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The Context of Strategy Development: The Needs of Schools and Parents

In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Richard Thornburgh told participants that the workshop focused on nontechnical strategies in part because “technology-based protections can never be entirely perfect or even reliable . . . so it is necessary to look at social mechanisms to help protect kids.” Good policy can help promote appropriate solutions tailored to individual and community needs, Thornburgh said. Designing an effective approach to protecting children requires awareness of the particular issues and challenges confronting policy in this area.

This chapter describes some of the key contextual challenges that parents, teachers, and policy makers face in designing an approach to reducing children's exposure to inappropriate material Internet content. It begins with the workshop participants' definitions of “young people,” “inappropriate material,” and “nontechnical strategies.” Next it reviews some of the ways in which young people can come in contact with sexually explicit or other inappropriate material. Many of these are not readily apparent and pose a particular set of challenges that need to be considered in formulating a response. Finally, this chapter describes children's educational needs and parents' concerns as they pertain to the Internet. These represent two critical aspects of the social context that may influence the formulation of responses to this topic, and workshop participants offered views on how to address these needs.



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Page 6 2 The Context of Strategy Development: The Needs of Schools and Parents In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Richard Thornburgh told participants that the workshop focused on nontechnical strategies in part because “technology-based protections can never be entirely perfect or even reliable . . . so it is necessary to look at social mechanisms to help protect kids.” Good policy can help promote appropriate solutions tailored to individual and community needs, Thornburgh said. Designing an effective approach to protecting children requires awareness of the particular issues and challenges confronting policy in this area. This chapter describes some of the key contextual challenges that parents, teachers, and policy makers face in designing an approach to reducing children's exposure to inappropriate material Internet content. It begins with the workshop participants' definitions of “young people,” “inappropriate material,” and “nontechnical strategies.” Next it reviews some of the ways in which young people can come in contact with sexually explicit or other inappropriate material. Many of these are not readily apparent and pose a particular set of challenges that need to be considered in formulating a response. Finally, this chapter describes children's educational needs and parents' concerns as they pertain to the Internet. These represent two critical aspects of the social context that may influence the formulation of responses to this topic, and workshop participants offered views on how to address these needs.

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Page 7 DEFINITIONS In order to offer useful information to educators, parents, and others supervising children's Internet activities, the workshop talked broadly about the needs of young people and explored strategies that covered a wide age range, from the youngest ages through the end of adolescence. Computer technology and the Internet can enter a child's life very early—babies and toddlers may sit on a parent's lap to play with software oriented to their age, middle school children are now being assigned Internet research projects, and high school students routinely use the Internet. Communities also have varying beliefs about the age through which young people should be protected from inappropriate material. As noted in the introduction, “inappropriate material” is not easily defined in great part because families, communities, and cultures have very different concepts about what constitutes inappropriate material. For example, in the current U.S. social context, particular concern has centered on children's exposure to pornography and material that may be classified as obscene. In many European countries, however, young people's exposure to graphic violence or hate speech is of greater concern, and sexually explicit material is not perceived to be of significant consequence. In general, when the term “inappropriate material” is used in this report, it indicates a broad range of material from which communities might wish to shield their children. Workshop participants used “inappropriate material” to include Internet content that is sexually explicit or violent, hate speech such as Nazi and Holocaust-denial sites, material that could encourage young people to engage in illegal or risky behavior (e.g., directions for making bombs, purchasing guns, or pro-drug, alcohol, or tobacco sites), commercial ventures that target children for direct marketing campaigns, and web sites that violate young people's privacy by encouraging them to disclose personal information (e.g., address, home phone number, social security number, parent's credit card). “Inappropriate material” also may refer to inappropriate contact between an Internet user and a young person. For instance, a young person could receive a sexually explicit instant message from another individual seeking to foster an online relationship that could lead to a face-to-face meeting. An online message represents another way young people can come in contact with inappropriate material, while a face-to-face meeting, if the young person agrees to it, has more serious implications for children's physi-

