The Kids of the Internet
By Al Berrios (contact Al Berrios)

Advertising to 12 years olds online? Better adhere to the strictest guidelines. Producing "family-friendly" or "kid-friendly" content? Better have a clear understanding of what "kids" really want. Creating "filter" or "child supervision" software for concerned parents? Better make sure you're not filtering irrelevant Ancient Greek research for that history project. Ever since sexuality became widely available in US households, external (government) forces have always attempted tell parents (and kids) what is and what isn't harmful. Really, have any of these politicians been in schools lately and seen kids interact with each other? What does a 60 year old surrounded by other 60 year olds know about the minds of 12 and under media consumers? This wasn't the question that prompted this piece, but rather, do kids really adhere to all these "restrictions" or even acknowledge what's "harmful" to them, as pre-determined by Congress?

BOTTOM LINE: In 2000, I offered insight into the youth mindset to a group of industry executives at a teen conference where my boss at the time stifled my comments in public. I suppose during those boom years, the obvious truth about what kids really do online was too much for fragile business plans based on assumed demos and demand to take. Aside from humility, I have learned, through my firm's work, that those insights are still correct. Anyway, any given minute, kids, 12 and under, are online chatting about sex, (with 150 million registered chatters using AOL instant messenger for free, a parent-paid subscription to AOL is no longer necessary, meaning, parents don't really control this activity as well as they think they are) downloading porno (you think you're regulating P2P? Just download one of the leading P2P engines, type in porno, and see how easy it is to access this sort of content), pirating music (an entire generation is growing up without the clear conception that what they're doing is actually considered illegal and will continue to expect similar choice as they become adults), or buying things (over $5 billion in 2002, even without credit cards or jobs). How is this possible with all these restrictions? Or better yet, do we really understand the perceptions and behaviors of this consumer? Sadly, the answer is no. Is it the responsibility of Congress to tell us how to raise our kids? Again, no. Therefore, why should businesses be held accountable (most prevalent during the "filtering" of content process), when kids' perceptions and behaviors are shaped at home, where they consume media, or at school, where they interact with other kids (not 60 year old politicians) and have easy access to chat technology?

Children, Media, and Exposure to Sexually Explicit Material
CBSMW Frank Barnako's Internet Daily 11/19/02, AOL unplugs teen shoppers
America Online scraps teen shopping
AOL fights teen sinning with shopping ban
Youth Represents Sizeable Holiday Market
CBSMW Frank Barnako's Internet Daily 12/11/02, Web filters faulted by AMA
Study: Child filters block more than porn


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