September 18, 2015

Declaration

We remember the promise of the Internet.Mother & girl holding tablet at home_m

They called it the Information Superhighway… the World Wide Web. It was heralded as the Eighth Wonder of the World. We surfed it. We crawled it. We loved it.

We sent e-mail to friends and relatives halfway across the globe. For free. We discovered Voice Over IP, and rejoiced at the death-knell of $5/minute long-distance calls. They told us that in the future we’d all be making “video calls” just like in sci-fi movies.

We created our first website on Geocities. We joined a multitude of exploding communities of like-minded sports nuts, music fans, hobbyists, explorers, introverts and outcasts of every stripe. We reconnected with friends and kindled new relationships that we never would have known — without the Internet.

Every day, it seemed, the power of the Internet grew. We downloaded songs on Napster. We used AOL instant messenger and ICQ, bought our first book on Amazon, and played games on Yahoo! The Internet was our toy. They told us the Internet had ushered in a new age. They told us the best was yet to come.

Then something happened.

Everything changed.

We brought a precious, little child into the world. At that moment, our world was different. No, actually it’s not that the world was different. What was different was the way we looked at the world. We saw everything with new eyes.

  • Electrical outlets were a menace.
  • Toilet lids and cupboard doors had to be secured.
  • The coffee table with the sharp corners would have to be replaced.

With some effort, we secured our living spaces and our cars. We found safe, kid-friendly places to play, to eat, to vacation. It suddenly mattered what school district we were living in. We started watching TV shows that our toddlers were enthralled by. Elmo, Dora the Explorer, and SpongeBob became household names. We had our second (or third or fourth) child, and watched with fascination as they turned into miniature humans right before our eyes.

As our children grew older, we set a password on the cable TV box, so they couldn’t order pay-per-view shows or see adult channels. We signed a permission slip so they could watch a “say-no-to-drugs” presentation at school. We began to wonder about when to have “the talk” about sex.

We thought we were in control, that we could select the time and the place for our kids to learn some of the hard truths of this world. We thought we could shelter them from certain information until they were ready, until their minds were mature enough to handle it. We thought we could protect our children by simply plugging a small white piece of plastic into an electrical outlet.

But we were wrong.

We forgot about the Internet.

girl with ipad

We forgot, some of us, until we handed our oldest child his first iPod, and tried to figure out what seemed to be hopelessly inadequate “parental controls” … could we prevent them from adding certain apps or searching specific websites? Could we filter out cuss-words from Instagram or text messages? Could we intercept harmful images before they were seen, and couldn’t be un-seen? Could we protect our daughter from cyber-bullying or Internet stalkers? Could we protect our children from learning —too soon — about hate groups, violence, rape, torture, drug abuse, prostitution, civil war, genocide, child slavery, human trafficking, or weapons of mass destruction?

No.

The Internet – that wonderful, endlessly entertaining and useful tool – has become, for our children, a very dangerous place to be.

  • About 1/3 of teens have been cyberbullied. Girls are more likely to be targeted.
  • 2 in 5 girls between ages 10-17 have received a sexual solicitation online within the past year.
  • 38% of kids between 10-15 years old have been exposed to violent scenes on the Internet.
  • 70% of kids ages 9-19 would give out personal information to “win a prize” online.
  • The average child is first exposed to online pornography at age 11.

It’s not the Internet’s fault. It’s not Google’s fault.

It’s our fault.

We need to face it.

We all know the Internet has a dark side, a seedy underbelly. It has always been there. The only reason we avoided these perils as kids is that there was no Internet when we were kids. So, while the Internet allows all sorts of evil to be exposed online for everyone to see, we’ve had our adult brains, our fully-developed sense of self, a mature perspective on right and wrong, through which to filter this flood of information.

This may be stating the obvious, but children don’t have adult brains.

Kids don’t have our perspective, our experience, or our knowledge. Research has shown that the human brain doesn’t fully mature until age 25. Imagine the potential harm that your children’s immature brains may suffer at the hands of the unfiltered Internet. Studies about online addiction, and about serious mental and even physical consequences of Internet use and abuse are already beginning to be published … the picture isn’t pretty.

