- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Hope Shirazi and her 11-year-old daughter, Samiram went on the Internet to look up different types of rabbits.
"We did a search for bunny and a bunch of links came up. When we clicked on a link, we got the Playboy Web site," the Fairfax County mother says. "I never would have dreamed that would have come up. I am now very careful about using the Internet."
As more children use the Internet, parents have to learn to stay one step ahead so they can protect their loved ones from unsuitable material and invasions of privacy while letting them reap the benefits of cyber-information. After all is said and done, it is every parent's responsibility to enforce computer safety rules, Internet experts say, because the threat is real.
A recent study "Online Victims: A Report on the Nation's Youth" confirms that one in four youngsters encountered unwanted pornography on the Internet and one in five was exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations in the past year. The study found that "sexual solicitations were more likely to come from another youth."
The study was conducted at the direction of Congress by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire on behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com).
The research was based on 30-minute interviews with a random sampling of 1,500 children nationwide between the ages of 10 and 17 who used the Internet at least once a month. Separate interviews with their caregivers also were part of the study.

Tricking youngsters

Children can be led to pornography as they click on sites masquerading as providers of information on Barbie, Pooh, ESPN and even the White House. Herein lies one of the major pitfalls of the Internet: Children are vulnerable to exploitation by predators and marketers.
Even when parents have set rules, predators can trick children by asking innocent-sounding questions. Dr. Lynda Tenhundfeld, a child psychiatrist on the faculty of Georgetown University, recalls an incident with her son:
"My 10-year-old son was playing chess on the computer, and the person with whom he was playing chess asked him his name, age, where he lived and where he went to school. He started giving his name and age and then came to me. He typed back, 'I am not allowed to tell you that.' The person asked 'Why?' My son said, 'My mom told me not to.' The person typed back, 'Your mom's a smart woman' and went off line."
This is a typical example of what children can encounter when on line, Internet experts say.
"Parents are aware about telling kids not to go to sites where you give personal information … but it is when they least expect it" that children can get in trouble, Dr. Tenhundfeld says.

Establish rules

That is why it is important for parents to establish rules and be aware of what children are doing on line. Dr. Tenhundfeld recommends these rules for parents:
Explore the computer together with your children.
Put the computer in a high-traffic area.
Explain how pedophiles can entice children through the Internet.
Restrict children from chat rooms and bulletin boards.
Use some form of screening software or use a computer that has screening software built into it.
"The best thing parents can do is establish rules and talk to your children," Dr. Tenhundfeld says. Although screening software can help, she says, the downside is that it also can block out historical sites. "There are trade-offs, and you have to decide how to handle those trade-offs," she says.
Dr. Tenhundfeld emphasizes: "The critical issues are the communications and explaining the concerns and the risks and establishing guidelines that everybody agrees to follow in the home. The reality is that kids don't raise themselves, and despite how busy we are, the first priority has to be parenting."
With their very busy lives, working parents can't do this alone. They need help. They need to get Internet savvy. Not to worry a lot of information is available on the Internet and in the written word to bring parents up to speed.
As John B. Rabun Jr., vice president and chief operating officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says, "The Internet is a good thing, and we want to encourage parents to support its use. They need to be trained and educated. It's like a lot of other things in terms of child safety; parents need to talk to their own kids."
The center has a Cyber Tipline (www.cybertipline.com) where parents can report incidents of child pornography, stalking or enticement, which are all crimes, Mr. Rabun says. The site works in partnership with the FBI, and to date, the bureau has arrested more than 500 Internet predators.
One of the tools recommended for parents is a written contract with children that sets forth the rules for Internet use and is posted near the computer.
Jim Browne, director of GetNetWise (www.getnetwise .org), a public-interest Web site for protecting children on line, provides a free sample contract. Parents can tailor the contract to reflect their family values.
"The contract is more popular than any one filtering software," Mr. Browne says.

Becoming computer savvy

A number of sites offer help to parents. Cyberangels (www.cyberangels.org), for example, is working to help educate both parents and teens on the safe use of the Internet. For other sites, see our "More info" box nearby.
Cyberangels is bursting with valuable information. It has a free list of Web sites that have been preapproved for privacy, safety and quality of content.
It also offers on-line classes for parents to help them become Internet savvy, provides a checklist of rules for parents, provides a review of search engines, offers rules of the road and even provides a definition of Internet terms for parents. They include "spam" (the posting of many messages to a news group that jams the server), "UCE" (unsolicited commercial e-mail) and "phat" (a slang term meaning good).
This site is manned by 6,400 volunteers in 14 countries who review software and child-oriented Web sites and ferret out sites featuring child pornography.
"The most vulnerable age is between 11 and 15, since kids are allowed to be mobile," says Parry Aftab, executive director of Cyberangels and a cyberspace lawyer who has written two books on the subject. "By the time they are 16, they are usually smart enough. The real danger is not pornography. The biggest danger is meeting strangers on line being molested or killed."
Ms. Aftab, a mother of two grown children, says she returns two missing children a week who have been lured away from home by a predator.

Parental choices

With so many products, how can parents choose? What criteria should parents look for, and how do they determine what suits their needs?
Experts say it depends on the ages of the children, the individual family values and the trust parents place in their children.
A recent study, Internet Family 2000 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania (http://appcpenn.org/internet) said a majority (78 percent) of the parents surveyed (1,100) had mixed emotions about the Internet and the privacy and safety of their children on line. Yet 59 percent of parents said they felt their child would be at a disadvantage if denied Internet access.
That's the dilemma facing parents today. The experts agree that filtering software or a filtering search engine is a good idea for children.
These attributes were considered important by the experts in selecting filtering software:
Ease of use.
High flexibility.
Transparency. (Parents need to know what is blocked, and the software should require a password to be turned off.)
Age specificity.
Incoming filtering.
Outgoing filtering.

Internet legislation

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) went into effect April 21. COPPA requires commercial Web sites aimed at children to obtain verifiable parental consent before getting personal information from a child.
It also requires parental notification before a child is allowed to enter a chat room and says parents have to be told if information will be used to market products to children. However, the law only applies to children younger than 13.
"Teen-agers are the most vulnerable when it comes to any form of exploitation, and they need to be especially careful. Parents need to work very hard to have them protect their own privacy," says Laurence Magid, an expert in child safety on the Internet (www.safekids.com) and a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Magid says the legislation is appropriate. "My only regret is that it doesn't apply to the rest of us. It's difficult to get any privacy legislation passed."
That statement is borne out by the history of the Children's Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA), which regulated content for children under the age of 18. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, and a lower court issued an injunction preventing enforcement of the legislation. On June 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed the lower court's injunction, preventing enforcement of COPA.
The Children's On-line Protection Act Commission was formed "to examine technological solutions to protect children on line," says Donna Rice Hughes, one of the commissioners and author of "Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace."
Mrs. Hughes says the commission has held hearings on methodologies, filtering, ratings and labels and will hold a third hearing on other technologies and the global implications of such policies. The commission is to report back to Congress in the fall.
"I have been working on this issue for seven years," Mrs. Hughes says. It will take a three-pronged solution involving the public, the technology industry and the legal community, she says.
"Teach your children good safety rules and implement software tools," Mrs. Hughes says. "It really is a shame that children are having to stumble into dangerous areas in a medium that is otherwise fantastic."

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