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Slate’s Katie Roiphe talks to the controversial danah boyd about kids online


We all know there’s a lot of wild and crazy stuff on the internet, stuff that we don’t want our kids to see, but that’s no reason to hover over our kids’ shoulders as they go about their business online, says Microsoft researcher danah boyd. (Yes, it’s danah boyd, not Danah Boyd.)

Slate’s Katie Roiphe met with boyd and afterwards, decided she didn’t need to worry about what her 9-year-old was doing online. (When she snuck a peek anyway, her daughter was simply looking up Harry Potter characters.)

Roiphe writes:

The thrust of boyd’s substantial research about kids is that we don’t need to be quite as hysterical about the Internet as we are. She once wrote, “Some days, I think my only purpose in life is to serve as a broken record, trying desperately to remind people, ‘the kids are alright’ … ’the kids are alright’ … ’the kids are alright.’ ”

Does everyone remember Chatroulette, where you signed in and started video chatting with a perfect stranger? Obviously parents worried their teens would come across the perverts and be forever damaged, but points out that when teens did come happen to come across an older naked man, they shieked, “Ew!” and immediately closed the chat.

boyd argues that kids’ freedom to roam about on their own in the physical world has been so cut down (no walking to school on their own, no biking around until dark), that the freedom to roam online has taken its place.

They have lost that thrill of being on their own until they are much older, and boyd suggests that for them, the Internet can provide that open space, to test and explore and try out the outside world. She points to the educational value of hanging out: a lot of the work kids do is apprehending the social world, and for them, much of this work is done online.

The important thing, boyd points out, is to give the kid the ability to handle choices, assess risks, and take what she calls “strategic” risks, or calculated risks. You want, in other words, to create the kid who can handle the Internet without you.

Of course, you don’t just give a kid a computer and say, “Have at it,” just as you wouldn’t let your 5-year-old navigate the playground on her own without a little training. So without hovering, we need to teach our kids to use the internet on their own, but maybe with some training wheels.

Photo by Paul Mayne via Flickr 

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