Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beyond the Wall

"The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers." -FCC CIPA Consumer Factsheet

Parents, educators, the government: all wish to ensure that the world is made as safe as possible for our children.

Computers with internet access have become commonplace in schools and homes. With this increase in opportunity for connectivity has come a parallel increase in concern about the perceived dangers of cyberspace for minors. Legislation requiring the blocking of sites deemed inappropriate through the filtering of school district networks was intended to provide protection for students and peace of mind for their parents.

Unfortunately, this approach hasn't worked well for a number of reasons:
  • no filter can catch every objectionable site, therefore relying on filters generates a false sense of security
  • filters block many valuable resources. For example, a science class researching viruses would find any sites mentioning "sexually transmitted diseases" inaccessible, including sites maintained by the Federal government
  • it is possible to get around filters by using proxy sites. Many students have become adept at circumventing the safeguards put in place to protect them
  • while teachers may request that certain sites be unblocked for classroom use, the process can be frustrating and discourage technology use
But the biggest argument against depending on filters as the primary means of protection is that many students spend time outside of school on computers, unsupervised or inadequately supervised. Without instruction in safe use and good digital citizenship, children and teens leave themselves open to danger, though perhaps not the dangers that many adults fear.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center Fact Sheet

A growing number of people are promoting Internet safety education in an effort to help keep youngsters safe from Internet sex offenders. But some of the information in their lectures, pamphlets, videos, and web sites does not reflect what researchers have learned about the important features of these crimes.

There is a widely quoted statistic (from the 2005 University of New Hampshire Youth Internet Safety study) that 1 in 7 youth are threatened by "online predators." In fact,

  • These solicitations did not necessarily come from "online predators". They were all unwanted online requests to youth to talk about sex, answer personal questions about sex or do something sexual. But many could have been from other youth. In most cases, youth did not actually know the ages of solicitors. When they believed they knew, they said about half were other youth.
  • These solicitations were not necessarily devious or intended to lure. Most were limited to brief online comments or questions in chatrooms or instant messages. Many were simply rude, vulgar comments...
  • Most recipients did not view the solicitations as serious or threatening. Two-thirds were not frightened or upset by what happened.
  • Almost all youth handled unwanted solicitations easily and effectively. Most reacted by blocking or ignoring solicitors, leaving sites, or telling solicitors to stop.

A more immediate danger, one which is estimated to affect as many as 43% of our students, is cyber bullying. Unlike face-to-face bullying, the online version can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Harassers, emboldened by electronic anonymity, can choose to prolong and extend their activities, drawing in others and leaving the chosen target with no safe haven.

The United States Congress has recently acted to bring CIPA into line with current research regarding student online safety:
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) are extremely pleased that on September 30 [2008] Congress passed, as part of S. 1492, an update to the Children's Internet Protection Act which requires schools participating in the E-Rate program to educate students regarding appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room sites and about cyberbullying. ISTE and CoSN have advocated for this approach for many years and we are pleased that Congress has now ratified our position. Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students.

"Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students."

We need to teach our children how to recognize danger, make good choices, and behave responsibly online. Beyond the wall lies the future.

"Beyond the wall" by Guiseppe Bognanni


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Diane

I am all for what you are saying here. Whole of school and whole of community awareness is required. But children still need to be able to recognise the dangers.

In my recent post I have highlighted exactly this. What is the alternative?

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Luke Gilkerson said...

Education is the best tool. I recommend that parents use Internet accountability software. When they do this, it will not block them in their Internet surfing, but it will hold them accountable to where they go by sending a detailed Internet surfing report to a trusted friend. When parents can model this kind of openness and honesty with their kids, it really changes the way one uses the Internet.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Luke

Accountability software covers another aspect of relationship and practice - that of trust, and this is important.

But there's more to 'education' than practice and choice. A user has to know what to do and who to seek help from in potentially dangerous situations on the Net. Trust plays a big part in that, as a child needs to have trust in order to first seek help.

When they do, the parent/supervisor/teacher also needs to know how to provide help and what help to offer. All of this comes from community awareness.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Ka kite

Dillon said...

Ah, this is much welcomed news. I'm glad I looked at your blog itself for updates.. It would appear that my new main RSS isn't working [properly] for your blog. I'll have to fix that.

Thank you for sharing this, Diane. I'm glad to hear the U.S. get to the conclusion that many of us have already come to.

As for accountability software that's been suggested... I would say that partly depends on the maturity of the child and possibly in some cases the parent. They're all things that should be carefully thought out, weighed, and discussed on an individual case.

diane said...

Ken, Luke, Dillon,

Starting with a "safe" search engine is certainly a reasonable beginning step, as long a students progress to broader safety issues, like how to evaluate a website, what information type of information should be kept private, how to be a responsible digital citizen.

The company for which I work part-time, CyberSmart Education, has just released a free K-12 curriculum dealing with these and other topics. This curriculum is found at

Teacher training, parental involvement, and grade appropriate lesson plans all contribute to authentic student safety.