right there on the horizon? It's coming.

Popular with the tween set is Addicting Games, I can see why. Hundreds of games from which to choose, and all free! And it's run by Nickelodeon, so great, right? Sure! Unless you walk in the room and, what's this? Cartoon naked ladies? Why, it's Perry the Perv! A hero for all young lads! Here's a description:

"There are some luscious landscapes to view, but don't get caught or it's a fist in the mouth. Can you help this pervert catch some lurid looks at the ladies?"

Oh nice. Thanks Nickelodeon, where a kid can be a kid. Or a perv. Whatever.

Also on a few fun gaming sites are banner ads for Chatroulette, which is, of course, entirely kid friendly, what with the penises and all. Come on in to my home! Check out my kid!

For research purposes, of course I had to check it out. And, well, I was curious. Unsolicited advice for those wondering about Chatroulette: don't. Just...don't. Here are the Cliff's Notes version, so you don't need to have these images taking up space in your brain. Ew.

Things I saw on Chatroulette:

--Boobs (Big ones!)
--Hairy moobs*
--A person of questionable gender wearing a Mardi Gras mask.
--Men diddling with their pants off (several.)
--A tween girl (Where are your parents, young lady?)
--More boobs.
--Couples making out (again, several. What the hey?)
--A skinhead with a rebel flag behind him, flipping me the bird.


Not my thing.

So now I'm trying to come up with some ground rules for my daughters. Rules I know they will break and see all this stuff anyway. Oh boy.

What are your thoughts on all this? If you have kids, are they online? How do you handle it in your house? And, is it possible to get a manicure in Kathmandu?

*Click on the pronunciation button to hear someone who sounds very much like Colin Firth saying "moobs." I giggle at this stuff because I am immature.

ETA: @PauloCamposInk forwarded me Jon Stewart's take on Chatroulette. Yep, that's about it!


Anonymous said...

Holy Moses. Wow. Thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I wonder if internet filters can really block out everything inappropriate.

Robin said...

I think this really explains a lot about tween behavior... My ex-husband's ten year old is acting already like she's sixteen and it is driving me crazy. She spends lots of time on sites like Nickolodeon. I know that he doesn't supervise her because he assumes that nothing like that would be on there. I would never have guessed this either. Anyway, she has become a one syllable kid when you talk to her. Or, it not that she responds with "whatever." It is infuriating. Egads. Thanks, I think, for the heads up. Now I have to talk to him, which I hate...

Kirsten Lesko said...

What a great tragically comic post. My husband is a computer forensics guy & gives presentations like the one you attended. He has made me utterly paranoid. We have a few years to go before our son's old enough for this stuff, but we absolutely are keeping the computer smack in the center of the living room when the time comes.

Anonymous said...

Same thing applies to omegle. I think it's basically chat roulette without the photos. I read about it a couple months ago. It will randomly connect you with some other user somewhere in the world. You chat.

It sounded sort of cool so I figured I'd give it a shot. After the first couple of attempts I started opening with "not interested in sex chat." About 90% of the people signed off immediately. About half the rest assumed I was just being coy. I ended up having an interesting talk with a medical student in China, but it took a lot of work. I haven't been back.

June Kramin said...

Unbelievable. Yup - we canceled TV when the Disney 'pop-tarts' felt they needed to say beyotch in every sentence but Nick? Bleh! :/

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

My 12-yr old niece has "17" listed as her age on her FB page. I called my sister and BIL and told them. I think it's worse w/girls. They're putting themselves at risk and don't realize it. I have two boys, 18 & 20, and - to be honest - we never really guarded their internet use. It's much harder than people say. You need to be looking over their shoulders when they're on the computer, and I was never willing to give up my life for that.

We talked to them and told them about the do's & dont's of internet etiquette, blah blah blah, but my kids were like me as a teen - they said everything we wanted to hear and did their own thing, anyway.

It takes a village. FB is easy to keep an eye on. Mostly everything else is much more difficult.

Good luck to you, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Here in the UK we've begun just such a topic. What really troubles me, is why someone would want to create such sites or games? The only purpose must be to demonstrate their own weird and perverse mind.Why would you spend hours developing such things if it isn't for self gratitude and to shout to the world - " hey guys, I'm weird". I don't get it. Mart.

