Alaska editorial: Parents need to be watching, Web literate

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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PAW

NTK

If those first two lines don't mean much to you, you're probably like a lot of adults who don't use or don't know much about the Internet.

The acronyms might even be lost on those who use the Internet, but don't stretch the English language beyond typing in an occasional smiley face - or, more correctly, an "emoticon" - after the punch line of a joke.

But, your children and grandchildren may know those first lines are to be interpreted like this:

"Parents Are Watching"

"Nice To Know"

For most of our community it would indeed be nice to know that parents are watching what their children are doing online, but some of the people your children can "meet" online would rather that parents stay in the dark.

Internet predators are a threat in Fairbanks, as much as they are in any city in the world. It's the beauty of the Internet turned to a dark purpose. And it is with us to stay. The Internet is a fabulous tool for children and families. We can't, and shouldn't, insulate children from it entirely. So children and predators will forever walk the Internet together.

In addition to those predators, there are a myriad of other ways children can use the Internet that may not be in their own best interest. Parents used to just worry about filtering inappropriate content, but with the explosion of social networking through sites like MySpace.com, the concern is not only with what children might find online, but what information they might be putting out there about themselves.

It's up to parents to keep their children safe, and there are places they can find some help with this responsibility.

A new location is www.netsmartz411.org, a site launched this month by the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children to complement its original www.netsmartz.org Web site.

The center's netsmartz material has been used by youth groups, teachers and law enforcement officers to educate the public about dangers on the Internet for some years.

Netsmartz411 caters to parents who can learn the very basics about the Internet or click a link and "ask an expert" anything they're wondering about and have a response, usually, within one business day.

The site has a library of resources that includes things like a list of chat lingo such as A/S/L (age/sex/location) and what they all mean. It offers answers to questions as basic as "What is MySpace?" and "What is an ISP." But it also has basic instructions for doing things like monitoring a download history to see what your children have been viewing online and what signs to watch for that might hint your child is being "groomed."

Internet use is going to be a natural part of our children's lives, so teaching them "netiquette" is something parents and guardians should consider a natural part of raising children.

So, here's hoping for a widespread P911 (my parents are coming) out there on the Internet.

TTYL (talk to you later).



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