Indian family with tablet at home_mThese days, handing your kid a smartphone or tablet is like sitting them in a playroom that is part funhouse, whorehouse, gun club, newsroom, salon, torture chamber, pub, penthouse, ghetto, locker room, music studio, Fantasy Island and celebrity gossip show all rolled into one. In this environment, there are no rules, no boundaries, no age limits or restrictions. The Internet is like a lineup of infinite shot glasses, each containing colorful liquids from orange juice, to Kool-Aid, to bourbon, to jet fuel, to rat poison. The problem is, the Internet doesn’t know who’s bellying up to the bar. It’s blind. So the next person on the stool could be 2 or 62. The Internet doesn’t care.

Let’s face it. The real world has never really been a safe place for children. We can’t protect them from foul-mouthed sports fans any more than we can protect them from bad teachers, bad weather or a bad economy. As much as we’d like to, we honestly can’t protect our children from the real world.

But here’s the thing: the Internet is NOT the real world. It’s an invented thing. It’s a tool.

The Internet is not some law of nature that we just need to accept the way it is. We created the Internet. We can change it.

As parents, we need to realize that the Internet wasn’t created for children. The geniuses that put together hypertext and TCP/IP didn’t have children’s safety in mind when they were building the roads of the Information Superhighway. Virtual cars don’t need seatbelts.

So let’s not point fingers. Let’s stop whining about the perils of porn, the dangers of violent video games, or the fact that our son spends every spare second of the day with his eyes glued to a screen. Let’s stop fretting about who our daughter is texting at 11 o’clock at night. Let’s stop ignoring the fact that we don’t know what our kids are watching, playing, reading, and listening to on a daily basis. Let’s face up to the grim fact that most of us really don’t want to know what our children are doing online. Let’s admit we are hoping to remain blissfully ignorant of what they’re really up to in their bedroom, with their device, with the door closed. Let’s stop acting the victim, and take back our role and our right to determine who and what we let into our homes.

Parents: let’s take back the Internet.

We are NOT living in some dystopian future, where the machines have already won, and humans are just helpless sheep, blindly powering the plans of a distant AI and its dark purposes. This is not an Orwellian age, where we have no say in what is true, and what isn’t. This is not a virtual prison restaurant where we must willingly consume pointless tripe, propaganda and perversion, because those are the only items on the menu.

Parents: let’s take back the Internet.

The same technology that has created instant access to people and ideas from around the world, the same technology that has fostered nearly limitless learning potential, can be used to make the Internet safe for our children.

Parents: let’s take back the Internet.

R4K Grab 4Let’s destroy the blind bartender who unfeelingly serves up poison for our kids to drink. Let’s disconnect our kids’ devices from stalkers, bullies, pedophiles and hatemongers. Let’s set limits on what content they access, for how long, and how often. Let’s make our homes “Internet-free zones” for certain kids, during certain times of day. Let’s prevent sharing of personal information, photos and messages with unknown, untrusted strangers.

Parents: let’s take back the Internet.

The technology exists. The security is attainable. The question is: do we have the will?

Do we have the will to stand up to the Powers that Be, to link arms with other parents, across our nation and around the globe, and to join together to say NO MORE!

Do we have the will to stand up for our children, the innocent, the unaware, those who are not seeking out the smut and the ugliness of the Internet, but find it anyway? Do we have the will to be a voice for the 4 million children who will accidentally stumble onto online pornography this year?

Do we have the will to take back the security and the sanctity of our homes, to protect our children from unlimited, unfettered access to potentially dangerous Internet content, games and people? Do we have the will to risk the relationship with our kids, who tend to see any parental controls as an assault on their “freedom”? Do we have the will to carefully investigate what our children consume on their devices, then engage in calm, rational discussions with them about what we find—be it good, bad, or ugly?

Parents: Do we have the will to take back the Internet, for our children’s sake?

If you believe the answer is YES, please digitally sign your name below.*

-Brady Chatfield
-Daniel Tweddell
-Phil Ireland

About the Authors – We are Rated 4 Kids. We are building the world’s first intelligent, crowd-sourced platform to keep kids safe online. We hope you’ll join us.

* Your email will be used to authenticate your signature, and to update you on our progress in building a safer Internet for children. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason. Ever.

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