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Larry Magid: Keeping Kids Safe Online


On April 12, 1999, The Online Safety Project became a Smithsonian Laureate when it was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution's Permanent Research Collection of Information Technology. Larry Magid, founder of the project and a leading expert on keeping kids safe online, shared his thoughts with Education World. Included: What does Magid have to say about the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, and the resulting call to take away students' Internet access? We link to his thoughts on this subject.

Larry Magid Photo
Education World interviewed Larry Magid, a syndicated columnist whose columns originate in the Los Angeles Times and appear in newspapers throughout the world. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Web sites SafeKids.Com and SafeTeens.Com, which counsel kids and teens on how to stay safe online. His sites include many valuable resources for parents too, including a comprehensive chart that compares more than 50 Internet filtering products.
Magid often writes and speaks about the safety online issue and is a widely recognized expert on the subject. He has written for many magazines and is the author of several books, including the critically acclaimed best-seller The Little PC Book (now in its third edition). Magid has made numerous appearances on television and radio.

And, on April 12,1999, Magid's Online Safety Project was honored with induction into the Smithsonian Institution's Permanent Collection as a result of the project's nomination for a Computerworld Smithsonian award. AOL chairman Steve Case nominated the Online Safety Project.

Here, then, are Larry Magid's views on various aspects of on-line safety for kids.

Education World: Where did SafeKids.Com come from?

Larry Magid: SafeKids is a spin-off of a brochure I wrote in 1994. The booklet was inspired by the excessive reactions people were having to pornography on the Internet. My position is that the Internet is extremely valuable, but kids need to be street-smart in their use of it. We went live online with SafeKids in mid-1996; then in 1998, we launched SafeTeens and relaunched SafeKids.

EW: Why do you have two separate sites, SafeKids.Com and SafeTeens.Com?

Magid: The main factor is that parents have some control over children under age 12. Parents can monitor kids' behavior. And kids are less likely to be interested in sexual content -- pornography. Kids learn through parents, so SafeKids.Com is to help parents educate children about the Internet. Teenagers are far less parent-influenced and more influenced by peer pressure. They're more curious, more interested in sexually explicit material. Teens are also far more likely to get together with someone they've met on-line, which is what I'm really concerned about. Teens may also have money or credit cards. That opens them to exploitation.

EW: What's your opinion of blocking devices used to filter pornography and other undesirable content in the home?

Magid: It's not effective with teenagers, who figure out how to get around it. I don't use [a blocking device] in my house, but it's good for parents to have it as an option. But even children will often find out how to get around a blocking device.

EW: What do you think about proposed government censorship of the Net?

Magid: I'm against government censorship. [Monitoring what kids see is] up to parents. I favor control at the most local level. School blocking is better than government blocking. I disagree with the federal government's telling schools to filter.

EW: What about parents who refuse to let their children use the Internet in school?

Magid: I would say they are making a big mistake. Using the Internet is like learning to use the library, as far as I'm concerned. Parents don't have to give their children permission to use the library in school, and there may be content in the library that parents don't approve of. Today, learning to use the Internet is sort of like reading. It's a basic necessity.

EW: How do you characterize a good online citizen?

Magid: A good on-line citizen obeys the law, doesn't hurt others, and treats others respectfully. Kids must avoid either being a victim or being a victimizer. Either way, [they can get] in trouble. We can't necessarily think of kids as innocent victims, when they can end up as criminals or, at the very least, troublemakers.


The Littleton (Colorado) tragedy occurred after our talk with Larry Magid. He responded to the tragedy in an article, Don't Shoot the Internet, on SafeKids.Com. Magid asks that people not blame the Internet when it's used as it apparently was by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High School boys who killed their classmates, a teacher, and themselves.

Magid was asked by CNN to provide suggestions on technology that parents can use to stop their kids from posting hateful or violent messages on the Web. Magid suggested that parents use free-text search engines to determine what their children have posted on the Web. As part of the bigger picture, Magid quoted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends strategies such as "school-based curricula that emphasize the development of problem-solving skills, anger management, and other strategies that help kids develop social skills."

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

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Originally published 05/24/1999; updated 06/08/2005