Internet Safety in the Schools
This article provides an overview of both the risks and benefit of children using the Internet to gather information and communicate with their peers. Recommendations are provided for parents and educators to help teach children Internet safety measures in schools and at home. An overview of Internet software and websites that promote children's safety online is provided as well.
Keywords Acceptable-Use Policy (AUP); Children's Internet Protection Act; Cybersafety; Internet Bullying; Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA); MySpace; Online Victimization; Sexual Solicitation
Internet Use among Children
Internet usage has exploded among children and adolescents in recent years as the medium provides them with both educational and social opportunities (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007). According to the Child Trends Data Bank (2013), in 2003, approximately 76 percent of children had access to a computer at home, and by 2011, that figure had increased to 83 percent. Additionally, children with access to the Internet in the home rose from 42 percent in 2003 to 58 percent in 2011. Of these users, just 10 percent report using the computers for reading magazines or newspapers online, while the remainder play games or watch videos. Child Trends further reports that according to their 2009 survey, 36 percent of children report having a computer with Internet access in their bedroom and spend almost ninety minutes (in addition to school work) per day with a computer. This figure is up from just over sixty minutes in 2004 (Child Trends Data Bank, 2013).
Besides keeping an eye on the content kids access, parents and educators should also be aware of what kids do and say online so that they do not compromise their privacy or safety (Andrews, 2006). Over the past few years, social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest have become enormously popular among teenagers (Andrews. 2006). Facebook in particular has grown at an enormous rate and reports an average of 728 active daily users in 2013, which a 25 percent increase from the previous year (Hockenson, & Molla, 2013). These sites can offer many benefits to their users, but some teens may not take sufficient care in protecting their privacy or may find themselves exposed to inappropriate content. Parents and educators can use Internet control software to block youths from accessing inappropriate content, but they should also be sure to educate themselves and their children or students about Internet safety.
Dangers of the Internet
The Internet can be an extremely useful tool at home and in the classroom, but parents and schools must be careful to monitor children's and adolescents' online activities (Dorman, 1997). The Internet does not necessarily house more predators than the real world, but online there are fewer warning signs to alert a teen that a person may be dangerous (Andrews, 2006). People may not be who they say they are, and many experts advise parents to limit their children's online friends to their real-life friends (Andrews, 2006). Children and teens can easily be exposed to online victimization, or situations in which they encounter intimidating and inappropriate sexual content, solicitation, or harassment (Dorman, 1997;Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007).
Though millions of people who use social networking sites are harmless, some are sexual predators. The nonprofit Internet safety organization, Enough is Enough, offers some sobering insights into online predators:
• Eighteen percent of young people use chat rooms to interact with other youth, but the majority of Internet-initiated sex crimes against children are begun in chat rooms.
• In 82 percent of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gather information on the victim’s likes and dislikes; 65 percent use the victim’s social networking site to gather home and school information; 26 percent gain information on the victim’s whereabouts at a specific time
• Less than half (44 percent) of online sexual solicitors were under the age of eighteen (Enough is Enough, 2013).
One study (Enough is Enough, 2013) estimates that one in seven youth nationwide have received online sexual solicitations and sexual solicitation of youth occurs most frequently in chat rooms, via instant or Facebook messaging, or through online gaming devices. Wolak (2008) reports that the majority of victims of Internet-initiated sex crimes in 2007 were between the ages of thirteen and fifteen.
Although anyone can be targeted by a predator, adolescents, particularly girls, are more likely to be victimized than younger children (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007). Youths who share personal information, meet online acquaintances in person, or communicate in a sexual manner, as well as youths who are depressed, questioning their sexuality, or have poor family relationships are also at a greater risk (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007). Additionally, the more time a youth spends on the Internet, the more likely it is that he or she will become an online victim or engage in high-risk behaviors (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007).
Online harassment, or cyber bullying, defined as "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text," can also harm children and teens (Hinduja & Patchin, n.d.). Thirty-four percent of youth, ages ten through fifteen, reported being harassed online, and the majority report these incidences to friends or a parent/guardian (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007; Weiss, 2011). Cyber bullies harass their victims by posting insults, taunts, threats, or slanderous statements on the Internet or by directly sending them to their victims through digital communications like email, text messaging, and instant messaging (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007). Because of the media's nature, these bullies can easily remain anonymous, and the psychological impact of online harassment can lead to increased levels of fear, stress, and depression among victims (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007).
Hate groups may also use the Internet to promote harassment. These groups may use websites and online communications to target adolescents and spread their message to a mass amount of people (Young, Young, & Fullwood, 2007).
Besides these very large dangers, teens also need to be careful about how they present themselves online. Social-networking sites, instant messaging, and email are where kids today hang out, gossip, and assert their independence (Andrews, 2006). The difference between real-world hang outs and cyber hang outs, however, is that cyberspace is open twenty-four hours a day and is vaster and, in some cases, much more public (Andrews, 2006). In a few widely publicized cases, teenagers have been arrested after chatting about or posting pictures of illegal activities online; colleges and employers checking an applicant’s profile may also find evidence of drug use, underage drinking, or inappropriate behavior (Andrews, 2006).
What Is Being Done to Promote Internet Safety?
The federal government has been studying the problem of child Internet safety for almost twenty years (McQuade, 2007). One result of these studies has been the passage of the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA), which requires any school or library that receives federal discounts for Internet access to "have an Internet safety policy and technology protection measures in place" (Federal Communications Commission, 2001). As of 2007, approximately one-third of public libraries in the United States opted not to apply for federal Internet discounts in order to avoid CIPA restrictions (McClure & Jaeger, 2009, p. 79).
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was passed in 1998, banning websites from gathering personal information from children under the age of thirteen without parental consent. COPPA has been revised twice (in 2011 and 2012) since it was put into effect in 2000. The revisions expand on and further define what it means to collect data, present data retention and deletion rules, and create additional parental notice and consent requirements (Kardell, 2011; Percival & Spruill, 2013). Agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have also created Internet safety guides and websites.
Although Facebook has been criticized for being too lax in it privacy settings (Kelly, 2008), a Carnegie Mellon study revealed that of the 540 Facebook users profiled, the majority had not altered their privacy settings, which allowed unknown users access to their personal profile information (Gross & Acquisti, 2005).
While current approaches tend to favor legislation and restriction, some groups are advocating for education. During 2007 Senate hearings, the Center for Democracy and Technology asserted that Internet safety education is "the most important step that the government can take" toward protecting children in the twenty-first century (Senate Considers Internet Safety, 2007). Similarly, during the same hearings, the American Library Association stated that, rather than further legislation, "the experiences of librarians, parents, teachers, and others continue to affirm that teaching kids how to safely navigate the World Wide Web is the best tool" (Senate Considers Internet Safety, 2007). A school safety survey conducted by researchers at Quality Education Data discovered that although most school districts across the nation block inappropriate websites from school computers, only 8 percent teach students responsible Internet usage (Bagwell, 2007).
(The entire section is 4296 words.)