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Page 8 cal safety. Parents want to protect their children, and the online safety of young people represents an important aspect of the workshop discussions. During the workshop, participants worked to develop an operational definition of what constitutes “nontechnical strategies.” This proved challenging because no clear line differentiates technical tools from nontechnical strategies, and many examples emerged that incorporate both technical and nontechnical approaches. For example, a teacher who designs a home page with links to web sites she determines are relevant to a lesson uses both technical skills (e.g., creating the web page) as well as nontechnical methods (e.g., making decisions about what content to limit her students to viewing during the lesson). In general, nontechnical strategies are those focused on training individuals to use the Internet effectively and safely, that increase online skills to reduce exposure to inappropriate content, or that make individual users more resistant to messages implicit in inappropriate content. For instance, establishing a code of acceptable Internet use and online behavior can help to ensure that young people use the Internet safely and wisely. Strategies such as media literacy teach critical thinking skills that may serve to make individual users more resistant to messages implicit in inappropriate content (Singer and Singer, 1993). Finally, curricula that improve users' skills with search engines and web browsing as well as the development of beneficial, educational web content may help to reduce exposure to inappropriate content. In contrast, technical tools are designed by creating new hardware and software meant to reduce young people's exposure to inappropriate material. Technical tools assign the task of screening inappropriate content to computers and software, whereas nontechnical strategies make individuals personally responsible for decisions about what content will be viewed. COMING IN CONTACT WITH INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT Surfing the Internet and accidentally or intentionally viewing web sites that contain inappropriate content are how many people imagine their children may be exposed to material they may find objectionable. Because the Internet is not just a repository of information that may be passively browsed, but rather a dynamic and interactive system, the opportunity for users to be exposed to inappropriate content is not limited to viewing web sites alone. For example, chat room “talk” can become its own form of sexually explicit material, bulletin boards or newsgroups may contain graphic language or may center on inappropriate themes, Internet users are

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Page 9 sometimes “spammed” with emails that link to pornographic images, and individual users can be contacted directly through instant messaging or email by online predators or market research that may encourage young people to disclose personal information. Speakers were concerned about these interactive platforms through which young people could encounter inappropriate material, some participants noting that these interactive formats (e.g., in chat rooms or through offensive material posted by a student about a classmate) could be potentially more harmful than passively surfing web sites. The participatory nature of these formats raises concerns. As noted by Patricia Greenfield, professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, young people participating in these formats can engage in behavior that violates conventional normative standards of social conduct. They can also be encouraged to meet face-to-face with other users if they are contacted directly, putting them in potential physical danger. Presenters encouraged the development of strategies that would not only reduce young people's exposure to inappropriate web sites but would also teach online safety that could help protect them from unsafe or upsetting interactions with other users. SOCIAL CONTEXT: CHALLENGES IN DEVELOPING AN APPROACH Policy makers, parents, teachers, school administers, librarians, and other adults charged with the task of facilitating young people's Internet use face a number of challenges in designing an approach to dealing with inappropriate Internet content. Initial challenges include defining inappropriate content—a particular challenge for organizations that serve the community—and remaining aware of the many ways in which young people can come in contact with inappropriate material. The following section reflects the discussions of the workshop's two keynote speakers—Linda Roberts, director of the Office of Educational Technology and senior adviser to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Anne Thompson, program commissioner of the National Parent Teacher Association. Roberts discussed the school landscape as it has been shaped by federal policy to stimulate the development of technology in the schools, how protecting children from inappropriate material fits into the larger mission of the educational system, and the potential impact that filtering and blocking software can have on adult supervision of children's online activities. Thompson focused her discussion on parents,

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Page 10 noting three areas that make reducing children's contact with inappropriate online content more challenging: lack of parental awareness around this issue, the broad range of parental attitudes toward the Internet, and parents' lack of technical proficiency. School Context and Children's Educational Needs Linda Roberts identified the Clinton administration's goals for improving technology resources in schools as “computers, connection, teachers, and content.” The department's highest priority was to get computers into schools and to “get schools wired” (i.e., connected to the Internet). Substantial differences exist in the extent to which school districts have computers in labs and classrooms, and even more variation in the extent to which these computers are connected to the Internet. Increasing the number of computers in schools as well as encouraging the penetration of high-speed connections to the Internet in underserved areas had been the highest priority for the Clinton administration, Roberts said. See Box 2-1 for additional information on what is called the digital divide. The Department of Education's second priority has been to create new opportunities for training teachers in effective use of technology and incorporating it into their course work and curricula. Knowledgeable facilitators can make the difference between using computers for simple drilling and teaching young people to use software to express their ideas, seek information, and integrate knowledge. Finally, the department recognized the great need for software and online resources that are challenging, stimulating, and informative. These tools are important in developing useful educational content and creating an enriching technology landscape for students. For Roberts, children's access to inappropriate material on the Internet represents one important thread within the larger context of educating young people to be competent, skillful, and savvy users of technology. She suggested that the issue needs to be considered carefully with four points in mind. First, because every student needs access to resources that engage them in learning and refining skills and therefore must be connected to the Internet, schools need to be concerned that high-quality and reliable content is available on the web. Students need to have fast access to useful material, and class time is wasted if students have to spend considerable time sifting through irrelevant content to get at the resources they need. Second, the developmental needs of children must be carefully taken into consideration in determining what material is appropriate at what age.

