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Tips for Kids and Parents About Internet Safety

Technology in the Classroom CenterAccording to a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in five Internet users younger than 17 received an online sexual solicitation or approach during the past year. One in 33 received an aggressive sexual solicitation involving offline contact or a request for offline contact. What can you do to help keep kids safe online? Included: Printable Internet safety tips for parents and Internet safety rules for kids.

According to Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation's Youth, a recent study conducted for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

  • One in four regular Internet users younger than 17 was exposed to unwanted sexually oriented pictures online during the past year.
  • One in five youths received an online sexual solicitation or approach during the past year.
  • One in 17 was threatened or harassed online during the past year.
  • One in 33 received an aggressive sexual solicitation online involving offline contact or a request for offline contact during the past year.

What might those statistics mean in real numbers? Quite a lot-- almost 24 million youths between the ages of ten and 17 used the Internet regularly last year.

 

PROTECTING KIDS

What are parents and teachers doing to protect children from the sexual materials, sexual solicitations, threats, and harassment they encounter online? Not enough, says FBI Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr. "We do a rotten job of telling kids what they should do on the Internet," Gulotta told Education World in a recent interview. "We tell our children never to talk to strangers in person, but we don't do a good job of telling them not to talk to strangers on the Internet.

"The Internet can be a valuable educational tool," Gulotta pointed out, "and the FBI doesn't try to discourage its use. We do, however, want parents and teachers to be aware of the risks and take steps to minimize them."

According to Gulotta, those steps should include the following:

  • Establish a good relationship with kids. The kids who are most vulnerable to online predators, Gulotta said, are those who are already troubled and who don't have a good relationship with a trusted adult.
  • Control the online environment. Don't allow kids to use a screen profile or provide personal information online. Predators, Gulotta said, will put a kid on a buddy list, look for the child whenever he or she is online, gradually become a confidant, and eventually start talking about sexual topics.
  • Be frank about what's out there. "No one knows you're a dog when you're on the Internet," Gulotta said, "and there are a lot of people out there with terrible intentions. Kids need to know that."
  • Do not post student photos on the Internet. It's tantamount to putting personal information online. "We're not saying your child is going to be hurt if his or her picture is on the Internet," Gulotta noted. "We're saying they could be. Know what the parameters are; know what these people are doing; and then make your own decisions."

According to Gulotta, middle school students and other young teens are most vulnerable to online dangers because they have greater access to the Internet than younger students, are often less closely supervised, and are more willing to participate in discussions about emotions and relationships.

 

A PROGRAM FOR PARENTS AND TEACHERS

Internet Safety Tips for Parents and Kids

Parents and teachers need to work together to keep kids safe online. Help your students' parents by providing them with the following Internet safety tips. Just as important, be sure your students and children understand the dangers that the Internet can pose.

* Click here for a printable copy of Internet Safety Tips for Parents.

* Click here for a printable copy of Internet Safety Rules for Kids.

Marcie Murphy, assistant to Lynne A. Battaglia, U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, agrees that students should have Internet access-- as long as they and their parents are aware of where online dangers lie. To promote that awareness, Murphy and Gulotta participate in a Maryland program that offers presentations about online safety to PTA groups. The program was started by the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office after the number of online predator cases investigated by the FBI increased by more than 100 percent between 1998 and 1999.

"There is a lot more awareness about online dangers now," Murphy said, "but we still need to be concerned about those parents who think a computer is like a TV. Parents need to recognize that on the Internet kids aren't just watching. They are interacting with other people."

Most kids are more comfortable on computers than their parents are, Murphy pointed out. Schools need to provide resources and information that will help parents protect their kids online. According to Murphy, schools can provide parents with information about online dangers and how to deal with them; stress the importance of proper supervision; recommend screening software, especially for elementary school students; and create safe-site lists that students can use at home and in class.

 

PREVENTING HARM

One of the most surprising findings in the NCMEC report was that less than 10 percent of online sexual solicitation or harassment was reported to authorities-- and that only a small percentage of families even knew how to report such incidences.

Do you know what to do?

According to Peter Gulotta, "If a child reports being approached online, immediately write down as much information as possible, including the screen name or e-mail address of the person who contacted the child; the URL of the chat room, if applicable; and the date and time of the contact. Then report the incident to the local police department or FBI."

In addition, the NCMEC maintains a Cybertipline (1-800-843-5678: 1-800-THE-LOST), which "handles leads from individuals reporting the sexual exploitation of children."

 

EDUCATING THE KIDS

According to the NCMEC, the report Online Victimization revealed information about kids' online interactions that can help schools prepare more effective programs for teaching about online safety. The study found that

  • Many young people consider Internet friendships an important online resource.
  • Sexually oriented online relationships occur much less frequently than benign friendships; therefore, young people can see repeated warnings about the risk of online encounters as unrealistic.
  • Not all online sexual solicitors fit the media stereotype of the adult male. Some are women, and many are other young people.
  • Harassment, in the form of threatening or malicious messages, e-mails, and Web pages, is frequently more distressing to young people than online sexually oriented encounters because such harassment often involves people who live close enough to the victim to carry out their online threats.

Based on those findings, the NCMEC report offers a number of recommendations to help make the Internet safe for young people. The following steps are most relevant to educators:

  • Talk specifically to students about the diversity of online dangers, including threats from youthful and female offenders.
  • Address the problem of non-sexual as well as sexual victimization on the Internet.
  • Make students and parents aware of the existence and locations of resources for reporting and dealing with Internet offenses.
  • Develop different prevention and intervention strategies for youth of different ages.
  • Encourage young people to take responsibility for youth-oriented parts of the Internet and to help clean up standards of Internet behavior.

Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

 

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08/17/2000

 

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