I have watched the cyber bullying phenomena with concern since long before I had children of my own. The internet is a caricature of the analog world, with all of its virtues and all of its vices exaggerated and streamed live to anyone who wants to look, and anyone that can be fooled into looking. I’ve been using the internet extensively for 20 years now. It’s changed a great deal since then. Somethings remain constant, but one that I have seen degrade steadily over two decades is the way we treat people.
It’s not just that people are worse to each other in the anonymity of the internet. That’s always been here, to some extent. It’s that, increasingly, individuals and groups use the internet to find and torment victims. And because the spread of events is wider and more rapid with the internet, we hear more about this when it happens.
Lots of parents I know are afraid of this. That’s entirely fair. The way people treat others here can be terrifying. But their reaction is to restrict internet and social media usage, and that’s not an effective response to the problem. Those who have not Facebook profiles can still be ostracized upon it.
The main line of defense against cyber bullying is not to avoid the internet, but to be in control of your identity on it. With that in mind, when we started homeschooling, I set up learning email accounts for my children.
This is slightly complicated to do, because email providers want you to be above a certain age (usually 13) to sign up for an account. But the optimal years for learning how to be safe on the internet are well before this age. I would love for Google to provide auto-emancipating child email accounts that remove parental control at age of majority. But they don’t, so as I began schooling David, I developed my own, piecemeal system.
An important preliminary note: these email addresses are mine. I set them up. I have the passwords. I own the recovery phone number and backup account recovery emails. They exist for specific parental and pedagogical reasons. One day I may hand over ownership of the account to an adult child. But for now, they are my emails, in the same way that the Life of Fred math book and the colored pencils and the television and the house and the food and the medical insurance are mine. I provide these possessions and services to care for my children. I feed them and clothe them and take them to the doctor for checkups and shelter them. I provide them with a home that balances safety and personal growth in response to their personalities. And I control their digital identity, so that they can learn to walk without rhythm online, and so that it can’t be taken away from them or used against them.
The next post will contain a specific walkthrough on setting up an email address for these purposes. It will be screenshot heavy, so it may take another day or so to finish composing, but stay tuned.