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Page 11 BOX 2-1 dig·i·tal di·vide As society moves from the industrial to the information age, technological skill and fluency are essential in an increasingly competitive and global economy, and technical savvy may stand to create the next significant gap in wages between those who possess technical skills and those who do not. A growing digital divide has already been observed with racial minorities and individuals in low socioeconomic classes having far less access to computer technology, the Internet, and high-speed connections. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that while 78 percent of white children had computers in their homes, only 55 percent of black children and 48 percent of Hispanic children had a home computer. White children were also more likely to have Internet access in the home—54 percent had Internet access compared with 29 percent of black children or 24 percent of Hispanic children (Roberts et al., 1999). In addition, when it comes to having high-quality technology in the home—defined as computer technology that includes a hard drive, CD-ROM, printer, modem or Internet access, and a mouse or other pointer control device—this disparity is again replicated (Becker, 2000). Only 10 percent of black and 13 percent of Hispanic children are likely to have access to this level of technology at home (Becker, 2000). The socioeconomic status (SES) of parents is also a significant influence on children's access to computers and the Internet at home and school. For example, as community income levels rise, so does the availability of computers and access to the Internet in children's homes. In communities with median incomes under $25,000, computer and Internet access for whites and blacks is 49 and 23 percent, respectively, while the same access for children in homes with median incomes over $40,000 is 81 and 58 percent, respectively (Roberts et al., 1999). More importantly, however, SES has been linked to a second type of digital divide that goes beyond access to the types of skills that are acquired. SES influences the way in which technology is taught to and used by children in schools. One study finds that, “although low-SES schools are beginning to catch up to high-SES schools in some benchmarks of access, the more sophisticated and creative uses of computers are not yet well linked with the curricula in core academic subjects, especially in poorer schools” (Becker, 2000, p. 56). In other words, children in low-SES schools are more likely to use computers for drill-and-practice rather than to

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Page 12 communicate ideas, search for information, or in a manner that requires the integration of skills and knowledge sets. These disparities are of great concern, given the fact that racial and ethnic minority children comprise a disproportionate share of those with low-SES parents and of those residing in low-SES communities. Minorities are becoming an increasing share of the nation's students and workers, and its economic stability and vitality may rest with its ability to fashion systematic means to provide equality of access, use, and quality of technology among all segments of the population (Novak and Hoffman, 1998). “It's not a simple matter to do the right thing,” Roberts stated, alluding to the inherent difficulties in screening the vast amount of information on the Internet in addition to determining what constitutes inappropriate material and for what age groups. Schools have traditionally been concerned that children not only make academic progress, but also develop socially, cognitively, and emotionally. For technology as well, it is important for schools to create an environment in which students not only achieve the skills to be facile with technology, but also have their developmental needs fostered by the learning they do online. Successful nontechnical strategies are developed with children's developmental needs in mind. Third, schools must also be concerned with online safety. As a part of this, educators must strive to create environments that prevent young people from getting onto paths that might be harmful to their development and ultimately to society. Hence, schools need to be concerned not only about sexually explicit material but also hate material, content that is untruthful or misleading, and online experiences that may draw children to sites that are not beneficial for them. Finally, schools need to prepare students for the information age by ensuring that they have literacy skills—basic literacy, information literacy, and media literacy—that help to ensure their future in a global economy. Not only do media and information literacy teach young people useful cognitive skills like effective search strategies, critical thinking, and learning to evaluate sources for reliability and validity, but also these same skills can help prevent children from stumbling onto inappropriate material in the first place or from being drawn in by misinformation and messages that run contrary to their values.

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Page 13 Technical tools, such as filtering and blocking software, are a growing part of both the school and home environments. At the time of the workshop, legislation that would make filtering mandatory for all schools was pending in Congress. Such technical tools may be compatible with non-technical strategies, although one's individual views may make filtering an acceptable or objectionable response. Nonetheless, both Roberts and Thompson identified two very important concerns that tend to be overlooked during heated First Amendment debates that take place when filtering is discussed. Filters tend to create a sense of safety among parents, teachers, and schools, and this often allows teachers to spend more time on instruction and less time policing student's online activities or in the office discussing this issue with parents. The risk is that parents and teachers may become complacent about young people's exposure to questionable material online. If schools and parents rely exclusively on filtering, they may not prepare students for the inevitable instances of failure to screen objectionable material and may not have a plan for addressing exposure if it does occur. In addition, young people will eventually have unrestricted access to the web, and conveying ethical perspectives on the use of the Internet is a valuable message that may be neglected if filters are not recognized as imperfect. Parental Awareness and Involvement Thompson detailed several challenges to helping parents in trying to protect their children from inappropriate material on the Internet. The first challenge is increasing their awareness of the risks of children's Internet use in a way similar to other issues of public health and safety. Many parents are not yet aware of the extent to which their children could come in contact with pornography—intentionally or unintentionally—while surfing online, nor are they aware of some of the dangers inherent in online venues like chat rooms. This lack of awareness means that parents cannot effectively caution their children about how to be safe online. Few parents fail to warn their children about the dangers of talking to a stranger in the park or revealing personal information like their home address. Many, however, do not caution their children about disclosing such information online. The results of a child's disclosing personal information online could be mild, if it is to an online business, for example—a parent might notice a slight increase in junk mail or junk email—or the consequences could be much more serious. Thompson stressed the importance of making parents more

