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The internet is dangerous for kids: Parents, guard your children’s exposure to online content


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At the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, devices aren’t allowed in classrooms because the administration believes technology negatively impacts children’s development. Many top executives from companies such as Google, Apple and Yahoo choose to send their kids there. The influential tech icons Bill Gates and Mark Cuban have been vocal about limiting their children’s time on screens.

For some children, like me, too much exposure to the internet at a young age can have serious consequences, and not only because hours upon hours of screen time might harm their ability to focus or connect with people in real life. Those are real problems, but I’ve experienced another danger first-hand.

It began when I was 9 and a close friend said he had a “surprise” for me.

For weeks we’d been looking forward to going to his house in upstate New York for winter break. He wouldn’t tell me what the surprise was — just that he’d show me once we got there. I assumed it was going to be a new thing to play with: an ATV, a trampoline, a snowboard.

Much to my shock, the surprise was on his new iPod Touch. It was pornography. I saw women tied-up while men abused them, hitting and cursing. I watched what I didn’t know to call rape. In fourth grade, I had no idea what I was watching nor how to process it.

After my friend spent hours showing me this in his bedroom, I was overwhelmed. I returned to school doing what my therapist later called “spilling” — taking everything I’d heard that traumatized me, and repeating it randomly, almost uncontrollably. This behavior terrified my classmates, who couldn’t understand my odd behavior. Once a model student at my school in Manhattan, I found myself in serious trouble.

The ensuing weeks were full of meetings with administrators. The leaders of the school punished me without taking the time to understand what triggered my behavior. I was told to “think before I speak,” but no one addressed, or even thought to discover, the trauma that caused the whole mess. Once popular, I was now alienated socially.

Suddenly, I was viewed as a problem child. I stopped getting invited to classmates’ houses and birthday parties.

Looking back now, I see that I was merely reacting to an ugly barrage I couldn’t process and couldn’t understand. Counseling and emotional support helped get me on track. But if I hadn’t had a supportive family with the resources to intervene, I might not have bounced back so quickly.

For a kid without that safety net, the consequences would likely be far worse.

I’m no psychologist, but it’s easy to see a connection between young men who have unhealthy relationships with women and easy access to endless streams of online pornography. A late 2017 Australian study said nearly half of children ages 9-16 experienced regular exposure to sexual images, and pornography can create unhealthy expectations about sex.

Parents, when you hand your child a phone, computer, iPad, Playstation, Xbox or any other device with internet capability, you are giving them an unlocked door to an uncensored world: adult chatrooms, porn, beheadings. Kids don’t know not to click; in fact, they are often drawn to see what they don’t know they can’t handle.

Once they see something, they can’t unsee it. A 9-year-old can’t go to a PG-13 movie without an adult by his side, but he can watch a man rape a woman, or be stoned to death, on his phone.

I’m 17 now, and haven’t had a single behavioral issue since. I’m thriving in high school — excelling academically with many great friends. I’m mature enough to navigate the online world responsibly.

But I wasn’t, and it left a mark. Parental controls exist; my mom and dad had set them up in my house, as all parents should. In an excess of caution, family computers should be kept in communal spaces.

A parent’s duty has always been to protect their child from harm. Monitoring web access should be part of that age-old mandate.

Ansorge is a student at Berkeley Carroll High School.