After being in the first grade for, oh, about a week or so, Sophie came home with an Internet Contract that, together, we had to read and she had to sign (or at least print her name semi-legibly).
It marked the advent of her online presence.
First, I read how it was very important that she keep her user name and password a secret. I will never share my password—even with my best friend!
“From you too?” she looked delighted.
“No, everyone except for me.”
“What about daddy?”
“He can know your password too.”
“What about grandma?”
“Grandma can’t remember her own passwords. Its fine if you tell grandma.” I didn’t have to do a run down of every person she knows and who’s on the It’s Okay to Know Your Password List, so I added, “You can ONLY tell close family members. But, like it says, you shouldn’t even tell your best friend.”
“How come? Why do I have to keep a secret from Mimi?”
“Because once one person knows about your password, other people can know it too. And if someone gets your password they can learn very personal information about you. A password is something very, very private. Its kind of like seeing you naked.” She thought this was hysterical, but she stopped asking questions.
“Okay. Next item.” The next item: There are many wonderful places and exciting places I can visit, like museums, art galleries, zoos, and hospitals, but there are also many places that I should not visit.
Now if ever there was an intriguing statement, this was it.
“Like where? What does that mean?”
“Umm…well, just like you can’t want certain movies because they are too grown up for you, there are certain websites that are too grown up for you too.”
She wasn’t going to let me off that easy. “What do they have on them?”
“Umm…well, some of them are really scary. And some of them have bad words that you shouldn’t read…”
Her eyes were shining with excitement. That’s when I said the thing I wanted to cram back into my mouth. “And then there are pictures of naked people.”
“Really?” Again, peals of laughter. “Why?”
It was a good question, but one I wasn’t quite ready to get into with her. “I don’t know, Soph. People do strange things.” We both thought for a minute about the strange things people do. “Promise me something?”
“If someone ever shows you something on the Internet that you aren’t supposed to see—something scary or naked people—you’ll tell them that you aren’t supposed to look at that.”
“I don’t think I’d say that.”
“No? Why not?”
“I think it’s better to just say no thank you and walk away.” She was right. What kid is going to say to another kid that their parents won’t let them look at porn or violent video games? A simple no thank you is much harder to mock.
I paused to look at my sweet, innocent trustworthy kid. How long would I be able to keep her this way? My thirteen-year-old nephew saw his first porn when he went over to a neighbor’s house this past year. He got up and left and told his parents. My sister was proud of him.
Sophie started dancing around the kitchen, she was losing interest. I will not give out any personal information that tells who I am or where I live.
“Okay. Can I go read now?”
“One more thing.” I will never use a chat room or talk session unless an adult is with me.
“What’s that?” This Contract was causing more problems than it was solving.
“You can use a chat room on the Internet to talk to people you don’t know.”
“Like when I skype grandpa?”
“Well, kind of like skyping, expect you don’t see each other, you just write back and forth.”
“Oh, like texting.”
“Yeah, kind of like that. So promise me something else?”
“What?” She was already pawing a copy of Bad Kitty.
“That if someone tries to talk with you on the Internet, you don’t talk back.”
“Because they might be an adult acting like a kid trying to be your friend. And that’s weird. Adults don’t try to be friends with kids.”
“Just like adults don’t ask kids for help! They should ask other adults.”
“Are we finished yet?”
“You just have to sign here. It says that if you break any of these rules, you may lose the privilege of using the computer or Internet.”
Sophie wrote her name in pseudo-script at the bottom.
“Now are we done?”
“Yes.” I wasn’t sure how much of what I said sank in. I realize that Internet privacy is an issue I’m sure we’ll have to revisit over and over again. Hopefully not too much sank in about the naked people.
This post was inspired by Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, where he analyzes online data to find out that people who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date. Join From Left to Write on October 9th as we discuss Dataclysm. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.