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Page 14 aware of Internet safety and that they cannot abdicate this responsibility to filters, schools, or libraries. Attitudes toward the Internet pose another challenge. Despite the availability of sexually explicit material, most parents agree that the Internet is an extremely useful and productive tool in improving academic performance and preparing their children for a technology-driven society. As a result, few parents would cancel Internet services to prevent access to pornography. However, there is a broad range of attitudes among parents about whether or not to restrict their children's Internet use, whether to monitor their activities online, and how to do so (National School Boards Association, no date). Box 2-2 describes several recent studies that attempt to assess parents' and children's attitudes toward the Internet. Parents may BOX 2-2 Parents' and Children's Attitudes Toward the Internet Several recent studies have attempted to capture parents' and children's attitudes toward the Internet. Internet Attitudes A study by the National School Boards Association indicated that children and parents overall see the Internet as a very valuable tool. Data suggested that the Internet is influencing how students learn and that it may be improving children's attitude about learning. In this survey, 43 percent of 9- to 17-year-olds stated that the Internet has improved their attitude toward school, and 17 percent stated that the Internet has improved their attitude a lot. Parents are even more positive about the Internet, viewing it as a powerful tool for learning and communicating, citing a desire to connect their children to the Internet to benefit their education as the primary reason for buying a home computer and purchasing Internet service. Parents are concerned, however, about Internet security, privacy, and the potential for their children to access inappropriate material. In a study by Penn et al. (2000), half of parents were very concerned both that their children might access web sites that are not appropriate for them and that children might make inappropriate contact with a stranger online. In all, 39 percent of parents were very concerned that children might give out personal information; 32 percent were concerned that their children might play violent or inappropriate games online; and 21 percent were very concerned

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Page 15 that children might give out a credit card number to another online user who should not have access to it. Limiting Internet Access Although parents in one survey expressed concern about some of the content their children might be exposed to as well as some of the interactions their children might have, 41 percent of teens in this survey stated that their parents have not provided rules to regulate their Internet activity. In a survey by FamilyPC Magazine, many teens reported that their parents have used strategies to limit their Internet access. More than half of teens (54 percent) stated that their parents check on them when they are online; 43 percent stated that parents have strict rules about where they can (and cannot) go online; and 42 percent of teens reported that the computer is kept in a room where it can be observed (Survey on teen use of technology, 2000). Interestingly, only 15 percent of teens stated that their parents use blocking features on their Internet service providers, and only 6 percent said that their parents bought and installed blocking software. Gaps Between Parents and Children Penn et al. (2000) found that the Internet has become another arena in which parents attempt to stay aware of their children's activities and young people attempt to evade their oversight. Several gaps exist in what parents perceive and what young people are actually doing. For instance, 45 percent of teens say they have personal online profiles, but only 17 percent of parents thought their teens had such profiles. 81 percent of teens say they have private email accounts, while only 68 percent of parents thought their teens had these accounts. More than half of the teens reported corresponding with strangers, and only 30 percent of parents thought their teens sent or received email from a stranger. The National School Boards Association report uncovered a gap between parents and children about how much supervision children actually receive online: 67 percent of parents report that someone else is in the room while their children are online, while 78 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds say they use the Internet when they are alone. In addition, parents routinely overstate the extent to which their children use the Internet for educational purposes and underestimate the extent to which their children use the Internet for entertainment. For example, 76 percent of parents whose children log on at home say their children use the Internet for schoolwork at least once a week; 63 percent of teenagers agreed with this statement.

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Page 16 struggle with concerns about invading their children's privacy, and these concerns may encourage them to adopt a hands-off approach to the Internet. Trust in a child's decision-making capabilities is best offered when both parents and children are aware of the risks and clear guidelines exist for acceptable Internet use. Finally, even if parents know the extent to which they want to restrict or monitor their children's use, many are unsure of how to follow through because they lack technical proficiency. Some parents are unsure about using technical tools and may assume (sometimes rightly) that their children may know better than they how to disable a filter or erase temporary log files. Similarly, parents are also frequently unaware of nontechnical strategies that could be helpful in establishing boundaries, defining appropriate behavior online, and developing consequences if their children do not follow the rules. Thompson stated that parents are in great need of strategies that are simple, clear, readily available, easy to use, and that help support them in setting limits for online activity. Educating children about the Internet and how to avoid material parents view as inappropriate should become as routine a part of parenting as teaching a child to cross the street safely.