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Kids and the Internet
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Who could have predicted that a communications system designed to serve scientists and the military would one day help Aunt Sylvia uncover a blue-ribbon cake recipe or help you track down your favorite high-school classmate?

The Internet is an unprecedented gateway to a vast wealth of knowledge and information, and its uses are virtually unlimited. The World Wide Web, although still young, is deeply ingrained in our culture and everyday lives. It’s a source of news, facts, and figures; a communication tool that allows millions of us to connect with each other every second of every day; a way to bank, invest, and shop; and an educational and entertainment medium that allows people from all walks of life to learn about the world and have fun doing it.

A Resource for Children
Especially promising are the marvelous advantages that the Internet offers children, including access to educational materials, publications, online friendships, pen pals, subject-matter experts, and information on hobbies, games, and sports. There’s no question that many of today’s kids benefit enormously from online access—often in ways different from their parents’ use of it.

A Darker Side
As indispensable as it is in today’s society, however, the Internet is also a reflection of society, good and bad. The easy access to information that makes the Web so special is also at the root of parental and community concerns about children’s exposure to inappropriate materials and experiences. Real-world threats like hate speech, religious cults, harassment, and stalking exist in cyberspace. Particularly alarming for many parents are pornography and sexual predators—issues that led to the preparation of Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, the National Academies report on which is based.

It’s easy for a parent to think, “Maybe I’ll just keep my kids offline entirely.” This might be the best guarantee for safety, but is it a practical solution? Children can access the Internet from a number of places outside of the home. In addition, the Internet is such a helpful educational resource that denying children access to it could put them at a disadvantage as they prepare for their own future.

Knowledge Is Power
Whoever said “Ignorance is bliss” probably never raised a child. Parents, ever vigilant, sometimes feel helpless when it comes to guiding their children’s Internet use. Yes, it’s likely that your kids are more Internet-savvy than you, but that shouldn’t interfere with your parenting goals. Don’t be intimidated by the apparent complexity of the Web; it’s easier to understand than you think. Nevertheless, to prevent problems and still help kids get the most out of the Web, you must understand the threats, learn how unacceptable materials and dangerous people travel on the Web, and plan a strategy to protect your children.

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