Online Safety and Unschooling

Our local newspaper had a request for parents to contact them about myspace and to talk about how they limit their children's computer use. I wrote to the reporter and said this:

I am writing as a parent who believes that the risk of my child being harmed by using the Internet is overblown.

Children are far more at risk from sexual predation by people known to the family than by strangers they meet on the Internet. Even if a predator does manage to contact a child via email or chatting, a lot would have to happen for that contact to lead to a physical meeting. Limiting children's use of the Internet is based on fear mongering and gives parents a false sense of security.

I monitor my children's Internet use by spending time with them while they are on-line. I encourage them to show me web sites they like to visit and how they use them. I show them web sites that I think they might enjoy. We speak about safety issues on an ongoing basis, just as we discuss safety in other areas of our lives.

The reporter wrote back to say that she might like to talk with me some more, but in the end she didn't and the final article was all negative and about the *risks* of myspace.

Mary Ellen (nellebelle)

Internet Dangers?

I don't want to quote or name the person, because minds will probably have been changed, especially by Joyce Fetteroll's clear views, but the first few of these were in response to a dad saying they had a rule that their kids (and exchange students) could only IM people they knew, because there were determined predators out there. —Sandra

Confident kids who communicate well with parents and wouldn't be tempted to sneak out or to lie wouldn't be in danger of meeting someone who says he'll marry her if she meets him at the train station. That doesn't happen randomly.

There can be something wrong with being cautious.
Disallowing instant messages altogether because of imagined dangers is like locking a kid up.
Not letting a teen have a webpage because of imagined or rumored dangers is like saying "Here's a big library—don't touch the books," or "Here's a telephone; don't call anyone" or "Here's a TV; don't turn it on."

That's what teens do with computers—chat with other kids and make webpages. What it's good for is practice using computers and programs (some easier than others) and encoding and artistic decisions (Kirby will end up getting help from Holly on his webpage because she knows things about how to make it easier to read), and social exchanges.

Or a family can say "There's nothing wrong with being cautious" and just say no. It's legal, and millions would say "Good; good parents do that," but it's not a good unschooling move.


I agree, I have allowed my dd to have IM and she manages 2 websites. We talk about being careful, but I don't make such a fuss that she will get major alarmed. She often shows me what she is creating on her websites and she IM's with other gamers and friends.

We just need to keep the communication open with our children and they will feel safe and will come to us when something doesn't feel right.


Just this week (Jan06) we were at a horsemanship class at local stables and the instructor wanted all the kids to go on line "with your parents" and find out something about the horses they were looking at. One mom said "we don't let the kids go on the internet." not even with them. The instructor smiled and said, OK the library then. But I just thought Whoa. They have the internet and don't let the kids see it at all. Weird.


At the moment, our house rule is that you can chat with someone, so long as you've met them in person first.

Which has the loophole of IMing a predator you've met. Or IMing the predator father of a child your children know who is pretending to be a child.

If the principle is being happy and feeling safe, there's no reason for rules (that always have loopholes).

The reason for this is pretty basic: There are predators out there who devote a great deal of time, energy, experience and effort to luring kids into situations where they can be taken advantage of.

Predators are looking for vulnerable, needy kids. They know there isn't a reason to waste time on confident secure kids.

If you concentrate on making sure your kids feel confident and secure, that they have someone to talk to when they have problems, who won't shut them out when the kids are thinking of things that make the parents uncomfortable then there isn't a need for rules to protect them from predators.

If you're a road block between your kids and what they're trying to get, then they're vulnerable to someone who says they can give it to them.

If your kids tell you something and your focus isn't on what they're saying but on how to get them to think right, then they're vulnerable to someone who will say "I understand. Tell me about it."

Is that your house?


My kids know that if they meet someone online and decide they'd like to get together in real life, I'll do my very best to help make it happen. We've driven across states to meet up with families in their homes who we only know from online until we get there.

A predator would have a really really REALLY hard time getting my kid into a situation they could be taken advantage of. A kid who isn't supposed to talk to anyone they don't know has much incentive to agree to sneak out to meet that person - the parent isn't going to agree because the kid was breaking the rules. They're easy prey. My kids, on the other hand, know that they can ask and I'll drive them to a safe meeting. If the "friend" said "Oh no, don't tell your mom" that's a huge red flag for them.

We've had some experience with abuse and predation attempts however. Both were people in our community, introduced to us, in person, by people we trusted.

Deborah in IL

To the claim that free web access inevitably turns up pornography:

This has me scratching my head a bit.

I use searches like google at least once a day, sometimes many times a day, and have for years.  Accidentally turning up porn sites is rare in my experience- the last time I can remember it happening was a good while ago when I was helping my son view various tattoos and piercings.  Even then it wasn't "half the sites."

Patti Schmidt

 We tried putting on parent filters once because my son got a few surprise sites when he googled 'wild west'.  He was going through a cowboy phase and I think Will Smith had a movie out that he liked.  So several porn sites come up, we try the parent filters.  They made us crazy!  After that my kids couldn't get into so many cool sites that they frequent. I was astonished at some of the crazy stuff it filters.  I felt like it was keeping them from much more joy and learning. We took off the filter in less than a day and just explained to the kids about porn being on the net and that if they were at all concerned we would help them with searches.  My two youngest want help searching, or rather they like Mom's company while they google.:0)

 My teen girls sometimes laugh at the title of sights that come up, but can tell from that which ones to open or skip. 

  Ann (ann_mv05)   

Safety more generally, in the world

Sandra Dodd, Albuquerque, March 2013, facebook
when my kids were young adults
Holly is in Claremont, California and Marty is in Laughlin, Nevada. Weird. 🙂

When Keith and I were their ages, we were often in other places, in other states, and our parents rarely knew where, and we didn't have cellphones. And our cars didn't always run as well as those these guys are in. And we didn't have debit cards our parents could have recharged in an emergency. Life was dangerous in the 1970's (relative to now, I mean, I guess, or something). 🙂

Then I think back to before I can actually think. In 1913, or 1878, going to California or Nevada really MEANT something, even if the point of departure was Albuquerque. 🙂 Nobody would've been able to let their mom know they had arrived safely so easily. Telegraph, maybe. Spooky. Phone, in 1913, perhaps. If we were rich.

I'm glad to live now.

I was interviewed in early 2024: #54 - Sandra Dodd | Unschooling thoughts on gaming, YouTube and the internet, by Jesper and Cecelie Conrad for their podcast. Click the title above for several options including video.

Online communities, blogs, sites


Online Games

Sex Concerns


Respect for Children