The Evolution of the Internet
There was a time when you had one computer in the household that was located in the living room or den. If you were using the computer, there was someone nearby, looking over their shoulder. Now, computers are found all over the house including children’s bedrooms. Who knows what kids do behind closed doors? Most computers today have Internet connections that bring the entire world into the home.
How the Internet Created New Threats to Children
Back in the day, when a child would go to buy a ticket for an X-rated movie, or purchase an adult magazine, they would, in most cases, be stopped from doing so. Today, a child can simply turn on their computer at home, and watch inappropriate videos and pictures on the internet. The Web site operator does not see that the customer is a child.
In a playground, or a mall, a parent or observer might notice a stranger talking to a child. An online child molester is not visible, and the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy for one to prey on children.
There is no doubt that the outside world can be very unsafe, not only for kids but for everyone. But the internet brings these dangers into the home, which is meant to be a safe haven for children.
With the Internet being such a vital part of so many people’s lives, there is no doubt that it is the same for children. Canadians spend more time online than anyone else on Earth, according to new data from Web research firm comScore. And it’s not even by a small margin – the average Canadian spends 43.5 hours a month on the Web, almost twice the worldwide average of 23.1 hours.
The Dangers of the Web
Children are making use of the internet more and more. We’ve all heard about online predators, bullying, peer pressure and many other Internet safety issues.
How many times have you searched an innocent topic on the Web, and a pornographic site popped up on your screen? Inappropriate content on the Internet arrives in e-mail, turns up in results found by search engines, and shows up in the form of pop ups or ads. A simple click, can expose us to images and videos we do not want to see, let alone want children to see. It is not just the violence, and the pornography that can be harmful to minors. There are websites out there that, if stumbled upon by a child, can persuade them that annorexia is a good thing, giving them tips on how to loose weight, or teaching them how to tie a hangman’s noose, to commit suicide.
This link is a series of videos illustrating the problems that children face when on the internet.
Preventing Children from Harm Online
The Internet can be a very scary place! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could teach children what content to stay away from? We all know it isn’t that simple. It is human nature to go where you’re not supposed to just for the shear excitement of it.
Our sole intent is to make the Internet safer for our youth
-Department of Justice spokesman, commenting on the demand for millions of user search terms from Google, 2006
One way of preventing children from harmful and inappropriate content online, is to use software filters, which block sites with specific words, phrases, images and rating systems. Parents can choose categories to filter (e.g., sex or violence), add their own list of banned sites, and review a log of the sites their child visits.
But, filters do not do a perfect job, only filtering approximately 91% of pornographic sites. They screen out both too much and too little. For example, if a parent is filtering out sites about “sex”, sites about “Essex” will also be filtered out.
Site owners have found ways around software filters, by purposely misspelling words like “sex” or “pornography” so that their sites would not end up being filtered.
Laws have been put in place to prevent minors from obtaining sexually explicit material on the Internet. In 2000, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires that schools and libraries that participate in certain federal programs (receiving federal money for technology) install filtering software on all Internet terminals to block access to sites with child pornography, obscene material, and material “harmful to minors”.
Ultimately, there is no way to entirely insulate children from the internet. The best protection is to talk to children about the dangers that exist online and have conversations about what they do during their computer time. Parents who are highly engaged in their children’s lives have the best chance of spotting a problem early on and preventing it from developing into serious consequences. Parents cannot always be present of course, nor should they be watching over older children constantly, but good communication can avoid many issues with the Internet.