A recent thread on YALSA Book Listserv has librarians discussing a site that uses PHP to access filtered web sites such as Myspace. This is my response, and does not reflect YALSA.
When I was a teen, I used my school library regularly. My eighth grade year the new media center was finished, and a nice computer lab was attached. While the rules were clearly posted: No food, No Internet, and No games, I and many of my friends found many ways around it. We installed programs on the computer and placed them in folders that didn’t display on the desktop or start menu. While I regret what I did now, the fact that I did it remains the same. At the time I thought the rules were unfair and stupid. Even if someone had taken the time to tell me that games were a waste of time I would have protested and continued on.
Fast forward to today. Teens aren’t trying to play time wasting games, they are trying to waste time making new friends, sharing information before they forget it, and use Internet resources that we have no clue how it will benefit them in the future.
No one could know all those years ago that I would be able to volunteer in Second Life, create a web site www.mbmpl.org, and give presentations about online communities. Who knows what these teens will do in just ten years, let alone 20.
While the teachers and parents in us wants so much to protect the teens from even themselves our efforts to keep things from them will only make it more desirable. Online predators have been around since IM has been around. I was confronted with unwanted advances, but I always ignored them. I remembered as a little kid watching a movie about a 30 year old man who kidnapped a boy by asking him to look for a puppy. I also remembered reading The Face on the Milk Carton. Earlier this year I found a video at NetSmartz. At this site there are many resources for teens and concerned adults. This is just one of many sites that have a focus on helping teens understand online safety.
Others have said this before I have, but filtering will do absolutely no good for teens. It only makes parents and others feel like they are protecting the ones they care about. In order to progress into the future and stop repeating the cycle of filtering and banning we have to learn how to instill trust in young adults. I think that the first step is helping them understand why we want to protect them, and give them knowledge about how to be safe. Ultimately it will be their decision, and part of growing up is taking responsibility for your actions. In some ways we are robbing a generation of the important developmental need to make educated decisions and learn from their mistakes.
Playing Video Games teaches its players how to take calculated risks. How to approach obstacles and overcome them. Filters are perceived as an obstacle, and as long as teens have filters imposed by librarians, school administration, and even society it will be a challenge they will work together as a team to defeat. I for one do not want to be seen as a level boss to be over come. I’d much rather be considered someone they can trust, someone who cares about them, and someone who chooses to provide them with information to allow them to make educated decisions.
In the future just as in the past there will be more things that parents will fear will harm their children. We can look at history to see that we have made mistakes all the time, in both extremes. There has been a lot of research about the educational benefits of gaming and the online communication of the sites like Myspace. While there will always be extremists who are on both side of every issue, I think it is our duty as librarians to provide people with accurate information no matter our personal convictions. While a year ago I would have told you its better to only provide one side of the issue, thus force your opinion on them. Now I understand that if what I believe has any true value providing someone with the truth will allow them to make the decision for themselves as well. Its why extremists never are able to persuade enough people to cause lasting positive change.