Should Parents Censor the Internet From Their Children?

The question of whether parents should censor their child's internet access raises several other questions. It is unclear whether parents have the right to control what their children do online beyond protecting them from harm, whether such control would constitute censorship and whether it is even realistic.

The Pro-Censorship Position

In his 2008 article in "The Guardian," Aric Sigman argued that parental censorship of the Internet is essential to protect children from numerous dangers. He states that uncensored access to the Internet exposes children to advances by predatory pedophiles as well as advertising campaigns that damage kids' self-esteem and promote unhealthy behaviors and social networking sites that promote isolation and hamper their ability to develop real relationships offline. Sigman argues that children have never before had access to so much uncensored information and that parents must reassert control over what their children see and do online.

The Anti-Censorship Position

Internet safety advocate Larry Magid argues in his 2012 article in "Forbes" that censorship is not needed to protect children online except in the case of child pornography. However, Magid defines censorship as a restriction imposed by governments, not by parents. In arguing against censorship of the Internet, he advocates leaving the issue under parental control rather than imposing new restrictions by law. Magid's position is actually not different from Sigman's except in emphasis. Sigman believes that censorship of the Internet is beneficial for children and that parents should be responsible for it. Magid believes that censorship of the Internet is harmful for children unless parents are responsible for it.

Rights of the Child

According to Magid, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically grants children the right to have free access to information via all forms of media. In theory, this would mean that children would have a legal right to access the Internet for purposes of research and that parents would not have the right to prevent them from doing so. However, the United States never signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, so it does not apply to American families. Magid argues that parents should respect the rights of their children and exercise only minimal control over what they do online, but he acknowledges that some restrictions might be necessary to keep them safe.

Filtering Systems

In his 2008 "Guardian" article, Sigman primarily advocates for parental rather than governmental control, but also mentions the possibility of a "technical" solution implying some level of government or corporate filtering of what children can do on the Internet. In a 2012 article in "The Telegraph," Shane Richmond points out that filter systems sometimes block sites that are harmless while failing to block other sites that are pornographic or otherwise objectionable. Until filtering technology is improved considerably, parental control will remain the most effective way to control what children see and do on the Internet. Some parents will take Aric Sigman's view and exercise extensive control, while others will follow Larry Magid's advice and intervene as little as possible.