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Developing Nontechnical Strategies: Concluding Thoughts

The Workshop on Nontechnical Strategies brought together a group of experts from a diverse group of fields and broad set of expertise, including developmental psychologists, researchers in communication and the media, policy makers, educators, and practitioners who have developed strategies to provide young people with positive Internet experiences. Several points were reiterated throughout the workshop, and participants' comments converged on several topics.

Researchers emphasized that there are a very limited number of studies on the impact of the sexually explicit media content on children. This lack of research makes it impossible to come to any definitive conclusions about the media's potential impact, and they cautioned against succumbing to a sense of panic that has historically accompanied new media developments and that they observed occurring around the topic of young people encountering sexually explicit material online. An approach driven by what we know about children's developmental needs rather than fear would serve to generate effective strategies. More research to gather basic information about children's Internet and media consumption as well as studies to identify the impact on cognitive, social, and emotional development of various types of media content would aid in the creation of appropriate policy for young people's Internet use and activities.

Although a critical research base on the impact of media content is not yet available, strategies to provide young people with positive and enriching Internet experiences can be developed from a scientific understanding of



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Page 76 6 Developing Nontechnical Strategies: Concluding Thoughts The Workshop on Nontechnical Strategies brought together a group of experts from a diverse group of fields and broad set of expertise, including developmental psychologists, researchers in communication and the media, policy makers, educators, and practitioners who have developed strategies to provide young people with positive Internet experiences. Several points were reiterated throughout the workshop, and participants' comments converged on several topics. Researchers emphasized that there are a very limited number of studies on the impact of the sexually explicit media content on children. This lack of research makes it impossible to come to any definitive conclusions about the media's potential impact, and they cautioned against succumbing to a sense of panic that has historically accompanied new media developments and that they observed occurring around the topic of young people encountering sexually explicit material online. An approach driven by what we know about children's developmental needs rather than fear would serve to generate effective strategies. More research to gather basic information about children's Internet and media consumption as well as studies to identify the impact on cognitive, social, and emotional development of various types of media content would aid in the creation of appropriate policy for young people's Internet use and activities. Although a critical research base on the impact of media content is not yet available, strategies to provide young people with positive and enriching Internet experiences can be developed from a scientific understanding of

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Page 77 the developmental needs and milestones of children. Existing research on the cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development of young people represents a great resource that could be used to create educational and stimulating Internet content, serving both to meet the developmental needs of young people and prevent them from encountering inappropriate material by offering enticing and beneficial alternatives. Workshop participants noted in particular that increasing the amount and availability of online, educational content addressing healthy sexuality and sexual health would be of particular benefit to young people for those times when they turn to the media for answers to questions about sexuality that they do not or are unwilling to ask adults. Currently, the amount of sexual health information is limited, especially in light of the vast amount of pornography and other sexually explicit material online. Balancing these ratios could be very helpful to young people. In addition to creating age appropriate Internet content, developmental psychology can also be used to generate programs to educate young users about Internet use and the media. The workshop featured several examples of age and developmentally appropriate educational programs, for example, the Wisconsin schools' Internet-related educational objectives that students had to meet by the end of certain years, and teach such skills as effective searching and how to evaluate online content for truthfulness and validity. Media and information literacy were identified by virtually every speaker as having great potential for protecting children from a wide range of inappropriate material. Information literacy can prevent young people from accidentally coming in contact with inappropriate content by teaching them how to find information effectively and to recognize a problematic web site or email before viewing it. Media literacy combined with the principles of responsible netizenship and Internet safety training offers a comprehensive set of critical thinking skills to aid young people in assessing the value of Internet content and interactions with other users in order to make sound decisions about how to handle that material—be it to exit the site or report an inappropriate site, interaction, or solicitation to the Internet service provider or to decline from citing misinformation as a valid source of knowledge. Educating parents and children on Internet safety was also emphasized, and comments converged on the need for a public awareness campaign to raise parents' awareness of the importance of talking with their children about appropriate online conduct and safety. Greater dissemina-

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Page 78 tion and public awareness of tools and programs already available to parents were also noted as useful strategies. For example, parents may not think to look for online resources providing information on filters (e.g., the GetNetWise web site), and may not have heard about the suggestions on The Children's Partnership web site on strategies they can use at home to guide their children's Internet use. Parents may also not know about the educational programs offered by their local libraries or by nonprofit groups in their area and may be missing other opportunities to receive training and assistance in this issue. In general, workshop participants voiced the view that parents should consider carefully children's exposure to sexually explicit and other inappropriate material and develop approaches that reflected their concerns and values. Participants observed that fearful responses were not advisable as they often prevent adults from developing a well-considered approach to this issue, but they viewed educating parents and other adults about the risks as an important step in dealing with this issue. Sexually explicit material is one of a number of types of content that can be targeted in choosing nontechnical strategies, participants noted, and web sites are only one way for young people to encounter sexually explicit material. Adults should be mindful of how interactive sites such as chat rooms and instant messaging should figure in well-considered approaches. Finally, workshop participants noted that attention to the multiple contexts (e.g., school, home, unsupervised Internet cafés) and platforms (e.g., desktop computers, laptops, portable phones) should also be considered as adults develop strategies to protect young people.