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TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: kidsafe.txt

Child Safety on the Information Superhighway





The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has  teamed
up with members of the Interactive Services Association (ISA) to offer 
this brochure, written by Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist Lawrence
J.  Magid, to educate families about the benefits and risks of online
services. 

For more information on the NCMEC, call 800-THE-LOST. 



CHILD SAFETY
on the
INFORMATION
HIGHWAY


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| Some call it cyberspace, others call it the "digital highway". |
+----------------------------------------------------------------+

Whatever it's called, millions of people are now connecting their personal
computers to telephone lines so that they can "go online." Traditionally,
online services have been oriented towards adults, but that's changing. An
increasing number of schools are going online and, in many homes, children
are logging on to commercial services, private bulletin boards, and the
Internet. As a parent you need to understand the nature of these systems.

Online services are maintained by commercial, self-regulated businesses that
may screen or provide editorial/user controls, when possible, of the
material contained on their systems.

Computer Bulletin Boards, called BBS systems, can be operated by
individuals, businesses, or organizations. The material presented is usually
theme oriented offering information on hobbies and interests. While there
are BBS systems that feature "adult" oriented material, most attempt to
limit minors from accessing the information contained in those systems.

The Internet, a global "network of networks," is not governed by any entity.
This leaves no limits or checks on the kind of information that is
maintained by and accessible to Internet users.


The Benefits of the Information Highway

The vast array of services that you currently find online is constantly
growing. Reference information such as news, weather, sports, stock quotes,
movie reviews, encyclopedias, and airline fares are readily available
online. Users can conduct transactions such as trading stocks, making travel
reservations, banking, and shopping online. Millions of people communicate
through electronic mail (E-mail) with family and friends around the world
and others use the public message boards to make new friends who share
common interests. As an educational and entertainment tool users can learn
about virtually any topic, take a college course, or play an endless number
of computer games with other users or against the computer itself. User
"computing" is enhanced by accessing online thousands of shareware and free
public domain software titles.

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| As an educational tool users can learn about virtually any topic... |
+---------------------------------------------------------------------+

Most people who use online services have mainly positive experiences. But,
like any endeavor _ traveling, cooking, or attending school _ there are some
risks. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide
array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude,
obnoxious, insulting, or even mean and exploitative.

Children and teenagers get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can
also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other
environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this new world and
the relationships it brings, children and teenagers need parental
supervision and common sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences
in "cyberspace" are happy, healthy, and productive.


Putting the Issue in Perspective

Although there have been some highly publicized cases of abuse involving
computers, reported cases are relatively infrequent. Of course, like most
crimes against children, many cases go unreported, especially if the child
is engaged in an activity that he or she does not want to discuss with a
parent. The fact that crimes are being committed online, however, is not a
reason to avoid using these services. To tell children to stop using these
services would be like telling them to forgo attending college because
students are sometimes victimized on campus. A better strategy would be for
children to learn how to be "street smart" in order to better safeguard
themselves in any potentially dangerous situation.

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| Children can learn to be "street smart" to safeguard themselves... |
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+

What Are the Risks?

There are a few risks for children who use online services. Teenagers are
particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and
because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online
discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. Some
risks are:

+--------------------------------------------------------------------+
| Teenagers are particularly at risk because they are more likely to |
| participate in online discussions regarding companionship...       |
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+


Exposure to Inappropriate Material

One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material of a
sexual or violent nature.

Physical Molestation

Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or
arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of
other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used online services
and bulletin boards to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a
face-to-face meeting.

Harassment

A third risk is that a child might encounter E-mail or bulletin board
messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.


How Parents Can Reduce the Risks

To help restrict your child's access to discussions, forums, or bulletin
boards that contain inappropriate material, whether textual or graphic, many
of the commercial online services and some private bulletin boards have
systems in place for parents to block out parts of the service they feel are
inappropriate for their children. If you are concerned, you should contact
the service via telephone or E-mail to find out how you can add these
restrictions to any accounts that your children can access.

The Internet and some private bulletin boards contain areas designed
specifically for adults who wish to post, view, or read sexually explicit
material. Most private bulletin board operators who post such material limit
access to people who attest that they are adults but, like any other
safeguards, be aware that there are always going to be cases where adults
fail to enforce them or children find ways around them.

+-----------------------------------------------------------------+
| While children need a certain amount of privacy, they also need |
| parental involvement.                                           |
+-----------------------------------------------------------------+

The best way to assure that your children are having positive online
experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this
is to spend time with your children while they're online. Have them show you
what they do and ask them to teach you how to access the services.

While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also
need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same
general parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while
online.

If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk
to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of other computer users in
your area and become familiar with literature on these systems. Open
communication with your children, utilization of such computer resources,
and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these
systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their
use.


Guidelines for Parents

By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents
can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family
rule to:

Never give out identifying information - home address, school name, or
telephone number - in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards, and
be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and
trust before giving it out via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any
personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information.
Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child's name if your service
allows it.

Get to know the services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on,
get your child to show you. Find out what types of information it offers and
whether there are ways for parents to block out objectionable material.

Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer
user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first
one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child.

Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive,
obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage
your children to tell you if they encounters such messages. If you or your
child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or
threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask
for their assistance.

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| If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot. |
+----------------------------------------------------------------+

Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child
pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678. You should also
notify your online service.

Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can't see
or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or
herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could
in reality be a 40-year-old man.

Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that's
"too good to be true" probably is. Be very careful about any offers that
involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.

Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see
"My Rules for Online Safety" on last page as sample). Discuss these rules
and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their
compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time
your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager's excessive use of
online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue
that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and
online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.

Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a
family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their "online
friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.


My Rules for Online Safety

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| Tear off and keep this pledge at your computer. |
+-------------------------------------------------+

I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone
number, parents' work address/telephone number, or the name and location of
my school without my parents' permission.

I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that
makes me feel uncomfortable.

I will never agree to get together with someone I "meet" online without
first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will
be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father along.

I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first
checking with my parents.

I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel
uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do I
will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the online service.

I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We
will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time I
can be online, and appropriate areas for me to visit. I will not access
other areas or break these rules without their permission.


For further information on child safety, please call the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

This brochure was written by Lawrence J. Magid, a syndicated columnist for
the Los Angeles Times, who is author of Cruising Online: Larry Magid's Guide
to the New Digital Highway (Random House, 1994) and The Little PC Book
(Peachpit Press, 1993).

Child Safety on the Information Highway was jointly produced by the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Interactive Services
Association (8403 Colesville Road, Suite 865, Silver Spring, MD 20910).

This brochure was made possible by the generous sponsorship of:

 America Online
 CompuServe
 Delphi Internet
 eWorld
 GEnie
 Interchange Online Network
 Prodigy Service

Copyright (C) 1994 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, 2101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 550, Arlington, Virginia 22201-3052




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