Because innovation occurs so fast in the electronic world, many parents may feel as though they cannot help their children navigate the endless expanse of the World Wide Web. But, even if they do not know everything about every technological advance, parents are a crucial stakeholder in teaching children the safe and healthy use of the Internet. As schools work to discuss principles of online safety in the classroom, parents can reinforce the media literacy educational messages at home and form a powerful partnership for helping children become effective cybercitizens.
The Importance of Parents
In January 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study entitled, "Generation M2 –Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds"1. The study is one of the largest and most comprehensive sources of information on media use among kids and finds that kids’ media consumption has significantly increased in the last five years to nearly eight hours per day. iKeepSafe encourages parents to thoroughly review and consider the Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest research, which is filled with useful information on how kids’ are using media. From iKeepSafe’s perspective, we are pleased that the study confirms that parents play a key role. Children whose parents make an effort to limit media-use consume less media. This means that when parents get involved in setting limits and controls over the child’s use of media, kids spend less time on their computers, playing video games and watching television.
The Importance of Education
In 2009, the Rochester Institute of Technology released a study on Internet behavior, which was the result of an eight-month evaluation of kids in fourteen school districts in Monroe County, New York. Among other things, the regional study revealed:
Most kids begin using the Internet at Kindergarten age or younger.
The more time youth spend online, the more likely they are to engage in or experience cyber issues, such as cyber-abuse.
The majority of cyber offenses involving children or teens are perpetrated by peers of approximately the same age and/or grade level.
Cyberbullying and victimization begin as early as second grade and peaks in middle school.
In high school, cyber offenses include piracy, bullying, and data snooping.2
The RIT study provides a good assessment of the types of issues and threats kids are facing. While the study is regional in nature and is not a national study like the Kaiser Family Foundation report, it is significant for a few reasons. First, it reveals that children are encountering cyber-issues in elementary school, which demonstrates the need for digital literacy and digital citizenship education at the primary school level. Educators and parents should not wait until middle school to address Internet safety issues with kids. Second, the study confirms that the "old paradigm of adults preying on children has been replaced with the new reality that kids now regularly prey on each other online."2
There is an important balance to be struck between opportunities and risks. All stakeholders in the Internet safety community—parents, educators, law enforcement, health care providers (pediatricians, psychologist, etc.) and policymakers—should focus on these risks and address them in ways that balances the need to protect kids from harmful material while, at the same time, provide them with the benefits of new technologies and modes of communication and free expression.
1 Henry J. Kaiser Foundation (2010). GENERATION M2 Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/mh012010pkg.cfm
2 Rochester Institute of Technology. (2008). Survey of Internet and At-risk Behaviors..New York: McQuade & Sampat. Retrieved from http://www.sparsa.org/