You Can’t Childproof the Internet Through Legislation

February 10, 2024

CAVEAT: Politicians, parents, and caregivers are saying that legislation is needed to hold social media platforms more accountable, because parents and caregivers are already doing their part to keep their kids safer – but are they? This week, we helped four families with youth who found themselves in very bad situations online – the four common elements in all four cases:

#1All 4 youth were under the age of 13yrs.

#2All 4 youth had a fully functioning fusion phone (smartphone) that was provided by the parent or caregiver that was used inappropriately.

    #3All 4 youth were using apps or social media platforms that required them to be at least 13yrs to join.

    #4In every case the parent/caregiver was aware that their child had an app on their phone, but in three cases they had no idea that their child needed to be 13 to join the app, and in one case the parent felt their child was mature enough to use the app.

    Although parents can’t control the age of their child, they can mitigate the risks associated with elements #2, #3, and #4. However, some will argue, which we DO NOT disagree with, that social media vendors should be doing more when it comes to “age verification” to prevent youth from accessing platforms that are not age appropriate. This is what we wish to address in this article.

    In today’s onlife world, the internet plays a significant role in the lives of children. From educational resources to entertainment, the onlife world offers a multitude of opportunities for learning and growth. However, it also presents numerous risks, making it essential for parents to safeguard their children’s online experiences. 

    Recently, there has been a significant political and social movement in both Canada and the United States to legislate social media vendors to make them more accountable, especially when it comes to our kids. While we agree that well thought out legislation aimed at regulating vendors and their internet content is needed, it’s crucial for parents to understand that it will not be the panacea that many believe it will be. 

    Legislation targeting internet content faces several challenges. The internet is a vast and dynamic space, with new content being created and shared constantly. This makes it difficult for lawmakers to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of online platforms and technologies. Additionally, enforcing such legislation across various countries, jurisdictions, and platforms is extremely complex and will face many legal challenges.

    Even with the most stringent regulations in place, it’s virtually impossible to completely childproof the internet through legislation. Technology evolves rapidly, and determined individuals can find ways to circumvent laws and restrictions – anecdotally, we see this all the time with youth that we present to. Moreover, the sheer volume of content on the internet makes it impractical to monitor and regulate every piece of information that is shared online.

    Striking the right balance between protecting children from harmful content and preserving the principles of free speech is a nuanced and intricate challenge that cannot be solely addressed through legislation. While it’s crucial to shield children from inappropriate material and online dangers, it’s equally important to uphold the fundamental right to express oneself freely on the internet for all – with the understand that with that right can also come legal consequences. 

    Legislation must navigate this delicate balance, ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect children without infringing upon the rights of everyone else to share diverse perspectives and ideas online. Moreover, achieving this balance requires a multifaceted approach that involves collaboration between parents, educators, policymakers, and technology companies, as well as a commitment to promoting digital literacy and responsible online behavior among children and adolescents.

    Instead of relying on legislation to keep our kids safer, we believe parents are the keystone.  Parents should take an active role in educating their children about safer internet usage. Teaching children about online privacy, critical thinking, and responsible digital literacy, creates resiliency and empowers youth to navigate the internet in a safe and more responsible way. Being your child’s best parent when it comes to their use of technology, rather than their best friend is important in our opinion.

    Child safety on the internet is a collective responsibility that requires collaboration between parents, educators, policymakers, and technology companies. Unfortunately, many tech companies have fallen short, or have been willfully blind because they lack legal consequences to their actions which legislation can help with.  By working together, all stakeholders can develop comprehensive strategies to promote online safety for children. This includes initiatives such as providing age-appropriate content, enhancing digital literacy programs for both parents and youth, and fostering dialogue between parents and children about online risks.

    Ultimately, the goal should be to empower children to make informed decisions about their online behavior. Rather than shielding them from all risks, parents should equip their children with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the digital world in a safer way, which includes providing them with the right age-appropriate technology at the right time! By nurturing open communication and cultivating trust, parents can empower their children to cultivate resilience and critical thinking skills essential for success in today’s onlife world, where technology pervades every aspect of our children’s daily lives.

    Although legislation can contribute to enhancing online safety for children, it’s not the sole answer or cure-all as some parents and politicians may hope. The primary responsibility lies with parents, not laws, to safeguard their children online. Thus, parents and caregivers must remain actively involved in educating and supervising their child’s internet activities, utilizing both technology and open communication to nurture a safer and more responsible digital space. Unfortunately, we often encounter instances where parents abdicate their role in guiding their children’s technology use, which poses a significant obstacle in our opinion. Through collaborative efforts and empowering children to make informed decisions, we can pave the way for a healthier and more secure internet for generations to come.

    In today’s onlife world, the internet and technology are an integral part of children’s lives, offering vast opportunities for learning and growth alongside significant risks. The recent movement in both Canada and the United States to legislate social media vendors reflects growing concerns about online safety, particularly for children. While well-considered legislation is necessary for sure, it’s vital for parents to recognize its limitations.

    Legislation targeting internet content faces formidable challenges, from the dynamic nature of online platforms to the complexities of enforcement across jurisdictions. Despite efforts to regulate the internet, complete childproofing through legislation is not realistic and will be extremely challenging due to rapid technological advancements and the sheer volume of online content. 

    Legislation may not have the power to mitigate the four elements outlined in the caveat that prompted this article, but it is within the care and control of parents and caregivers to do so. Parents and caregivers serve as the keystone and gatekeeper in safeguarding our children online, taking on the essential task of educating them about safer internet practices and cultivating a sense of responsible digital citizenship – after all, this is our job as a parent or caregiver. Through collaborative efforts and empowering children to navigate the onlife world, we can forge a safer and more resilient internet for generations to come. 

    We believe that carefully crafted legislation is indeed crucial for holding social media and tech companies accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. However, relying solely on legislation won’t fulfill the high expectations some have regarding safeguarding our children in today’s onlife world. As evidenced by the four families we assisted this week, legislation alone would not have resolved their situations, which prompted the writing of this article.

    Digital Food For Thought

    The White Hatter

    For those intrigued by legal considerations regarding legislation aimed at safeguarding our children, particularly regarding issues like age verification, here’s an insightful article authored by Emily Laidlaw from the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

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