Phil and Mia

Wherein I struggle with the issue of online protection versus education

My kids are starting back to school this week — one in third grade, the other in pre-K. And as crazy as it seems, apparently 8 years old is where we start having the serious cell phone and Internet discussions.

Now Mia, my eldest, has used an iPhone 3G has a makeshift iPod for some time. It's not hooked up to Wifi, however, so it's basically been music and a bunch of blurry, grainy pictures of who knows what. (I'm actually a little afraid to look.) More and more, though, she's asking about "getting Internet on my phone." And despite my job being what it is and my knowledge of mobile and the Internet and the good and bad that come with both, my wife and I really don't know yet what we want to do there.

Does an 8-year-old need unfettered access to the Internet, in the palm of her hand, at all hours of the day? Probably not. Do I want my kid to learn about all the great stuff that's out there, and grow up with this technology in a mature, responsible way? Of course. And do I want her to be able to use all these great toys that I'm extremely fortunate to play with for my job? You better believe it. Being a nerd is fun.

But I struggle with the practicalities, too.

At what point do you give your kid unfettered access to the Internet?

Even with as good as they are, I'm not crazy about the idea of "kid mode" apps that radically change the experience of a device. I'm not crazy about the idea of a technical limitation replacing parenting — if I think my kid should only get an hour a day on a tablet, then I probably should man up and enforce that. The user profile on Android tablets (and maybe possibly on phones at some point, though I'm not 100 percent sure about that) controls access to certain apps, which is one way of going about things. But is it the right way for me and my kids? I don't know.

But what I really started thinking about recently is that for all the talk of protecting our kids online, we don't talk enough about educating them. How do we teach them to use these devices safely? How do we explain to them that, yes, there are naked people on the Internet, and while that may be OK for adults, it's probably not something they should be looking at yet. Or, in a few years, that porn isn't real. And that pictures have repercussions. And digital footprints. And phishing. And malware. And trolls. Or any of the other infinite ways ... hang on. I just shifted from educating back to protecting without even noticing. Should this be the new Home Economics class? The new Sex Ed? How early do you teach it? What about the kids whose parents don't want them to have these gadgets so young? Or whose families can't afford them? (That's another discussion we've been having at my house — most people aren't tripping over computers and tablets and phones like we do, and it's another reason I'm glad I now have an office to separate some of the sprawl from our home life.)

It's so easy to revert back to worrying about protection and not education.

I don't have all the answers. And even if I did, my answers won't necessarily work well for anyone else. (Note to self: Be better to your parents. This shit's hard.)

In a few week's we'll (Alex and Richard and Derek) be in Berlin and Las Vegas (myself and Andrew) for a couple trade shows. We'll see a lot of new devices. We'll hear more about protection.

I'm going to start keeping a closer watch on who's willing to work on the educating.

Other thoughts on the week that was ...

  • I completely agree with Jerry that any and all games should be using Google's cloud save feature. But aside from doing the right thing, what incentive do they have? If you were to load the same game you've played on a phone onto a tablet as well, why wouldn't the developer want you to spend more time playing its game? And that doubles if there are in-app purchases available.
  • 'Bout time, Motorola.
  • My old newspaper pal Andy Marlette is finally starting to share his excellent editorial cartoons on Google+. (Which is far better for that sort of thing than Facebook.) Circle him up. But do try to remember that they're cartoons.
  • I wish I had some sort of insight into things like Ferguson and the other horrific acts we've seen all too many times in recent months and years. But I do know that not shooting folks is a good place to start.
  • Props to The Verge/Vox for actually (and finally) sending people to Ferguson. Aggregation only goes so far.
  • I love these comments from first-time podcast listeners. I still remember back when I first listened to Dieter and Dan.
  • I'm still not crazy about this.
  • Oy, these ridiculous stories over the weekend about Google tracking your location.

That's it for this week. I've got lunches to pack. See y'all Monday.