From porn and bullying to being groomed by strangers, Californias most qualified parents are taking a cautious approach to their kids internet access
Even in Silicon Valley, parents struggle to navigate the online risks and opportunities for their children. The internet might be the first place to turn for homework and entertainment, but how much should parents intervene to protect their children from adult content, cyberbullying and being contacted by dangerous strangers?
Thirteen-year-old Nicole Lovell was murdered by two students who authorities say met her on the messaging app Kik. One in 25 young people aged 10-17 have received aggressive sexual solicitations online, researchers found. And 34% of students aged 11-15 say they have experienced cyberbullying.
So how should parents handle this digital minefield? We asked the Silicon Valley experts.
Trying to control access is massively complex
Jon Gillespie-Brown is a British entrepreneur and author who has been in Silicon Valley for nine years. He lives in Portola Valley, California, with his wife and two sons aged 13 and 15
My kids have access to pretty well everything. Both my wife and I work in technology she in gaming, I in software and weve got every gadget going.
The kids have got smartphones, laptops, iPads and game boxes, and every one of them is connected to the internet. Trying to control all that access across a mishmash of platforms and devices is massively complex. I am a programmer. I know how to program every single one of these things but the tools weve used to try and restrict access to certain types of sites such as porn sites are ineffective and block content needed for them to do their homework.
Now our method for control is training. Both our kids have been curious and looked at pornography. We try to teach them about the internet just like youve got to teach them about sex, drugs and rocknroll.
Our older son uses Ask.fm, Snapchat and Instagram a lot, and there was lots of inappropriate texting and commenting in his early use of social media. However, hes also really into sports and wants to go to college, so hes starting to control his use as he knows that the schools [universities] are going through social media and using it as a means to exclude people. So hes gone through every account and deleted all the bad language and inappropriate content.
Because there were some cyberbullying cases at school and lawsuits when parents found out a lot of the chat has moved to Snapchat, which is like the magically disappearing piece of paper I used to pass round when I was a kid.
The Bay Area is a very aggressive environment for children and their parents, and there have been a lot of teen suicides. Parents are all working very long hours in stressful jobs and dont have as much time to be with their kids.We have drilled into them what is appropriate and what is legal, and that if they get caught sending stuff online its a legal document and will be used against them in a way that whispering something mean cant be.
We told our son to use Snapchat, not Twitter
David DeMember founded digital agency Toi, where he builds apps and websites with his wife, Betty. They live with their three boys, aged five, 14 and 17, in Millbrae, California
We try to treat our children as adults. I dont believe in spying on your kids unless you have to. Its crazy that parents think they should have their passwords and use tracking tools. Before these things existed were you bugging your kids? Its absurd that this is the norm these days.
The main concerns when it comes to the web are: overusage, pornography, the fact that you dont know who you are talking to online and cybersecurity. I am mostly concerned about usage and security.
There was a weekend when our middle son played nine hours of video games World of Warcraft and Gears of War so we are now monitoring his usage. We also ask them not to take their phones into their bedrooms at night because it affects their quality of sleep.
If you binge on anything too much TV, computer, phone, candy, fatty food, salt, whatever its bad for your body and mind. If you are constantly playing games eight or nine hours every day it will erode your interests in other things.
With porn, we know they are going to watch it its natural to be curious. So we talk to them about how certain kinds are better than others. If we tell them not to watch it, it may push them into the darker corners. You cant shelter your kids from the world. The internet is accessible everywhere and they know how to use private browsing.
There was a time when our eldest son and his friends started to use Twitter and would post anything some of it borderline. A fellow player on the football team posted about spilling bong water in the car and lots of kids were using the N-word. So we talked about that. We reminded him that everything you post online is there forever and if he wants to have those conversations he should use Snapchat (which might sound crazy).
Were fairly liberal people, both politically and in our parenting style, so you would think our kids would be crazy. But I believe that by creating a more inclusive conversation weve demystified some of this stuff.
We know her passwords
Tiffany Shlain is a film-maker and founder of the Webby Awards and the Moxie Institute Film Studio. She lives with her husband, UC Berkeley robotics professor and artist Ken Goldberg, and their two children, aged 13 and 10, in Marin County, California
Our 13-year-old daughter has a phone that just texts and calls not a smartphone. Many of her friends have smartphones and are on them the whole time.
She has a laptop and uses Twitter for social media, which of course we follow and we find the whole experience quite interesting. She also loves to write and watch short videos on YouTube. We know her passwords and she isnt allowed to take her laptop into her room it is only used in spaces we all are, so it cant be this private world she dives into.
If Im ever worried about a particular website I will check with Commonsense Media to see what age rating they give it.
We are in our seventh year of doing something we call Technology Shabbats, where we all turn off screens Friday night to Saturday night. That has been amazing for our family and all of us in so many ways. This is the one day we all appreciate being present with each other in a way that I think is waning in our world with no screens to pull us away from what were doing. We read, play board games, do art projects, bike rides, and just hang out. And then each week she (and everyone in the family) re-appreciates technology all over again by the end of the day on Saturday.
Neither of my kids are on Facebook
Sanjay Dholakia is the chief marketing officer of Marketo, which makes marketing automation software. He lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife and two kids, a 13-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son
My daughter has a school-issued iPad which is relatively heavily locked down by the school district. She also has a smartphone.
