Internet Security: Getting Involved To Keep Kids Safe
"What has the Internet brought?" That was the opening question posed to the audience Friday at FETC 2008 by speaker William Piotrowski during a session on Internet safety. Piotrowski, along with main presenter, Jonathan King, addressed issues related to the increase of available online technologies and their implications on the safety and security of today's children.
"There are many highs and enormous capabilities on the Internet," Piotrowski said. "There are also some things that come along with that that create many areas of concern."
Piotrowski, CIO for Leon County Public Schools, shared the concerns of one educator who told him, "[My students] know everything about me." With the ability to generate detailed maps of peoples' homes, look up sensitive property and tax information, along with phone numbers and images and personal interest items on a wide variety of Web sites, children are often taken by the power of the Internet, many times failing to understand the associated risks. If they can get this information, Piotrowski said, just think of who else can.
"Availability of information is a two-edged sword," said Piotrowski. It allows direct collaboration with experts, but, at the same time, the very same capabilities are available to predators.
According to Piotrowski, "the average time to an agreement from an under-aged child to meet offline is three minutes." A major problem, he continued, is that "there is no automated way to accurately control and then stay with the Internet's interactions. It just doesn't work"
Introducing Jonathan King, Piotrowski insisted "the one key to being successful with [Internet safety] is responsible use."
King, vice president of iSafe, a congressionally funded, non-profit Internet safety foundation, focused his talk on the need to train stakeholders--such as educators and law enforcement--so they, in turn, can increase Internet safety awareness among their various communities. Currently, iSafe has more than 40,000 certified trainers nationwide and has instructed more than 4.2 million students, with a projected 6.7 million students receiving the instruction by July.
"Kids don't want their technology removed," he said. "they are completely inundated with how technology is leveraged, and they will do anything to protect themselves from loosing it."
King spoke about some interesting trends online, including the fastest growing demographics, which are kindergarten through second grade, and seniors. According to King, Internet usage by high school students is currently trending down, primarily owing to the use of alternative technologies such as text messaging and cell phones, creating its own unique set of issues. Other statistics include 65 percent 70 percent of households where a computer is in the child's bedroom. A serious problem, said King.
King spoke at length about cyber-bulling, noting that it is on the rise. According to King, access to victims through a wide variety of online mediums means bullying is no longer confined to the school campus ... or to the school calendar. Cyber-bullying is "more rigorous than traditional bullying," he said, noting that non-active participants--onlookers who witness the act but do not express disapproval--are also a matter of great concern.
King emphasized what he termed "cyber citizenship," which translates into how one behaves online. "Children need to understand the relationship between the physical world and the world online so they can make informed decisions," he said. Just as you teach your children to avoid dangerous situations in the physical world, he continued, we have to teach them to protect themselves in the virtual world.
In the end, King said, "the goal is to get you all involved." "We would love to have everyone certified," he said, so we can get this information out there.
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Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.