Thursday, February 19, 2004

My Editorial on Keeping Children Safe in Cyberspace 

I wrote a response to an article that was published in my local newspaper last week and it actually got published today in their "Your Say" column -- here's the text:
Having developed and taught an online course for parents on the topic of “Keeping Children Safe in Cyberspace,” I found Charles Favata’s article on Internet safety (“Your Say” 2-12-04) both valuable and timely. It is true that many parents are in the uncomfortable position of knowing less about the Internet than their children, and it can be difficult to parent from a position of authority in such a situation. I believe the comparison Mr. Favata drew between the Internet and the mall could – and should – inspire parents to take their children’s safety more seriously.

However, have you ever been to the mall on a weekend evening? It is chock-a-block full of unsupervised tweens and teens. The idea that many of the same parents who drop their children off at the mall unsupervised could be just as casual with their children’s Internet excursions is a frightening one.

In teaching my course I have found that some parents surrender completely and do virtually nothing to govern their children’s online experience (using the “ignorance is bliss” theory, i.e. dropping the kid off at the mall), while others ban the Internet altogether (thereby “throwing out the baby with the bath water”).

Neither extreme is a good solution. It’s important to realize that the Internet is not the enemy. The Internet is a powerful tool that has the ability to educate, entertain, and expand a child’s world. These days, a child’s ability to use this tool to its full advantage can be critical to their success in school. (Similar to how the efficient use of a library was important when their parents went to school.) As a parent, it is important to balance concern for the Internet’s potential dangers with an appreciation and understanding of the riches that it offers.

There are two key issues that should be considered critical for keeping a child safe in cyberspace: the physical location of the computer in the home, and clear communication regarding the concept of “no expectation of privacy.” If you choose to do nothing else with regard to Internet safety, at least do these two things:

First, position the computer where a parent can easily see the monitor at any given moment. Doing so practically forces your children to keep their Internet activities G-rated. Do not put a computer with an Internet connection in a child’s bedroom. Do not put a computer with an Internet connection in any private out-of-the way place in the home.

Second, communicate clearly with your child regarding the concept of “no expectation of privacy.” Most employers issue Internet use policies stipulating that employees using computers in the workplace should have no expectation of privacy. Most schools issue Internet use policies stipulating that students using computers at school should have no expectation of privacy. One purpose behind such policies is to help prevent inappropriate use of the Internet. I recommend adopting a similar policy at home for the very same purpose.

You should know all of your child’s current usernames and passwords, and yes – you should check up on them. You wouldn’t let your child bring a stranger into their room at home and close the door – why would you do it in cyberspace?

It was published on their web site today as well. Here's a link to the site: Reporter online.com. Just do a search on my name.

So that's "My Say" for the day!

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