We encourage her not to use WhatsApp and Snapchat at this point as we dont think its age appropriate, although she does text her friends regularly. We want to teach her to self-select the groups that shes part of.
My six-year-old has a Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone that no longer has cell connectivity which he uses to email his family. They both play games such as Minecraft and my daughter uses an app called Lark to write art-inspired poetry.
Neither of my kids are on Facebook, or any places where they could be exposed to a lot of people they are too young. Its just not appropriate. However were just entering a zone where some of my daughters friends are getting Facebook accounts and we probably wont let her have one for a little bit longer, until she gets to high school. Im on the board of directors at a high school and cyberbullying is a big problem for older children, particularly on these big social networks.
You cant watch over your children or be with them 100% of the time, so we need to teach them how to make good decisions and know when things might be dangerous.
My kids are growing up digitally native and the learning curve is so steep that our main job is to teach them good decision-making. I dont want my children to see the online worlds as a scary place they need protection from there are positives and negatives.
The prevalence of in-app payments is really troubling
Brett Taylor is the former chief technology officer of Facebook, credited with inventing the like button. He left in 2012 to set up his own company Quip, which makes a hybrid communication, collaboration and productivity service. He lives with his wife and kids, aged six and four, in Lafayette, California
My wife and I both come from the technology industry and we want to make sure our kids dont have too much screen time. We have experimented with giving our kids access to Netflix, but we noticed they were finding things that were a bit more mature than we were comfortable with. So we got rid of all of the internet-connected apps such as YouTube and Netflix, and now only download shows weve pre-approved.
One issue weve consistently encountered is the prevalence of in-app payments, where weve found the kids have bought things without really knowing what they were doing I find it really troubling. These are games designed for kids aged six or seven. They are not paying for it, nor do they have the capacity to work out if its worthwhile.
The ironic thing is that most people in the tech industry restrict their kids technology usage, while our friends outside of the tech industry are much more liberal and all their kids use smartphones.
No matter how good the technology is, its a parenting problem as much as a tech problem. Your kid will run into content thats too mature and it creates the need for difficult conversations. The internet is messy and filled with a lot of different stuff so you need to have those conversations early at eight, nine or 10, rather than when they are 12, 13, 14.
They can only use their tablets in a child-friendly mode
Aaron Bromberg is the senior manager of product management for Amazon Devices. He lives in Palo Alto, California, and has two kids, aged seven and five
We dont let our kids use the internet without our supervision, but there hasnt been a strong pull from either of them. They both have the Kindle Fire Kids Edition tablet which they use in FreeTime mode (this restricts access to the web browser and disables in-app purchases, social features and location-based services). They use the TV and Fire Stick to get online to watch streaming video.
Well also use YouTube or show them things on the internet together as a family with our supervision. We often just spend a bit of time after dinner watching clips most recently we watched a load of break-dancing videos.
Looking ahead for when they are older, Amazon has just released a kid-friendly web browser within the FreeTime service. This lets them have access to a limited set of sites that Amazon has reviewed.
The main thing we try to impress upon them is that when they share things with their friends or family, they know who they are communicating with. When they share things online they dont know who they are communicating with. Everyone is listening to the online conversation.
We review friends lists and some communications
Brendon Lynch is chief privacy officer at Microsoft. He lives with his wife and two children, aged nine and 13, and in the Bay Area
Weve had first-hand experience with cyberbullying, unfortunately, but luckily we were able to get it quickly addressed. The learning for us was understanding just how important it is for kids to look out for each other and to involve an adult if they are at all concerned.
I feel that stranger danger is reasonably well managed with a combination of restrictions, monitoring and education.
Our kids have all Microsoft devices, of course. The 13-year-old has a phone and they both use either a tablet or laptop and are both Xbox fans, although the nine-year-old cannot accept Xbox friends or download apps without a parent approving it and they cant play multiplayer online games. The 13-year-old has fewer restrictions but can only participate in multiplayer online games with audio off (to protect from inappropriate language) and cant access content with age-inappropriate ratings.
We use family safety tools to report on websites visited. We also review friend lists and some communications, in a transparent way. My main advice is to be actively engaged and interested in their lives, which includes life online.
We dont let our kids use social media
Richard Freed is a child and adolescent psychologist who lives in Walnut Creek with his wife and two daughters, aged eight and 12. He is author of the book Wired Child, looking at the negative impact of technology on children
Our kids use computers at school and our older daughter has a phone without a data plan, but we restrict their use at home.
Weve really worked hard to have our kids not on social media and that is driven by my research and clinical practice. Its remarkably clear to me that kids use of social media pulls them away from the two most important things in life: family and school.
We have this belief in our country that kids hit their teens or preteens and they should be engaging with peers and technology. Thats a modern fabrication. Kids have always needed family first, and kids who spend more than two hours on a social network a day have high levels of psychological distress.
My main concern with social media and gaming is that they are increasingly developed by psychologists and user researchers who focus on making sure that the product is not put down. Its nearly impossible to use just a little bit.
Moderation sounds good, but I dont think it applies. For me its the same as giving kids a little bit of alcohol. Ive seen that blow up in the faces of families that have truly lost their kids.
I also see an increasing number of kids in my practice getting hooked on pornography boys and girls, starting at about 11. The filters just dont work; they are not effective.
I recognize that our family has much stronger limits than most. My kids have, as a result, gravitated towards other kids who dont spend a bunch of time with screens. They are friends with people who are more involved in school, family and sports.