Purple Cow said...

We have a problem here in Greece as well. My daughter is 10 and most of her classmates are on FB having given fake addresses. And not only that, but they are FB friends with their TEACHERS! All this seems crazy to me. I guess that the best thing they can do as parents is to really talk to our kids and to have the guts to say "No" to things we disagree with provided we have valid reasons for not wanting them to get involved. Like your kids, my kids are very active doing other extra-curricular activities and are NOT online. But I, too, am so scared.

Purple Cow said...

sorry - I meant fake ages - not addresses!

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Melanie Hooyenga said...

That's crazy those sites are linked through Nickelodeon. wtf?

I LOVE clicking the pronunciation button on They usually have a british version and it makes me all swoony.

Kristina said...

My oldest doesn't use the Internet at all unless we are literally right there with him, and it's PBS.

Jaw-dropping over that Nickelodeon pervert thing and also bey-otch on Disney!

While we're on the puritan bandwagon, I don't understand why kindergarten and first grade girls are so fascinated by teen-age and tween characters like iCarly and Hannah Montana. I mean, I *guess* it's pretty fluffy stuff....but those girls are wearing make-up and flirting with boys and such, aren't they? Why should a 6 y/o girl care???

Jennifer Walkup said...

Holy crap. This is scary. I am a few years from worrying about this yet, but thanks for the heads up. I fear it's only going to get worse.:(

~Jamie said...

Chat roulette was one of those things that I couldn't NOT try either... but um... WOW... I just can't believe all the ween.

Like you give guys a chance to be anon on the web, and THAT many of them choose to show the ween, I seriously didn't think it would be THAT many, yanno?

Suze said...

Debra - I feel your pain. My friend's daughter used to list her age as 17 when she was 14, but.... I have to say, doing that will definitely discourage predators that try to 'groom' VERY young kids. The only people likely to approach/flirt with a 17 year old are probably normal teenagers. Hopefully. In the UK, we were told that the older children appeared, the less like prey they seemed to the bad people. It's a nightmare choice.

Hart Johnson said...

My kids are almost 15 and 11, so we've been at this internet thing for a while. My daughter had the 'fake age' to join FB because of course you have to be 13, and all the kids sign up in 6th grade. My son is more into the games (and yes, Addicting Games is bookmarked). I think my approach though, is quite different from comments so far.

YOU CANNOT protect your child by denying material, or they will go to OTHER people's houses or libraries because you've made it all the more appealing. What you need to do is TALK ABOUT it. Help them judge for themselves, think for themselves. Body parts are body parts. Sex is sex. They WILL see it all, I promise. better to demystify, tell them about the predators, tell them what predators DO to young people, explain ways people will trick them.

We will never live in a naive world again, and no amount of safety mechanisms will make it so. better to make your kids smart enough to see it for what it is.

The Novelist said...

I have a 15 year old son. It is a daily challenge, but I try to have very open honest conversations with him about the things he will face or that he already has faced.

We also keep our computer in a very open, public part of the house. I hope that will curb some of the temptations at least.

CKHB said...


Sigh. Daughter is almost 3. I recently had a conversation with my mom about how I find the subtle sexualization of kids on the Disney Channel worse than the violence and profanity I see in the media (meaning, I'd rather have my kid come home one day saying the f-word than hear her ask why she isn't hot and skinny like Hannah Montana). Accordingly, I'm disappointed but not surprised by your experience with Nickelodeon.

I'm just bracing myself, really.

WendyCinNYC said...

Really interesting comments, everyone! It's obviously something many of us are either dreading or trying to manage.

I agree with the comments about communication being the key. I want my girls to know what's out there, where it is, and how to be safe. I should clarify that they aren't yet asking to spend time online, so while we've had a few conversations, we are still in the early stages.

I know a good deal of that is because it's reinforced at their school--they recommend the children stay (mostly) offline until 5th grade, when they get their school email account and need the web for homework. While they aren't coming into our homes to police, it sets a certain tone and a good portion of families agree. Not everyone, but that's life. They are also good about educating them about this stuff at school. It helps--for now.

Unknown said...

