Internet Access – Life As We Know It
Written by Jenifer Gerae, CEO/Founder, Fullcircle40
Internet access – Life as we know it is consumed by the World Wide Web, wi-fi and live streaming. We can’t live without it. We travel everywhere with our laptops and our phones have become an extension of who we are. Communication, texting, apps and games; for business, information, directions, shopping… our lives revolve around our internet access. “The future” that those of us over 40 saw in movies and cartoons like the Jetsons is here, right now.
Complete this sentence: “Without the internet today, life would be ___________.”
What goes in the blank depends on who is filling it in. It’s safe to assume that our younger youth and children would use a very descriptive word with a negative connotation. Our high school and college students would truly be bored and lost in their studies and communication with friends and family. As adults, likely all of the above, plus some.
Who is at fault?
Families, children, coworkers, associates, friends all rely on internet access. Our personal lives are wide open to the global public. Our information is shared, stored and used by others. Some we know about, some we don’t. Some we have given, some has been taken. When I first started using the internet, I was married with no children in the picture yet. I remember being excited that I could access my banking information online and was thrilled to be able to email my friends and family. I learned about many things I would not have without it. I took classes online.
How can I now fault my children and their generation for doing the same? The demand and prevalence leaves them no choice. Times have changed. The internet has taken over. Do our children even know how to address an envelope, or hold a conversation without a keyboard? An encyclopedia? A dictionary? What is that?
The problem is not internet access. It is not a bad thing to be able to move through life more efficiently with it. It can be the most helpful tool in our toolbox of navigating through life. So where is the problem? The dangers arise when we stop paying attention.
We know about all the prevalent and ongoing studies regarding the negative impact of unlimited “screen time” and the loss of human interaction capabilities. Both are having negative impacts in the development of children’s brains and skills. The same can be said for adults if we are honest about our own usage. I am just as guilty as the next for time spent online. Most of us have in one way or another allowed it to consume us and have lost time on rabbit trail holes of open tabs and windows.
For any age, if left unchecked, internet access can be detrimental and even debilitating at times. We stare at the screen until we realize the clock has advanced by more than an hour. We scroll through words and pictures and overload our brains, thinking we are being productive, when in fact, overstimulation is counterintuitive. We argue with our children to ‘get off the gaming’ and then sometimes give up the battle because it’s “easier” to just allow them to continue “for a little while longer”. Devices as babysitters? We’ve all heard of this phenomena and we all have our opinions on what defines too much.
Today, any hacker can access that same information that I was thrilled to access. Banks, credit card companies, tax ID and information is all available to anyone smart enough to find it. Safety precautions are available to us, legal shields, firewalls, data security software, antivirus software etc. are all available to us for protection from hackers. Truth is, hackers by definition, can get through any shield we put in place. So, we continue our online activities with a false sense of total security. We are more or less, doing what we can to protect our information and then simply hoping for the best.
If we look at internet access as a substance then we can see the correlation. The younger the brain, the harder to refrain. Addiction is normally a slow moving process that one is not aware of until it is “too late”. Wi-fi and devices have crept into our lives as a legal source of toxicity, a highly praised product, a service that was intended to make life easier and more connected has in essence made it more difficult and left us more disconnected than we would like to admit. We. Are. Addicted. To have it taken from us would life-altering. To have restricted access would cause us to find a way to get it back. When we want internet access, we pay for it, we patronize places who offer it for free, we move rooms or locations to get a better signal, we search, we ask, we seek.
Internet Access – Life as we know it has gotten a little scarier. Lets define access.
All of the above are obvious problems with clear solutions. The overlooked dangers of internet access is the fact that in turn, the internet has access to us and we are at a loss for how to combat that. What does it know? What have we told it and what is it capable of learning without our disclosing? (We will skip past all the conspiracy theories, each of us have our own thoughts on how big pharma or government is using the internet…. those conversations are better left to the side here.)
