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Underage Surfers - Children and the Internet

Guest Author - Paula Laurita

Learning has been long connected with the Internet. Many concerns of families are also concerns of librarians.

With the rapid growth of the Internet, and its inculcation into our lives, concerns about the Information Superhighway have also become mainstays of cyberspace. One major concern is how children are accessing the Internet. Are they using it in beneficial ways? Are they in danger from other Internet users of information on the Internet? How is the Internet being used in education? What choices and options do families have? For the next weeks I will attempt to address some of these questions. These articles will touch on two aspects of the Internet and children.

  1. Use of the Internet at home
  2. Use of the Internet at school

The wealth of information on the Internet is a paradox. There is a world of useful information available that can be easily accessed. There is also a world of information that proclaims that people are things to be used and abused. Aside from pornography there is a vast array of hate groups that surf the Net spreading their message of violence and prejudice. Adding in the number of sites that promote drug use, cyberspace can be a dangerous playground for children.

Pornography on the Internet is a sensitive issue. Those who support the First Amendment are wary of any attempt to limit communication via the Internet and World Wide Web. The year 1995 has been referred to as the Great Internet Sex Panic (Mike Godwin, Internet World, January 1996).

In 1995 Time Magazine printed The Rimm Report. Marty Rimm, a Carnegie Mellon University undergraduate, took a study of a single adult bulletin board system and transformed it into an article about Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway. It was accepted at face value with no question about the methodology of the "study."

Donna Hoffman and Tom Novak, of Vanderbilt University, had developed the first statistically legitimate approach to skills and methodology and applied them to The Rimm Report. The results were explosive. They wrote a critique of Time's "Cyberporn" cover story, which they put on their web page. The critique detailed the flaws in Rimm´s methodology and the facts, about access to pornography on the Internet. The facts, simply, were that there is pornography on the Internet, but it is not as prevalent nor as easily accessible as the report stated.

The question for parents, and anyone concerned for children, remains, "Do I need to be concerned about what children can access on the Net?"

Yes, there are problems areas on the Net. Chat rooms can be seedy computer locker rooms, with the guests posting less than desirable messages. During my first foray into chat rooms in 1996, the members (95% male) tried to top each other by posting drawings and photos of cyber babes in costumes that did not deserve the noun "clothing." Sites such as MySpace.com have come under scrutiny because of safety issues.

There are legitimate concerns of safety when children use the Internet. In two other articles I look at Net Safety and Internet Blocking Software.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Paula Laurita. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Paula Laurita. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Christine Sharbrough for details.

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