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Page 1 1 Introduction The Internet plays an increasingly important role in the lives of children and adults as a vast repository of information, a source of entertainment, and a platform for new means of communication. Conservative estimates suggest that, on average, Internet traffic has doubled every year during the past decade, and estimates of the number of Internet hosts have risen from 1 million in 1992 to 10 million in 1996 (Odlyzko, 2000; Public Broadcasting Service, no date). These figures represent increases in both the number of individuals accessing the Internet as well as significant increases in the amount of content viewed by users. In addition to supplying more individuals with more online content, the Internet has stimulated new ways of sharing and compiling information that have notable implications for users. For example, chat rooms dedicated to supporting individuals struggling with cancer allow people in disparate locations to share encouragement as well as recent developments in cancer research (see < www.sharedexperience.org>). 1 New advances in human-computer interaction have improved rates of on-time immunization of children, made possible new approaches to improving nutrition education and health promotion, and even screened users for HIV through interview-based methodologies (Alemi et al., 1996; Kraak and Pelletier, 1998; Locke et al., 1992). 1A list of web sites mentioned in the text is included in the References section of the report.
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Page 2 Young people account for a significant proportion of Internet users and are the first generation to grow up digital—many of them do not remember what life was like before the Internet. Children have access to the Internet in an ever-increasing number of settings, including schools, libraries, homes, community centers, and commercial Internet cafés. This growing access means that young people have at their fingertips a wealth of educational content that schools and public libraries of previous generations could never offer. Indeed, while a library's collection of books and journals may be limited by its budget and space, a computer terminal and a phone line place the entirety of the Internet at hand. Today's students can create multimedia school reports, express their thoughts by publishing their own web pages online, and communicate with peers living in other countries. Clearly, such ready access to information is a boon to anyone invested in improving education and empowering individuals through knowledge. The Internet is not, however, without problems or controversies. The same qualities that make it a beneficial tool—fast access to information; a venue for a free exchange of ideas among individuals in a variety of geographic locations, with different life experiences and values; and the opportunity for anyone to publish content online—are also problematic. As the amount of information online grows, the skills required to find educational content on the Internet become increasingly complex (Keller et al., 2001). At the same time, the possibility that young people will encounter content that is misleading or perhaps inappropriate for their age and maturity is a growing concern for many educators, librarians, parents, and other people responsible for overseeing children's Internet use. Public concern that young people may encounter sexually explicit and other inappropriate material online has been coupled with increased interest in the availability of developmentally appropriate tools and strategies, both technological and nontechnical, that can protect children from online content that they may not have the resources to handle. At the request of Congress, the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, jointly with the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, formed the Committee on the Study of Tools and Strategies for Protecting Children from Pornography on the Internet and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content. This committee was charged with the task of exploring the pros and cons of different technology options and operational policies as well as nontechnical approaches that could facilitate young people's positive Internet use and experience. As a part of the committee's work, it convened a workshop
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Page 3 focused on nontechnical strategies and brought together an interdisciplinary group of researchers, educators, policy makers, practitioners, and other key stakeholders to consider how to create effective strategies to protect children from pornography and other inappropriate material on the Internet that do not rely on technical tools. QUESTIONS ADDRESSED BY THE WORKSHOP The workshop focused on four key questions: 1. What is known about how young people (including young children as well as adolescents) use the Internet, and, from a child development perspective, what does existing research say about the impact of exposure to sexually explicit and other harmful material? 2. What framework does this knowledge offer for designing effective and age-appropriate nontechnical strategies? 3. What strategies of this type have been used in schools, libraries, and at home? 4. What further research is needed, and what opportunities exist to bridge research, policy, and practice to improve children's online experiences? Through presentations and panel discussions, workshop participants addressed these questions. Research and data from media studies and child development were reviewed, and practitioners from schools, libraries, and organizations that offer outreach and Internet education for parents discussed the nontechnical strategies that have been effective for them. Presenters also offered carefully considered thoughts on what factors need to be weighed and balanced in creating approaches for protecting children, including the potential harm from exposure to various types of inappropriate material for different age groups, the types of online activities children pursue and the proportion of time they spend using the Internet, and the concerns and opportunities posed by increasing access to the Internet in a variety of venues. ISSUES AND CHALLENGES It is important to note at the outset of this report that children's exposure to sexually explicit and other inappropriate content represents a highly
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Page 4 contentious and complicated set of issues. Defining what constitutes inappropriate and sexually explicit content is in itself problematic. Communities and families have a wide variety of sensibilities about what categories of Internet content warrant attention (e.g., sexually explicit material, content that promotes violence or offers advice on constructing bombs or weapons, commercial marketing to young Internet users). They may also define these categories very differently (e.g., some parents might define nudity as inappropriate sexually explicit material while others might define it as hardcore pornography). In addition to varying public perceptions and concerns about what Internet content may be problematic for young people is the fact that children's cognitive, emotional, and social development changes rapidly, from the time they may first look at a monitor as young children to late adolescence, when computers may be a daily part of their lives (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). Because children's developmental needs change so greatly, content that may be inappropriate at an earlier age may or may not be inappropriate when children are older. Very little empirical research exists to inform the public on the impact of sexually explicit and other inappropriate content on young people. It is therefore impossible to make definitive statements based on scientific research that sexually explicit or other types of content do or do not have harmful effects on young people. Thus, communities must rely on their own sensibilities in determining how best to approach this issue. What science can offer—as highlighted in this report—is a conceptual framework and a set of nontechnical strategies that may help communities and parents choose an approach that fits their values, concerns, and the needs of their children. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT This summary highlights key themes that emerged from the workshop discussions, including both issues on which views converged as well as points of contention. Following this introduction, Chapter 2 discusses key contextual issues and challenges that policy makers, local administrators (e.g., school principals, superintendents), and parents face in choosing an approach to reducing children's exposure to inappropriate online content. Chapter 3 reviews three areas of research that provide a scientific basis to developing age-appropriate, nontechnical strategies as well as a guide for adults in selecting an approach that matches the maturity, Internet use
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Page 5 patterns, and needs of the young people they supervise. This research includes information on children's cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development; research on what we know (and do not know) about the impact of the media on young people; and recent empirical studies of children's media use. Chapter 4 presents a wide variety of nontechnical strategies, describing these approaches and how communities might make use of them. Chapter 5 summarizes workshop participants' ideas for how to improve and connect future research, policy, and practice. The final chapter summarizes key points and areas emphasized by workshop participants. This report reflects some of the key issues in the workshop and offers a first step in creating resources that will help communities develop comprehensive and carefully chosen nontechnical approaches to protecting children on the Internet. It is not, however, intended as a comprehensive review of the literature in any of the fields represented, nor do the examples of nontechnical strategies offer a complete or exhaustive list of available options. In addition, not all of the strategies discussed would necessarily be effective across all settings (e.g., home use versus access in an Internet café) or with all age groups. The strategies presented, however, were effective for the particular communities in which the speakers worked and thus offer a useful point of departure for communities and individuals seeking to develop their own approaches. Both the Board on Children, Youth, and Families and the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board hope that the workshop and this report will serve as a stimulus and resource for those who are charged with facilitating young people's Internet experience.
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