Let’s Face It: Education is Key to Keep Kids Safe Online

by on September 26, 2007 · 10 comments

Online social networking sites are again in the news. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said on Monday his office is investigating Facebook for allegedly not keeping young users safe from sexual predators and not responding to user complaints. Cuomo joins fellow AGs Roy Cooper from North Carolina and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut among activist AGs parading the horribles of social networking websites.

Law enforcement and industry efforts are important, but what’s the single most effective way to keep kids safe online? Education. And at least one state AG gets it, as Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has this to say on online safety:

“While it is certainly important to have stronger laws against Internet sex predators and child pornography, education for Internet users of all ages is paramount,” said McCollum. “Parents and children alike must be more aware of the dangers often encountered online and understand and employ basic safety tips for surfing the Internet.”

Students everywhere are back in their classrooms and beginning to tackle familiar subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. But how many students will receive classroom education about the importance of Internet safety? Hardly any—even in light of a growing concern about the safety of chat rooms and social networking sites.

Unlike summer breaks of the past, where kids would anxiously yearn for the social scene of classrooms and hallways, today kids can easily keep in touch online all summer long. Social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Xanga allow teens to stay in regular contact with their classmates during summer vacation. Ninety-six percent of teenagers use some form online social networking technologies, which also include instant messaging and chat forums.

Yet there’s a surprising lack of online safety education in our nation’s classrooms. Only a few states require that online safety education be taught in school. Last year Virginia became the first state to pass a law that mandates the integration of internet safety into their regular instruction. Yet over half of school districts pursue a prohibition—not an education—strategy by banning the use of social networking sites while on school property, according to a recent study from the National School Boards Association.


Instead of focusing on teaching kids to stay safe online, several states are pursuing new laws to regulate social networking websites. A proposed bill in North Carolina would require anyone under 18 to have a parent’s permission before being allowed to join a social networking site such as MySpace.

At first glance, that seems like a reasonable idea, which is probably why so many politicians have latched onto it. But the devil is in the details, and big headlines don’t necessarily translate into a safer Internet. There are no databases or identification measures to verify that a person whom a child designates as a parent is in fact the parent. A parental consent law would fail to improve safety, and might actually lead parents to have a false sense of security that their children aren’t online and on social networking sites.

Experience and common sense suggest that education and good old-fashioned parenting are far better approaches than regulating social networking websites. Contrary to popular belief, most sex crimes committed by people that kids meet on the Internet are not liaisons based on false pretenses. Rather, a study by the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center found that adult offenders usually make no effort to deceive their victims about their real age or their interest in a sexual relationship. In the cases studied by the researchers only five percent lied about their age in order to pose as a minor, and 80 percent freely revealed their sexual desires. In 89 percent of these cases, underage victims willingly engaged in sexual activity with the adult offender.

Not surprisingly, most of these kids were at-risk youth looking for love and understanding they couldn’t find at home. When parents aren’t around or involved, some kids look elsewhere for acceptance.

When it comes to keeping kids safe, it has been said that the Internet is a lot like a swimming pool. We all know that pools can be dangerous for children. We can try making them safer by building fences, locking gates, and installing pool alarms. But wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to teach our kids how to swim?

We owe it to our kids to teach them to surf, if not swim, the Internet safely. More than ever, online safety education is as much a back-to-school essential as backpacks and lunchboxes. It’s time to create a “fourth R”—along with reading, writing and arithmetic, we should teach kids about the risks of their online behavior.

  • V

    Education sounds good in theory, but in actuality school systems are barely a step ahead of Ted Stevens when it comes to understanding technology.

    I have a feeling that any well-intentioned web safety program will start to resemble something like their sex education: misguided, ineffective, and so detached from reality that it won’t be taken seriously.

  • V

    Education sounds good in theory, but in actuality school systems are barely a step ahead of Ted Stevens when it comes to understanding technology.

    I have a feeling that any well-intentioned web safety program will start to resemble something like their sex education: misguided, ineffective, and so detached from reality that it won’t be taken seriously.

  • http://www.seraph.net Laura Collins

    Truancy: The root of all school safety problems!

    “No child falls through the cracks. They are dropped through or shoved through by lazy, emotionally immature adults and unethical professionals”

    After the Columbine shootings I made this statement during an interview on national television. The reporter asked if I really believed that statement and I replied, “absolutely!”

    But you may ask what this statement has to do with the issue of truancy? Simple, truant children – who are routinely late or absent – come from dysfunctional homes. Those homes in my experience are lead by caregivers who are more concerned about there own pleasures and convenience than the welfare of their children. Some may say that this is an unkind assessment. My response to them is simple, visit these homes and you will see that this is not an aberration.

    While some caregivers have a difficult time because of poverty, work schedules or transitioning to a single parent household; the majority simply refuse to exercise self control or basic order in their homes.

    And this assessment is supported by various national studies. Research from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education have found that child neglect and family disorganization are major factors in truancy. The OJJDP also found that “Truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation, or educational failure via suspension, expulsion, or dropping out.”

