- Yiliang, Yin
Issues regarding children’s Internet safety remained an overarching concern for the society. But as a matter of fact, internet is already an irreplaceable part of daily life, especially for children (learning, gaming, and social networking). The Canadian government has introduced agreements to protect children. Nervertheless, some crimes are national basis. In addition, a lot of countries define ‘children’ differently, makes protecting children a harder work [Minujin et al. 2006].
Internet filtering technology has been conducted in most western countries as well as some developing countries. It is used to prevent Internet users from accessing materials that considered inappropriate or unsafe [Hamade, 2008]. Although parents and local institution are encouraged to use these software to protect their children and the community, but there is no guarantee that these software are 100% effective at regulating undesirable contents, they always likely to under- or over-block content. Therefore, besides using network level filtering, it is critical for parents, education- and government-related personnel to educate children about self-protection, risks and responsibility they may encounter while using the Internet.
Internet has become one of the most important media among the others. Common uses of internet among people including children are:
The development of technology makes Internet usage more convenient. Children are now able to access internet from their cellphone, tablet and laptop instead of desktop computers. But this made supervision much more difficult than before [LoÌpez, Arnao and Puente, 2012].
While the internet is overall a great educational place for children, there are also exist areas that are not appropriate for children. Without appropriate supervision, children are likely to get contacted by contents involving: violence, porn, hate speech, etc.
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Although there exist unsafe contents on the internet, but internet itself is a powerful tool. The internet gives parents and educators better opportunity to teach children according to their age and interest, giving children better way of learning while having fun.
Parents, education- and government-related personnel should work together in order to build a safer environment for children. It is everyone’s responsibility to build and maintain a healthy environment for children wherever they are, giving children a safe and nurturing childhood.
2. Children Internet Use
Both the amount of children and their ability to use internet are increasing. Some parents claim they don’t know better than their child about the internet.
According to a survey conducted by the pan-European survey published by the European Commission, children start to use the Internet at 7, and the age of internet user is decreasing, internet uses include: social-networking (89%), entertaining (84%) and schoolwork (80%) [Digital Agenda, 2010]. Therefore, building safe guideline and setting rules for children’s internet usage should start once they get contact with computer.
An important role of enabling children’s safety online is to help them understand the concepts of safety and risks, so that they will be able to make better decisions in the future based on what they have known. Internet safety education is critical in protecting children from internet threats.
Some people blocked children’s internet usage completely, claiming it as an evil thing, which will misguide the children. They should also keep in mind that internet use is one of the basic skills in daily life. In addition, children learn from their mistakes. Therefore, it is the goal to teach children the ’internet manner’ and ‘look before you leap’.
3. Potential Risks
According to research, children between ages of 8-15 are mostly likely to be afflicted by online threats. Some are risky to their safety and privacy; some may also resulted from children intentionally or unintentionally violates the law, such as torts which may lead to dangerous situations. Figure 1 shows the overview of common internet risks from Valcke et al. (2011):
Fig. 1. Overview of internet Risks
File-sharing is a useful technology that allows teachers to show useful information to the student and peers to share files with each other. But many file-sharing programs, like email, give children a way of accessing harmful contents. Example of such contents including: pornography, violence, hate, racism. According to research from Valkenburg and Soeters (2001), figure 2 shows data from children’s positive experience of using internet, and figure 3 shows negative experience.
Fig. 2. Positive Impacts about children’s Internet Use
Fig. 3. Negative Impacts about children’s Internet Use
While children are searching movie clips, some sexually explicit files or sites advocate usage of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs may appear. In this case, some online filter or parent-control software can be used.
The most common contact risks to think of is a child turn up missing or being hurt after meeting someone online. This always resulted by young children especially girls allured by criminals online.
There are many ways internet users can lose their privacy, and leading themselves to danger. If children carelessly exposed family address, phone number, or name to a stranger, serious danger may occur to family members as well. Besides, nowadays there are a lot of companies collecting potential customers’ information as registering for contests or filling address for prize, children should also be aware of giving out information this way, causing mental and property damage.
It is not only our privacy we need to consider. Parents should also be aware their children putting other people’s information (e.g. friend, other family members, etc.) online. Making jokes as claiming a missing child by putting a friend’s information online can cause a lot of trouble to the family and police.
People get angry sometimes, same for children. A lot of people take internet as a way to vent the anger. Children will have higher chance to be exposed to hate speech and violent sentence when get involved. The best defense for children is to avoid getting into online arguments until they are mature enough to filter out bad information, control the anger and speak out their minds.
The lack of uniform definition as what is appropriate for children or what is the definition of children are different in most countries based on their culture. Most developed countries take 18 years old as the boundary to differentiate adults from children. But people get marry early in some country so they arrive their adulthood much earlier. In this case, the lack of uniform online legislation may allow children to access inappropriate material from other countries.
