The Senate recently passed a resolution (S. Res. 205) declaring June "National Internet Safety Month." The resolution was sponsored by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Vice Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). It also had 15 other bipartisan cosponsors. The Resolution â€œcalls on Internet safety organizations, law enforcement, educators, community leaders, parents, and volunteers to increase their efforts to raise the level of awareness for the need for online safety in the United States.â€ In a press release, Senator Stevens noted that "The Internet is no longer a luxury for American families, but a necessity. It is important to provide a safe online environment for children because use of the Internet is an essential part of our children's education."
I think this is a worthwhile goal, and Sen. Stevens and his Senate colleagues are to be commended for their focus on Internet safety education as opposed to the knee-jerk regulatory response we all too often see coming out of Congress on this front.
In a few weeks, I will be releasing my new PFF special report, â€œParental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods.â€ The booklet provides a broad survey of everything on the market today that can help parents deal with potentially objectionable media content, whether it be on broadcast TV, cable, music, cellular phones, video games, the Internet, or social networking websites.
I spend a great deal of time in the report dealing with Internet issues and online safety concerns since it is driving so much legislative and regulatory activity these days. I conclude that, even though it can be quite a challenge at times, parents do have the power to effectively control the Internet and online activities in their childrenâ€™s lives. But, to do so, parents need to adopt a â€œlayeredâ€ approach to online child protection that involves many tools and strategies.
Of course, it goes without saying that these tools and methods should not be considered substitutes for talking to our children about what they might see or hear while online. Even though various tools and strategies can help parents control the vast majority of objectionable content that their kids might stumble upon while online, no system is perfect. In the end, education and ongoing communication are vital.
Anyway, in conjunction with Internet Safety Month, I thought I would put together a multi-part series of essays about how parents can deal with potentially objectionable online content or contacts. This first installment will feature the many excellent online safety organizations or efforts that should be the first place parents begin their search for assistance.
Finding Help from Online Safety "Metasites"
There is so much good information on the Internet about online child safety that parents would be wise to rely on some of the â€œmetasitesâ€ that aggregate helpful tips, tools, and other information all in one place. The best of these sites include:
* GetNetWise.org (www.getnetwise.org) is a public service website operated by the non-profit Internet Education Foundation and supported by a wide array of Internet and computer companies as well as a host of public interest organizations and child / family activists. The GetNetWise website offers a comprehensive "Online Safety Guide" and lengthy inventory of "Tools for Families" that can be custom-tailored to the needs and values of individual families.
* Internet Keep Safe Coalition (www.iKeepSafe.org) is a coalition of 49 state governors and first spouses, law enforcement officials, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other corporations and private associations (including many of the groups and sites listed below) dedicated to helping parents, educators, and caregivers by providing tools and guidelines to teach children the safe and healthy use of technology. iKeepSafe uses an animated mascot named "Faux Paw the Techno Cat" to teach children the importance of protecting personal information and avoiding inappropriate places on the Internet. The organization's website offers a downloadable "10 Common Questions about Internet Safety" pamphlet and several video tutorials to help parents set up various filters or controls.
* Net Smartz Workshop (www.NetSmartz.org) is produced by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. This comprehensive website contains web safety tips and educational materials for parents, kids, teens, educators and law enforcement officials. They also sponsor a site devoted to younger children (www.netsmartzkids.org) which features interactive online safety games and videos, as well as the NetSmartz Internet Safety Helpdesk (www.netsmartz411.org), which is sponsored by the Qwest Foundation.
* Project Online Safety (www.projectonlinesafety.com) is a collaborative online portal that offers a directory of online safety tools and educational materials developed by technology companies, media organizations and nonprofits. Coalition members include: AT&T, BlogSafety.com, Cable in the Classroom, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Facebook, Fox Interactive Media (owner of MySpace.com), Internet Education Foundation, National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Network Solutions, Qwest, Time Warner Cable, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Each organization provides an overview of its online safety efforts and links to various resources that parents can use to keep their kids safe online or to educate them about online dangers.
* StaySafe.org (www.staysafe.org) is an educational website sponsored by the Microsoft Corporation "intended to help consumers understand both the positive aspects of the Internet as well as how to manage a variety of safety and security issues that exist online." The site contains specific sections for teenagers, parents, senior citizens, and educators with tips and tools tailored to each group.
* i-SAFE Inc. (www.iSafe.org) is a non-profit foundation whose mission is "to educate students on how to avoid dangerous, inappropriate, or unlawful online behavior. i-SAFE accomplishes this through dynamic K-12 curriculum and community outreach programs to parents, law enforcement, and community leaders. It is the only Internet safety foundation to combine these elements," they claim on their website. i-SAFE receives federal grants to support these efforts. The organization produces several monthly newsletters, including one for parents ("i-PARENT Times") and educators ("i-EDUCATOR Times"), and sells a wide variety of printed materials on online safety issues for classroom use.
* WebWiseKids (www.wiredwithwisdom.org) is a non-profit organization "committed to teaching children and their caregivers strategies for safe Internet use, including methods of detecting and deterring online predators." It specializes in interactive software and games that teach kids how to spot online threats and deal with them promptly.
* Wired Safety (www.wiredsafety.org) bills itself as "the largest online safety, education and help group in the world. We are a cyber-neighborhood watch and operate worldwide in cyberspace through our more than 9,000 volunteers worldwide." The site offers educational services and online assistance and also reviews family-friendly Web sites, filtering software and other Internet services. Wired Safety also runs or works with several other affiliated online safety sites, such as: Wired Cops (www.wiredcops.org), Wired Kids (www.wiredkids.org), and Teen Angels (www.teenangels.org) and Net Bullies (www.NetBullies.com).
And list goes on. There are countless other excellent websites that offer parents and kids outstanding advice for how to stay safe online, including:
Net Family News, ProtectKids.com, SafeKids.com, SafeTeens.com, BlogSafety.com, ChatDanger.com, StopCyberbullying.org, Cyberbully.org, and StopTextBully.com. CNet.com also offers a very user-friendly portal for families.
Finally, excellent examples of how other countries are dealing with the same issues can be found at Canada's BeWebAware.ca site, Europe's BeSafeOnline.org site, and Australia's NetAlert.net.
[In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss the burgeoning market for filtering and monitoring tools and software.]