Thursday, May 03, 2007

School for the Gifted gets Internet Safety Education

Following is a recent newsletter entry by Ken Nysmith, of the Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, VA - regarding a recent presentation on Internet Safety by the local company Whizkids LLC, supported by Dulles South Online.

"Technology is a wonderful part of our curriculum at Nysmith. I never cease to be amazed at the seventh and eighth graders’ films or the third graders’ Power Point Presentations. The children seamlessly incorporate their ideas and present them with such creativity that I still find myself surprised, no matter how many times I see them. But, even though I love the wonderful things our students can do with technology, it is important to realize that there are also many malignant and dangerous elements.

Recently we had two parent education seminars about internet safety. One was presented by one of our parents, Mrs. McLaughlan of Whizkids LLC. Although we have been concerned about internet safety for a long time and began using a content filter many years ago at Nysmith, I was shocked to hear the statistics Mrs. McLaughlan presented
Here are some statistics gathered from various sources and shared with us at their workshop:

- 2 out of 5 missing children, between the ages of 14 and 17, are missing due to internet activity

- Law Enforcement officials estimate that as many as 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment (Dateline, 1/2006).

- There is a 100% chance of your child meeting a predator in a chat room. (FBI 2004)

- 1 in 7 children who use the internet are approached by online predators (NCMEC)

How do you protect your children? Where is the line between spying on your children and protecting them? Many parents think that having the right software is the answer; others believe that checking the computer’s history and registry ensures success. While both of these and a dozen other tools are important and helpful, they are not foolproof, and your children are not easily fooled! There are websites set up to show children how to defeat each and every protection tool, and children are very resourceful. Please take the time to become aware of the magnitude of this problem. As one child recently informed us with a grin, his parents asked him to set up their computer and install the parental controls.

For those parents who were not able to attend this eye opening seminar, the key to protecting your children is to place the computer your child will be working on in a central, highly visible area of your home. If you place the computer in an isolated area of your home, or worse yet in the children’s bedroom, you are begging for problems. It’s not that the children are bad; the problem is that they are curious and there are bad people on the Internet. No one would let their child walk into a dark alley at 2:00am in a bad part of town by themselves, yet if you look at the statistics, it is highly likely that almost every child who has internet access has come into contact with a child predator. We are doing everything that we can do at school to protect your child, however we are helpless to protect them when they sit down at their computer at home.

One of the best ideas that I have heard about internet safety is to let your children know that at any instant you could ask them to lift their hands show you what is written. Then do it often. Is it spying? I do not believe it is if you inform the children of this policy beforehand. This is the policy in our home, and, I have seen the children remind each other that their conversations could be read if they were Instant Messaging one of my children. It was apparent that the children were more mindful of what they said because of this policy. I could not help but wonder, however, what was being said when my children logged off. This is a very important point, because no matter how private these conversations feel or how ephemeral, they can be printed or stored for years; the Internet is a public space, and all of us, child or adult, need to be reminded that what we say via email and IM is public speech.

Every parent has to make many choices; my choice on Internet use may not be the same as yours, but I urge you to please be aware, and be proactive. I think it is exciting to think how technology is going to change our children’s world for the better, but there is a dark side that we need to be aware of so that we can protect our children. The only unacceptable choice is to be unaware."