4. Present Concerns and Solutions
Along with the growth of children’s internet use, a large number of Web 2.0 applications like Facebook came out, which makes it now more critical to protect children from unsafe online environment.
4.1 Government Policies regarding Children’s Online Safety
According to Liu (2006), Ontario police established the earliest investigation group about child pornography. The investigators realized shortly, child pornography exists not only in certain places, it became an issue of the world. Online investigation needs a lot of time, money and human resources, especially skilled investigators. So the local police station founded an Internet Safety Committee, formed by police representatives, governors from election, members from the local Education Committee, etc., and their goal is to provide the safest online environment as they can for children.
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To accomplish the goal, the committee established the following detailed rules: educate students about the importance of internet safety; teach the parents how to protect their children from internet risks. The committee worked with one school and added specific course about Internet Safety for students with different age. An insurance company donated a disk with video about Internet Risks to the committee made the education process ran smoother than before.
According to the research before experiment, 62% of elementary students were using internet in the spare time, and 23.7% of the student have visited online chatting rooms. For students in grade 9 and grade 10, 88.6% of them have spent spare time online, 66.19% students have chatted online within the last 6 months. The most disturbing result is that there were 90.5% of students thought it is alright to meet people that they met online, and 22% had already met their net friend.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of United States had revised Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) on July 1, 2013. COPPA give US-parents greater control over their children’s privacy. It detailed what a website operator must follow, when and how to seek permission and verification from a parent to guardian, and what responsibility an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online, including restrictions on doing business with children under 13.
4.2 Internet Filtering Technology
A lot of countries have chosen to establish national internet regulation with varying degrees of success, but sometimes will have unintended consequences. Number of countries who use filtering technologies to block the access of certain content has increased dramatically.
Normally, the following threes filtering technologies are used to block the access of websites via network infrastructure: IP blocking, DNS filtering, and URL blocking using a proxy. Filters can also be implemented by using software on local computers, in other words, client-side filters. This type of filter can be managed by anyone with administrator-level privileges on the computer.
It can be argued that net-work based filtering causes filtering errors: over-blocking and under-blocking. For example, when searching health-related information, some useful information may be filtered out by having same searching keywords with porn-related material. And most of the filtering software will prefer over-blocking instead of allowing any leaking information that their customers don’t want. As a result, over-blocking encourages users to bypass the filtering technology entirely. When new information is updated online, under-blocking may occur. The filtering software may fail to recognise the new information because it has not yet updated on the client side when blacklisting are used instead of whitelisting.
With the rapid development of science and technology, people expect higher efficiency for their software. It has been reported that most inline filters (parent-control software) as well as online content filtering are slow when processing. According to AkbasÌ§ (2008), content filtering can be accelerated by examining only web content. In this case, offline filtering and proxy works synergistic, so filtering process and data transfer works independently to accelerate the filtering process. Therefore, decision can be made by examining only part of the web content.
While children’s internet use at school or home is usually supervised and filtered, many children are now able to access internet through other devices and in different locations with no supervision and internet filter. This means, children are likely to access inappropriate material on the internet. It is therefore, important to educate children how to behave online, and discuss issues that may encounter when accessing Internet.
4.3 Parents and Educators’ Action
When the government trying to enact laws to protect children as complete as possible, parents and other community members in the society also have the responsibility to guide children, provide a safe and entertained online environment for them.
Except using filtering technologies, parents and educators should teach children how to safeguard themselves, since the most effective way of preventing problems arising from internet use is to empower children. Guardians and educators can teach them about legal boundaries, moral and ethical norms regarding their culture. Empowering children can prevent them from being victims as well.
It is undeniable that children adapt new technologies better than adults. This made a good relation with children much important, since young people usually will have a trusted relationship with peers or adults, so the influencers should be aware of the risks themselves and give reliable advices. In addition, parents, guardians, educators and trusted influencers should play an active role in teaching children about the risks they may face from sexually explicit materials online and how to avoid internet predators and scammers. Children should also be educated about being careful of sharing personal information on the internet.
As children growing up day by day, parents’ guardian role becomes challenging. While parents are being responsible for their children’s safety, they have to respect children’s rights to privacy themselves. Parents might give up at this them, but it is urgent to encourage parents to talk and discuss with children about their online activity.
(what the parents can do are: communicate with children as much as they can; make sure the children understand the importance of not exposing private information to strangers; make sure they don’t meet net friend; if found anything that children did were not appropriate online, stop them, and educate them; put the computer at where you can see easily; use parents control software;)
Internet control is not impossible. Along working with children in their families and schools, there are a lot of actions that government can do to build public awareness to help children be benefit from the internet in a safe environment. For example, involve all members in the society to build public awareness about internet safety; encourage law enforcement and the educational department to develop best practices in proving safe online environment and dealing with crimes.
The internet renovates so rapidly that the government regulation and technologies might not keep up. More effective and durable measures are those close to children: family, school, and community, guiding children to make good decisions, so that they will grow to become the next generation of responsible and trusted influencers.
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