The kids are all right
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Vancouver Computes,
You've probably heard that the story that the most
search is a three-letter word?by some descriptions S-E-X, and by others
M-P-3. One or another variant of the story has been passed around by
technology writers, maybe even by me.
So I was especially interested to see a list published
by the Lycos
search engine of its top-20 search topics for the week ending May 20th.
The list bears examining:
Search term Weeks on list
1. Pokemon 40
2. Britney Spears 40
3. Dragonball 40
4. The WWF 40
5. Eminem 40
6. Tattoos 4
7. Napster 12
8. Pamela Anderson 40
9. Mother's Day 3
10. Victoria's Secret 1
11. Gundam Wing 11
12. 'N Sync 40
13. Final Fantasy 38
14. Baseball 15
15. Marijuana 20
16. Las Vegas 40
17. Golf 9
18. Metallica 26
19. Flowers 2
20. Simpsons 20
A couple of items, flowers and Mother's Day are
clearly just because
that holiday was just around the corner. And searches for Napster seem
to have replaced searches for 'MP3', which makes sense?the popular
application is certainly an easier way to find songs (illegal or not)
looking for here today, gone tomorrow MP3 websites. (Though why bother
looking for Napster on a search engine rather than just scooting off to
www.napster.com to download a copy)?
But check out the rest of the items. The bulk of them
are items of interest
mostly to pre- or just-teens: Pokemon, the #1 search term are those
animated creatures, of Gameboy fame, perhaps most popular with 8-10
But young girls are in here too. #12's 'N Sync and
#2's Britney Spears
both count more or less 12-year old girls among their biggest fans. Add
in white rapster Eminem, video game Final Fantasy, Simpsons,
and WWF and you've got a pretty comprehensive collection of what's
with the under-16s. We could even add in marijuana?if you have to
for it on the Web, I'd suspect you're more curious than using it.
In fact, the only thing missing, as far as I could
tell, was 'South
Park'. But then, the young people I work with seem less interested in
series then they were a year ago, so maybe it's on the slippery slope
What this list really shows is that without much
publicity, kids have
become a growing presence on the Internet. The number of kids online as
grown dramatically over the past year, due in part to increased Net
in public schools and libraries and more and more families with
and Internet accounts at home. In the by-no-means upper class East
school where I teach, well over 70% of the families have computers at
And being active on the Internet is no longer just for
Growing numbers of elementary school kids have their own e-mail
often through free mail services like Hotmail and Yahoo, and more and
have created their own web pages, using free services like GeoCities.
popular with many kids, as an ethnically-oriented portal offering free
web pages, e-mail, chat, and more.
For many adults, the idea of kids running wild on the
Internet is scary.
To these adults, the Internet seems to be a place were kids have free
easy access to sex and pornography and are easy targets for predators.
And there's some reality behind these fears. But
they're wildly overblown?just
take a look again at those search topics. #1 isn't sex, it's Pokemon,
has been on the list for a full 40 weeks (I suspect as long as Lycos
been keeping tabs), compared to Victoria's Secret's single week on the
Many families have responded by installing software to
help limit their
kids' access to the Net?a June article in ComputerWorld Canada
"a recent study shows that most Canadian parents are taking some action
to monitor their kids' on-line activities". And in Vancouver, for
together with extending Internet access to all of the district's 100+
the district's Wide Area Network project installed CyberPatrol software
in an attempt to control where kids at school can and can't go.
School servers automatically update their no-can-go
list each Sunday.
But it's far from perfect. Inevitably, it relies on lists of addresses
deemed inappropriate. (There's a job to have on your resume?spending
hours a day tracking down porn sites). On the one hand, it raises
about what's on the list and why?concerns have been raised that
such as Planned Parenthood have been made taboo.
As well, there are other problems.
On the one hand, it's hard to keep any list up to date
On a professional development day when the kids weren't around, a group
of teachers and I carried out an experiment in an elementary school
We went to a popular search engine and typed in 'Sex'?some teachers had
imagined that this would be blocked. It wasn't. We got a long list of
organized by topic. The first topic was 'Bondage and Discipline'?we
on the first site listed. And there, a few clicks and a minimum of
was somebody's leather fantasy site, up and running in the school
right under the watchful (or in this case, sleeping) eye of the
Teachers are more likely to complain, though, of the
As set up in Vancouver, CyberPatrol forbids access to all web pages
on a number of free sites such as GeoCities. The rationale seems to be
that since anyone can post anything, such pages aren't too be
for sexually explicit content or for academic credibility.
Again, there's some reality behind this perception.
But many people
are taking advantage of free websites to post valuable, credible
And all too often, teachers are researching Internet-based assignments
from home, only to find that when they come to school, the protection
blocks their kids (and teachers) from getting to the site.
In fact, the best protection, both at school and at
home, is an adult
presence. When the kids know that you know what they're doing, they
to do the right thing. My grade 6s, researching planets in the solar
stumbled on the sexually-explicit venus.com (again, despite
Right away, they let me know, so that I could manually block it out.
As the Who used to sing, The Kids are All Right.