I am deeply concerned for parents who are not educated in the realm of the digital age. These parents are often lead by their children and introduced to new technologies through them. As parents we want to trust our children but that doesn’t mean that we should trust their discernment. As a Christian father I try to steer my children clear of things that are contrary to the gospel. That is a difficult task as it requires me to stay engaged in culture and on the other side of the coin I want to disengage and get all Charles Ingles. I have an obligation to lead them well and so I have to make some difficult and counter-cultural decisions.
Recently my wife was introduced to Wizard 101 by some of her peers. These parents were of the thought that it was a great way for their kids to communicate with friends online. One mother mentioned that her kids played online with their uncle too. I had heard enough to determine what I was dealing with but did my due diligence and investigated W101 myself.
Without having played the game myself I may be slightly unfair in my assessment, but I think I was pretty spot on. W101 is a mix between SecondLife and World of Warcraft. There were a decent amount of game play videos on Youtube that allowed me to see the game in action. The problem with these games is that they promote an in-game identity that can take on a life of their own. Kids can identify with their online personality more than their true selves. And more the identity of other avatars as well.
There is a danger in a lack of real human interaction. We as people are social and began see the avatars as trusted “people”. Furthermore kids meet others that are not always what they seem. Couple that with their trusting nature and there is a recipe for [insert tragedy here]. We as parents cannot give our children access to the internet without our guidance and often being there with them.
We can safely allow exploration of digital spaces with the right tools and filtering content decisions through our core values. But we need to promote real life interaction over digital. Let’s not forget that in digital on-line worlds we are constantly connected. We are accessible. How do we learn to create healthy boundaries when we are constantly accessible? As adults we struggle with this as we have accepted mobile devices as being some necessity to our existence.
So my warning to parents, play the games yourself before you hand the keys to your child. Know what they are being exposed to. Don’t assume that certain elements will be over their heads. While they may not understand something now, they are being desensitized through their consistent exposure. Lead and train them well. Let the internet be a place of wonder, but take the trip with them just as you would not send them to Disney World alone.