Shock and Aaaugh!

My 7 year old son gets on the internet a lot, usually sites designed for kids full of flash games, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Noggin, PBSKids, sometimes sites tied to products like Pop-Tarts…. also he digs Homestar Runner. My daughter enjoys flash games too, though she’s not as much of a computer addict as he is.

Last night he was on a flash games site he’s been enjoying for the past few days. I don’t know how he got to it, but I’d seen it before, and while I’d been kind of iffy about the propriety of a site with a game called “spank the monkey” for a 7 year old (it involved physically whacking a monkey with a huge hand and he thought it was hilarious), it seemed innocuous on the whole, so I didn’t object.

Anyway last night he was there, in my field of view, playing on that site, and he told me he was taking a color vision test… Looked like a real color vision test, where you see numbers among the dots. No prob. Shortly thereafter the computer emitted a horrible shriek and put a scary ghostly face on the screen. It was a shock prank.

He’s 7. He cried, of course. I would have too at that age! (I remember being haunted for years by the image of an obsidian-and-turquoise-inlaid Aztec skull I saw in an anthropology book as a child…) We comforted and consoled him… it was about time for bed so we went and read books. He did pretty good dealing with it but insisted on my staying by his bed till he was asleep. And he got up a couple times during the night.

One thing that seemed to help was that I said it would have been better if the site had had some kind of blaster gun you could use to shoot the face to pieces, like a gun from Ratchet & Clank. BLAM! BLAM! I figured he shoots scary monsters to pieces all the time on the playstation, if I could put this in that context, a scary thing on the screen that wasn’t real, that was within his power, just like the monsters in video games that he could blast, it might help.

It seemed to. he actually laughed at that idea.

That’s me! Solving all our problems with violence!

But the question now is how to prevent something like this from happening in the future? I was doing everything “right.” I was in the room with him, I could see the screen from where I was sitting, he was on a site I knew about that was as far as I knew legit, he was talking to me about what he was doing. I guess the big thing is he was on a site that was not designed for 7 year olds.

So, new rule: kids — at least, 7 year olds — only go to sites specifically designed for kids. I’m thinking some kind of whitelist setup is going to be needed here. There’s some open source filtering software for me to check out, see if it does what I want it to do.

Live and learn.