    More disturbing is a document that I have used for many years in criminal profiling, the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol (J-SOAP-II). In this well respected assessment tool, caregiver issues and truancy become connected as impetuses for teen sex offender development:

    Inconstant and instable caregivers before the age of 10. Multiple changes in caregivers and living situations.
    Chronic truancy, fighting with peers or teachers.
    Dr Gerald Patterson sums up the issue this way, “Parenting plays a critical role in the development process of children. Early discipline failures are a primary casual factor in the development of conduct problems. Harsh discipline, low supervision, lack of parental involvement all add to the development of aggressive children”

    Bullying, sexual harassment, negative behavior cliques and aggression towards staff are all done by children who come from dysfunctional homes. But beyond the home environment, schools have a big stake in controlling truancy. Not only is it a major part of NCLB compliance but it affects all school safety issues. The US DOE has tracked the following school issues that directly contribute to truancy.

    · Lack of effective and consistently applied attendance policies.

    · Poor record-keeping, making truancy difficult to spot.

    · Teacher characteristics, such as lack of respect for students and neglect of diverse student needs.

    · Unsafe environment, for example a school with ineffective discipline policies where bullying is tolerated. [5 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 skipped school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.]

    Truancy happens in rural, suburban and urban schools and all classes of families. School must take control of their truancy problems or they are bound to be overtaken by it.

    A well managed school is a safe school!

  • http://www.seraph.net Laura Collins

    Truancy: The root of all school safety problems!

    “No child falls through the cracks. They are dropped through or shoved through by lazy, emotionally immature adults and unethical professionals”

    After the Columbine shootings I made this statement during an interview on national television. The reporter asked if I really believed that statement and I replied, “absolutely!”

    But you may ask what this statement has to do with the issue of truancy? Simple, truant children – who are routinely late or absent – come from dysfunctional homes. Those homes in my experience are lead by caregivers who are more concerned about there own pleasures and convenience than the welfare of their children. Some may say that this is an unkind assessment. My response to them is simple, visit these homes and you will see that this is not an aberration.

    While some caregivers have a difficult time because of poverty, work schedules or transitioning to a single parent household; the majority simply refuse to exercise self control or basic order in their homes.

    And this assessment is supported by various national studies. Research from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education have found that child neglect and family disorganization are major factors in truancy. The OJJDP also found that “Truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation, or educational failure via suspension, expulsion, or dropping out.”

    More disturbing is a document that I have used for many years in criminal profiling, the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol (J-SOAP-II). In this well respected assessment tool, caregiver issues and truancy become connected as impetuses for teen sex offender development:

    Inconstant and instable caregivers before the age of 10. Multiple changes in caregivers and living situations.
    Chronic truancy, fighting with peers or teachers.
    Dr Gerald Patterson sums up the issue this way, “Parenting plays a critical role in the development process of children. Early discipline failures are a primary casual factor in the development of conduct problems. Harsh discipline, low supervision, lack of parental involvement all add to the development of aggressive children”

    Bullying, sexual harassment, negative behavior cliques and aggression towards staff are all done by children who come from dysfunctional homes. But beyond the home environment, schools have a big stake in controlling truancy. Not only is it a major part of NCLB compliance but it affects all school safety issues. The US DOE has tracked the following school issues that directly contribute to truancy.

    · Lack of effective and consistently applied attendance policies.

    · Poor record-keeping, making truancy difficult to spot.

    · Teacher characteristics, such as lack of respect for students and neglect of diverse student needs.

    · Unsafe environment, for example a school with ineffective discipline policies where bullying is tolerated. [5 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 skipped school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.]

    Truancy happens in rural, suburban and urban schools and all classes of families. School must take control of their truancy problems or they are bound to be overtaken by it.

    A well managed school is a safe school!

  • http://www.our-social.com Theresa

    In regards to social networking, I believe that the safety and privacy issue should be a concern for all ages. I had been looking for a social network site that was safe and family friendly but I could not find one that meet all my pivacy and safety concerns. So I decided to create a social network. This is a portion of a news clip about my site:
    Our-Social.com (http://www.our-social.com) is the clean alternative to the prominent social networking sites. The site’s word filter prevents members from being exposed to profanity and lewd or sexual comments – as well as racial slurs and other hate speech. To further ensure that the site remains clear of offensive material and is safe for all ages, all pictures, video and audio clips go through an approval process – which takes places within 24 hours of submission – before they are posted. In addition, Our-Social discourages members from ever publicly displaying information such as their e-mail address, real name and geographical location. As another safety precaution, Our-Social does not have a chat area but does provide a members-only forum. The forum is moderated and has several different threads

  • http://www.our-social.com Theresa

    In regards to social networking, I believe that the safety and privacy issue should be a concern for all ages. I had been looking for a social network site that was safe and family friendly but I could not find one that meet all my pivacy and safety concerns. So I decided to create a social network. This is a portion of a news clip about my site:
    Our-Social.com (http://www.our-social.com) is the clean alternative to the prominent social networking sites. The site’s word filter prevents members from being exposed to profanity and lewd or sexual comments – as well as racial slurs and other hate speech. To further ensure that the site remains clear of offensive material and is safe for all ages, all pictures, video and audio clips go through an approval process – which takes places within 24 hours of submission – before they are posted. In addition, Our-Social discourages members from ever publicly displaying information such as their e-mail address, real name and geographical location. As another safety precaution, Our-Social does not have a chat area but does provide a members-only forum. The forum is moderated and has several different threads

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