Browsing alone in Times Square

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

In an essay below, I warn about the dangers of letting children surf the Internet without extensive training and supervision. I raised the possibility of virtual kidnapping, internet-based abductions that lure children and teenagers to a dark place, not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. In raising this alarm, I analogized the Internet to a big city: it has its art and culture, its places of refinement, but also corners of menace and crime.

As I’ve considered the reaction to what I wrote, one of the questions that has arisen is this: when do children get the right to use the Internet unsupervised? What age?

I don’t believe I can provide the exact age, and my hunch is that it depends (like a lot of things) on the child and his or her development, strength, alertness, and maturity. Some kids are better equipped than others to recognize and avoid harm. There is no one-size-fits-all age. However, if my analogy makes sense, we might consider this:

At what age would you allow your child to wander alone in New York City? Suppose you were on a family trip, and you have a few kids, and they want to sight-see and you want to sight-see, and you think about meeting up at Times Square. How old do the kids have to be before you say, “here’s some cab money, see you this afternoon”? If you cannot provide an exact age, what are the circumstances you’d take into consideration in making your decision?

Times Square/credit Wikipedia

Times Square (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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