I was recently involved in a discussion regarding how we allow our children to use the Internet. I was surprised to see so many negative responses, especially concerning viruses and pornography. Many parents cited protective reasons to severely restrict their children’s Internet usage, and made with clear (with their terminology, concerns, etc.) that they, themselves, were not strong Internet users. This attitude strikes me as ridiculously short-sighted. Just like with other boring or worrisome topics, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about Internet usage so that we can educate our children.
My children are 5, 8, and 10. They all use the Internet for research, gaming, and messaging. Yes, all of them. My older two have World of Warcraft accounts and my 10-year-old has a Facebook account. They wander around Netflix and Hulu, confident that they can come to me with questions, and I'm usually right there so I can interject context and start discussions based on what we see. This freedom has opened up a wealth of discussions about the world we live in, and I don't know how I would impart this information otherwise.
The Internet is not an unsafe place, especially compared to television. My kids choose where to go, whether it's Wikipedia for research or YouTube for teaching or music videos. The content is not chosen specifically to mess with them. They're not bombarded with unwanted images and media that tell them what they need to buy, eat, look at, or look like. They don't even see the ads and popups that plagued the Internet of the 1990's, because we know how to use the Internet.
(For those of you who are still afraid of viruses, porn, etc., I recommend that you install and use FireFox instead of Internet Explorer, install AdblockPlus, and don’t open suspicious e-mail. This will eliminate virtually all of that junk. The only porn you find will be what you search for, and the only viruses that you find will be with the porn.)
As for the protection bit, my job is not to protect my children. My job is to train my children, which includes how to appropriately use technology and the Internet. I would much rather they come across an unwanted search result in front of me, where we can discuss it, rather than elsewhere when they are teens and have no one around (or someone awful) to guide them. I would much rather teach them how to use adblockers to stop ads and popups and to use safe searches to filter their search results than to 'protect' them until they are adults. That's like throwing someone who has never swam into shark-filled waters. No way! I'm going to teach my kiddos to swim, starting with Google searches and YouTube videos. :)