IS YOUR CHILD SAFE ON THE INTERNET?


The digital headquarters of the Information Age . . .A bold, unexplored frontier . . . The town square of the global village. . . But are there any play grounds in cyberspace? Can children surf without encountering a digital version of a rain-coated degenerate?

The Internet has grown beyond its origins as a survivable Department of Defense computer network. It is now a valuable communications and information tool for all.  While much of the information on the Internet is general in nature, some is specifically targeted to specific audiences.

Children using the Internet can rapidly research topics of interest. If, for example, a child is doing a report on African music, he or she could visit an Internet site dedicated to music from Africa. This site would likely have short reports concerning all phases of the music genre. And with multimedia advances for the Internet the student may also see pictures or movies of people performing or be able to hear samples of the music.

In the Information Age, access to the world's wealth of digital information is very important to everyone.

It wasn't until the Internet was operational for nearly thirty years that many Americans realized its existence as well as the potential and pitfalls of this resource.

TIME magazine devoted their July 3, 1995 issue to discussing a study on pornography in cyberspace. The cover story (On a screen near you:  Cyberporn) touched a nerve among Americans and sparked a debate in Congress. While quoting the article on the floor of the House, a  Representative said that it was his understanding (via TIME) that 83 percent of all images on the Internet are pornographic.

Upon re-examination though, the study that the TIME article was based on was discovered to be full of inconsistencies and false conclusions; including the figure on the number of pornographic images.

First, it was determined that most of the information gathered was from bulletin board services, not the Internet. Second, the 83 percent figure was seriously challenged by additional figures within the original study. It was determined that this figure represented Usenet sites, not all sites, as the article led the Congressman to believe.

Further, only 3 percent of Usenet messages were pornographic and Usenet only represents 11 percent of the Internet's traffic. Therefore, the pornographic images in question seem to represent less than one half of 1 percent of all Internet traffic according to another part of the same study!

One thing is clear to veteran Internet users - surfing in dangerous waters yields questionable returns. To put this another way, people wouldn't be surprised to find pornographic magazines for sale in a city's red-light district. Likewise, people shouldn't be surprised with what they find at the Penthouse site or in the alt.sex newsgroup.

Encouragingly, veteran Internet users with years of experience online agree that it would indeed be odd to be unexpectedly bombarded with pornography or other deviations. These online users even have a difficult time envisioning such a scenario occurring.

The point is, the Internet has questionable sites just as some books have questionable chapters, and some neighborhoods have questionable residents. It is wise to be concerned with Internet and how its content may influence a child. However, inaccuracies from the TIME magazine article appear to have exaggerated the issue and made people more concerned and more worried than was truly warranted.

Create some online use rules with your children. Post these rules near the computer and make sure that they are followed. Online rules should include a prohibition of disclosing personal information (e.g. name, address, phone number, etc.). Rules should also include discussing that "online friends" may not always be who they say they are. In cyberspace there is nothing preventing a 40- year-old-man from claiming that he is a 9-year-old-girl.

Although not a substitute for direct parental involvement, consider using online filtering or monitoring software. Programs like "Net-Nanny" or "CyberPatrol" allow parents to customize what sites can and cannot be accessed. Not all programs give parents such options.


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