Monday, October 01, 2007

Washington Times offers insert on teen cyber safety

Today, Monday October 1, 2007, The Washington Times included a special insert on cybersecurity. The green cover reads “Celebrate Crime Prevention Month,” from NCPC, the National Crime Prevention Council. The cover also has the banner, “Delete Cyberbullying” which is viewed as a significant problem among middle and particularly high school students. “Don’t write it! Don’t forward it.” Words can really hurt.

The magazine insert goes over the usual advice on Internet safety for teens. One of the most common recommendations is that families keep home computers in a “public” area of the home. That certain sounds right until kids are mature enough. But once a high school kid is able to be trusted to work alone on his computer, he or she can certainly advance on academic work. Search engines can be a perfectly legitimate help in doing homework, especially when looking for more objective information in math and science. Public schools often duplicate a lot of lesson information in printed handouts in order to reduce the need for computer use for basic lessons.

The other big area is what kids post online. Students feel that the world is competitive, and social networking sites can add to the perception of social competition. Students may also want the limelight, when what they want to post may have no real public value. This is not to disparage the fact that some teens really have created legitimate, even revolutionary businesses on the web. Even so, innocuous information (such as home address, land telephone number, even school identification, names of parents and siblings, personal whereabouts) could jeopardize personal security or even that of family members or classmates. It seems that the “rule of thumb” is, if you want to be famous, you have to earn the right to be famous in a legitimate way. But that itself is pretty loaded.

It does seem to me that social networking companies, because they emphasize using the web for social and business interaction and contact (as a "Web 2.0" experience) rather just as a "publishing" too (as I conceived the Web in the late 1990s with the COPA litigation), have helped create an atmosphere where other people (and employers) take what is said on the Web in a conversational, rather than literary, context. That makes what teens post on the Web a more sensitive matter as to how it could affect their futures -- jobs, college or graduate school admissions.

Earlier (April 2007), I did a review of a book by Susan Lipkins on teen and school hazing here.

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