We've never allowed the kids to have computers in their rooms. The computer was always in the family room or the office where we could see what they were doing. There are often noise issues when they're trying to do homework, but it's a small price to pay for safety. We feel the temptation is just too great when one has a computer in the privacy of one's room. (And yes, I know they have access to computers elsewhere, but at least I'm not facilitating their exposure to questionable things in my own house.)

You know, it's not just temptation (as in the kids are going to go somewhere unsavory by choice), it's what pops up unwanted when they're trying to do research for papers and presentations. You don't know how many times my kids have google-imaged something totally innocuous like "ice-cream cone" and pornographic pictures pop up among the selections!

Thanks for the warning about the Nickelodeon site. I've let my son play the younger games like Diego and Dora, but I'll definitely be very wary of the older site!

Good luck with all this. It's a scary, scary world!

Cynthia Reese said...

The cosmic timing of your post is AMAZING. Just last night, I was talking about "fringe friends" as my daughter looked over my shoulder and asked why I wasn't friending someone I didn't know.

She's 8 (and SO not on FB or any other internet social network), and my only Kiddo, and so it is hard for me to know how when "cautious" crosses into "paranoid."

Other parents look at me like I'm an idiot when I show hesitation about letting my daughter do something. Peer pressure: it doesn't go away in high school, does it??

zuzula said...

Anonymous chat rooms do have a tendency to bring out the worst in people. I'm writing a piece about Omegle at work at the moment - there are some amazing stories about it helping people out but most of the chats tend to be pretty x-rated.

Allie said...

Wow. It's really amazing to think about how hard it must be to help kids navigate all of that. Makes me think of my pre-teen days and how the most trouble you could get in back then was making a prank phone call or too. Seems so innocent now.

Emeila said...

It happen to my step-son. We were playing innocent learning games on the internet. He showed me a video on u-tube (innnocent).

I turn back for a sec to use the bathroom and he is screaming. He clicked on a wrong u-tube video and lets just say gross and nightmares for him.

He should of waited for me before playing with the interenet but we were on the kids site.

We keep the computer in the room and it has parental sites that are band. I also find fun games for him to play.

elizabeth said...

My daughter is 15, and is on her computer all the time unless she isn't. hee. She's a very busy kid, so when she gets on her laptop, all she really wants to do is chat with her boyfriend and best friend on MSN.

I don't have any parental controls set. She's very practical and has a fear of strangers finding her house and sneaking up on us someday when we're pulling into our garage, so she keeps her information quite private. We talked about Chatroulette, and the whole thing sounded creepy to her.

I'm as aware as I can possibly be when it comes to my daughter's Internet activities, and so far, she uses it for research and to connect with people she already knows. Sometimes she finds inappropriate "content," but when she does, she usually giggles and shares it with me.

(Of course, I could be deluding myself. But I feel grateful that she still talks to me.)

When she was younger, she did venture out into "stranger" territory, but the whole process made her uncomfortable, and she told me about every encounter.

I think your girls will be safe from creepy pervs and trolls because of you. I'm sure you're teaching your daughters good boundaries, and those lessons will transfer to their Internet activities.

The games? If your kids are busy, they won't have time. Really. Mine barely has time to fit in dinner AND homework. Sometimes she'll tackle a game of Tetris before she goes to bed, maybe Runescape on the weekends, but really, she just doesn't have time.

elizabeth said...

I am laughing so hard at the pronunciation of "moobs" that I think I just gave myself an asthma attack.

Anonymous said...

What the heck? My kids just hang out on Facebook.

One of Them said...

I guess there aren't as many comments like this on this post... but I'm an underclassman in high school. I don't have kids. But I know a bit about internet restriction. I found my way into that kind of stuff when I was in seventh grade... I think that made me about... 12 or 13. And I don't really mind anymore, because if it shows up, I click out. I'm a responsible kid on the internet when it comes to inappropriate images. Nudity is a no-no (I mean like porno-nudity not like... artists-of-the-1600s-Michaelangelo nudity. I'm okay with Michaelangelo. Cool guy). I was raised smart. I don't give out information when on public chats. My first name MAYBE, but never full name/address/phone number. Never. And the only time I go in chatrooms is when its on art websites that I know and trust.
Anyway, tangents aside, I figure that you're the kind of woman who raises intelligent kids. You just need to let them know that there IS bad stuff on the internet. It's not necessary to be all awkward about it. If your children have the information, they'll handle themselves.