We post pictures and information about our location and our children. Whether given our sought out, the internet has access to our privacy, our publicity, our highs and lows and our mediocrity. When it wants access to us, it doesn’t have to ask. We volunteer, laying it all out on social media, through emails, search history, videos watched and created. It has been proven that our devices listen to us when we aren’t even speaking to them. Somewhere in the fine print and the terms-of-use on websites and apps, it explains these things, and we agree to those terms without reading them.
Deeper Darker Dangers
Who is highest risk and most vulnerable? Our children. Whether indirect or direct, the internet has access to our children and through it, so do the worst and most dangerous people that use it. Across the globe, everyone has the ability to search any word, key phrase and person. Location services, personal information and communication through the internet are all being looked at by someone at some point. Predators and pedophiles are avid users. The ‘dark web’ as the name implies is used for dark sickening activity that one shutters to think about. Just because we don’t want to think about doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Internet access is the green light golden opportunity for them to create their own cyber world, to communicate through undetectable methods, to find, create and share information, pictures and videos of children.
Rarely are they the creepy stereotypical monsters we picture in our minds. In reality today, they live among us, wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are ‘normal’ community members, living ‘normal’ lives and they have the ability to come into our homes and children’s lives through internet access. By following their habits they can target them. They know the websites, games and apps that our children are using. Social media searches are a breeze for them to find young people who are naïve and vulnerable, who say they are bored or unappreciated at home. Using the information to ‘meet’ them, coming through as ‘friends’, creating fake profiles, starting innocent conversations, offering solace and fraudulent attention to young people, luring them out of their common sense and intuition into a trap that has been created and set before even clicking the ‘follow’ or ‘add friend’ button.
Are We Powerless?
What can we do? Let fear paralyze us? Turn our heads and hope for the best because we believe it can’t happen to our kids? Do we take away their devices and block all access to the internet? As addressed above, if this wouldn’t work as an adult solution then neither will it work for children for any length of time. Children are resourceful and rebellious by nature. Taking away or placing overly strict access at home will lead them to find it elsewhere. Turning our heads will not make it go away, it is not a situation to be treated as out of sight out of mind. Living in fear will only add to the problem and give predators the upper hand.
We cannot run and hide, they are numerous and getting smarter. No. We fight back. We outsmart them and outnumber them. We protect and turn fear into freedom by facing it. We learn the facts and the tactics. We inform our children, we communicate with them, we empower them to protect themselves and their peers. Knowledge is power. The ‘information age’ can work to our advantage. The only way this can happen is to get involved and join the fight.
If we can’t answer the following questions, then we are already losing:
What are our children doing online? How much time do they spend there? Have we truly taught them about online privacy? What have we truly defined about what information should not be shared online? Have we taught them that people online are unseen and unknown and need to be treated as such?
What are they watching?
What are they searching and what is popping up in those searches?
What are they seeing and reading?
Who are they friends with?
What do they talk about?
What games do they play?
What apps do they communicate through?
For younger children, what are the usernames and passwords for those games/apps?
For older children, what conversation have we had with them about the privilege of having their autonomy?
What Can We Do?
Internet access – life as we know it demands that we pay attention to not only where our children are physically, but where they are technologically. Just because they are in their room no longer guarantees they are safe. There is something you can do. Just as you taught them to look both ways when crossing the street, you can teach them caution online.
Start the communication. Have the conversation. It’s not too early nor is it too late. Ask the questions and get answers. Approach it with confidence and not fear. Give children the right and the tools to protect themselves. Allow them the grace for learning curves, but require them to learn. As parent’s, caregivers, community members, we are the first line of defense in protecting our children from the dangers of internet access. We must be vigilant, keep the internet wolves at bay, and be a force for freedom of access for our children.
Fullcircle40 is a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children safe and educating parents, children and communities to join the fight in this war against our children.
Follow fullcircle40 on Facebook and join their Group: PACTE ℠/™Parents Against Child Trafficking and Exploitation.
Contact Jenifer@fullcircle40.org for information or to attend or host a training.