Internet safety used to be all about keeping children away from inappropriate content and illegal Web sites. While that is still a concern, Internet safety has changed as the Internet has evolved. The communication explosion that has made the world closely connected has not made the world safer. Many real-world hazards have migrated to Cyberspace, such as bullying, threats, and predators, and parents need to be proactively involved in their children’s Internet world more than ever before.
Almost all incidents in Great Neck involving inappropriate student behavior while online occur outside of school because of the tight supervision and filtering systems adopted by our district. However, these problems often spill over into the school in the form of bad feelings, arguments, and disruption. What we see the most includes inappropriate personal information being posted on a profile, Cyberbullying or Cyberthreats via Instant Messaging or in Chat Rooms, the posting of hurtful or threatening messages, the sharing of hurtful text messages, embarrassing comments, and inappropriate photos and videos being uploaded to social networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, and YouTube.
Most of these incidents occur without the knowledge or consent of parents, who aren’t aware of what their children are doing when they go online either in their own home or at a friend’s house. Some parents just don’t feel as comfortable with technology as their children and defer to them when it comes to the computer. Some parents work long hours and just aren’t available to supervise their children’s computer use after school. Some parents don’t believe their children would do anything wrong so they trust them to do the right thing independently before they are mature enough to handle it. They forget they are still children, still learning, still subject to peer pressure, and still subject to poor judgment.
Children, on the other hand, are growing up with technology. It is part of their everyday lives mostly for the better but sometimes for the worse. The Internet as a medium promotes communication and socialization, but often without restraint. Children don’t realize that there are real-life consequences for poor online choices. It doesn’t occur to them that what they post online can be copied, saved, and forwarded to others and remain long after the original has been deleted. They feel anonymous when they create screen names and online personas that can be totally different than who they are in real life. They can fall in with a bad crowd, communicate the wrong things, get to know the wrong people, and endanger themselves and those around them.
Instant Messaging is a form of live and instantaneous communication, a mixture of chatrooms, email and phonecalls, facilitated by the internet connecting PCs. It can take the form of private communication between known friends where users build up a list of their own contacts and are alerted when they are online, or it can also be a public open environment. Instant Messaging allows people to communicate via the web instantaneously over the using a variety of options including text, voice, video and pictures.
E-mail stands for Electronic Mail and is a way of sending messages from one computer to another over the Internet. Messages are composed in special e-mail programmes.
Picture and Video-messaging
Picture and video messaging are increasingly popular forms of communications, as mobile phone devices become increasingly sophisticated. Essentially the devices allow users to forward pictures and videos in a similar manner to text messages.
Short Messaging Service (SMS) better known as texting, is the facility on your mobile phone handset which allows the user to write a text message and send this message to another number, where it will be received as a written message.
Social Networking Sites (SNS)
Social Networking areas are websites with applications which help connect friends using a number of tools like blogs, profiles, internal email systems and photos. Well known sites include Bebo (www.bebo.com), Myspace (www.myspace.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com) and Nimble (www.nimble.ie).
There are also a number of SNS targetting very young children, for example Club Penguin, Stardoll, etc.
Many young people use these sites to create their own profiles, which they then link to those of their friends and so on. Once set up they can use these profiles to share photographs, create blogs and post comments on other peoples profiles and blogs.
Because the Internet connects PCs, it allows people to “chat”. There are certain websites which have chatroom forums – which allow people to “post up” messages and converse with each other. Conversations are called “threads”.
Surfing the Net
Most people who surf the net will do so by means of a browser, which allows you to look at internet sites. The most common browser used on PCs is Microsoft Internet Explorer. Other browsers include Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox.
Search Engines are used to assist people when surfing the net. Among the more popular search engines are Google (www.google.ie) and Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). Essentially, search engines have a search bar facility, which allows users to type in the specific information they seek. Once you do this and hit search, the search engine trawls trawls the web seeking pages that will have the information that you are seeking, and it then gives you a list of appropriate web addresses.
Games Consoles are entertainment systems designed specifically to allow users to play games. Popular versions include Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Online Gaming relates to the process whereby users can, through the internet interact with other online users in playing games. This allows users to play games against other individuals without the need for players to be in the same location. www.pegionline.eu is an excellent site which provides information on protecting children when they are participating in online gaming.
File Sharing programmes allow users to swap or share files from their PCs with others over the Internet. There are also some commercial peer-to-peer applications which allow users to buy music and video content over the Internet.
Weblogs, more commonly referred to as ‘blogs’ are usually intended for a public audience. A blog also allows for interaction with its readers through comments which can be made on the posting or other comments. Blogs differ from personal websites in that they are made up of a series of individual postings, usually published in chronological order. Generally only the manager(s) of the blog are authorised to post messages. Anyone with an internet connection can upload a comment to a posting. Access to blogs can be restricted if necessary, and comments can either be disabled or moderated by the manager of the blog. They are particularly popular with young people. Bloggers often address a narrow topic and a small, specialised audience.
OK, that’s a lot to take in! So, what are the risks that I should be looking out for?
As is always the case, with each of the different types of technologies there are both positives and negatives. There is a wide range of excellent sites such as www.webwise.ie and www.thinkuknow.co.uk that provide more detailed information on the various positive and potentially negative aspects of the technology our children use on the internet today.
Broadly speaking the key areas of concern that parents should be aware of are as follows.
Anonymous Nature – Parents should be aware that by its nature the Internet allows users to retain their anonymity, particularly in the context of chatrooms and instant messaging. It’s important that children are taught to understand that people they are in contact with may not be what they seem and that they should be very careful in terms of how they interact with others and what kind of information that they should disclose to others accordingly.
Security Issues – Increasingly young people are placing large amounts of personal information on the internet, whether it’s through profiles on social networking sites or disclosing information in conversations in chatrooms. The disclosure of such information may leave them a t risk of the information being used by others to perpetrate fraudulent actions in their names.
Cyberbullying – parents should be aware of the potential risk of individuals using the various types of internet technology and/or materials from the internet for defamatory purposes.
Ok, with so much potential danger out there, how can I protect my children from the risks?
It is important to remember that there are many many positive aspects to the internet, and that the best way forward is to proactively engage with your children in their endeavours to ensure that they are able to maximise their enjoyment of the internet in the safest possible manner.
Get Involved: Learn more about what your children are doing online. Become familiar with the systems they use, if you don’t know how to use them ask them to show you or teach yourself how to use them.
Talk to them: Explain to them the potential dangers that exist, encourage them to talk to you if they are having difficulties or experiencing problems with other users that they may be interacting with on the Internet.
Set guidelines: Set Guidelines in relation to internet usage, when it can be used, for how long, what kind of information that they should be giving out, encouraging them to treat other users with the same level of respect that they want people to show them
Use Available Resources: Many of the technologies that children use today have resources that can be used to help protect children from inappropriate or obscene content. Filtering , Blocking and Parental Control Systems are among some of the options available.
Be Vigilant: Keep computers where you can see them, keep an eye on the sites that they are visiting to ensure their suitability
Report! –Any instances of suspected online child abuse should be reported to http://ccasociety.com/lodge-complaint/ immediately.