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Schools, Libraries, and the Community

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SCHOOLS, LIBRARIES, AND THE COMMUNITY

Parents want to feel confident that when their child is surfing away from home, other adults—those who care for and educate children, as well as those who are part of the computer and Internet industry, the government, and the general community—will uphold safe, responsible standards for children. As a parent, you have the right and responsibility to know how schools, libraries, industry, and policy-makers could handle the various issues associated with kids on the Internet. Here are some “best-practice” community strategies that can complement a parent’s efforts and help kids stay safe while getting the most out of the World Wide Web.


Schools
Teachers and school officials are responsible for educating students and providing a safe environment in which learning can occur.

In a best-practices scenario for schools:

  • Internet and information technology are used to support learning and are integrated as learning tools into the regular curriculum.
  • Time is spent teaching students what it means to comply with AUPs.
  • Enforcement of AUPs is flexible enough to allow inadvertent violations to be considered teaching opportunities rather than automatic occasions for punishment.
  • Internet safety instruction is a prerequisite for school-provided Internet access.
  • Instruction in media literacy is integrated into the curriculum at all levels as an essential dimension of scholarship and learning.
  • Selected older students serve as computer and Internet tutors and guides for younger students.
  • Teachers are offered professional development opportunities by the school district to understand and learn how to teach the importance of media literacy on the Internet.
  • The PTA offers programs to parents or guardians who want to know more about Internet safety, and guidance on maintaining open communication between parents and adolescents.

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Libraries
A public library’s primary responsibility is to provide a broad range of information to its entire community of children and adults. The approaches that a library takes, therefore, to protect children from inappropriate material and experiences might not always be the same as a school’s—even in the same community. Parents should be aware of their local libraries’ policies.

In a best-practices scenario for libraries:

  • Internet safety instruction is offered to both parents and children.
  • Software is installed to clear browser histories and caches so that a new user can’t view anything seen by a previous user.
  • Libraries offer users a variety of choices regarding filtered or unfiltered access.
  • Information on a library’s filtering policy is conspicuous and available so that users have a general idea of what is blocked.
  • Internet-access points inside children’s areas ask the age of the child. Young children receive a notice that they are getting filtered access. Older children are offered an unbiased choice of filtered and unfiltered access (unbiased meaning that neither one is the default).

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Industry
Various types of industry can make a major contribution to the Internet safety of children, especially those industry segments that are relevant to the issue, such as Internet service providers, manufacturers of computer equipment, software vendors, those who provide content, and the adult online industry.

ISPs and online service providers could:

  • Provide parental controls that are easy to understand and use.
  • Design and provide educational and child-friendly areas.
  • Provide a channel for user complaints about child pornography or obscene material, for example, a link or customer-service page or 1-800 number.
  • Refrain from hosting material that they believe to be illegal, such as suspected child pornography

Makers of access devices (such as computers, handheld organizers, cell phones with Web access, game machines, and WebTV™) could:

  • Provide “in-the-box” Internet safety tips and best practices.

  • Offer configuration options to accommodate the needs of children in the household. This can include, for example, a step-by-step setup process that helps parents specify certain limits on access for their children.

Software vendors could:

  • Develop software to help configure computers to be child-friendly (in place of setup routines mentioned above).
  • Integrate into Web browsers filtering options that are label-based and provide tools that make it easier for content developers to create appropriate labels. (Producers of Web material can label—describe or categorize their content—in their site’s metadata, making it easier for parents to filter. Go to www.icra.org to see the labeling system of the Internet Content Rating Association.)
  • Include tips or links for children’s Internet safety in software used by adults.

Content providers could:

  • Participate in an organized labeling plan, design, or program that can be widely adopted.
  • Integrate educational and entertainment value to content developed for children.
  • Add links to age-appropriate sexual and psychological health-related content to Web sites that are visited by older youth so that reliable and appropriate information is available.

The adult online industry could:

  • Take more effective steps to keep children from accessing their products. For example, they could keep sexually explicit material off of their home pages and prevent indexing of their pages.
  • Stop the practice of involuntary mousetrapping.
  • Use contracts to require more responsible behavior among affiliates, or other Web business associates, who use sexually explicit content provided by commercial sources.

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Policy-Makers
Public policy—at the local, state, and federal levels—can help shape the Internet environment in many ways.

Public policy can be used to:

  • Support prosecution of Internet pornographers who don’t take steps to deny children access to their products under existing obscenity laws, rather than any law focused specifically on the Internet.
  • Promote media literacy and Internet-safety education through funding of model curricula; provide professional development for teachers on Internet safety; and support outreach to educate parents, teachers, librarians, and other responsible adults on Internet-safety education issues.
  • Support the development and access to high-quality Internet material that’s educational and attractive to children in an age-appropriate manner.
  • Support self-regulatory efforts by private parties. For example, provide financial or legal incentives for ISPs or content providers to behave responsibly.
  • Support research in areas that are relevant to the issue of Internet safety, including the impact of exposure to sexually explicit material on children of various ages; children’s Internet-use patterns; and the effectiveness of social and educational strategies, technological tools, and public policy.

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