I know better than to cross the street without looking both ways or to touch a hot stove top, but these things aren't so obvious to a toddler. Young children must be taught about the real dangers associated with daily life and activities like crossing the street. Today, adults and children alike operate daily in both real and digital worlds, each with their own set of rules, dangers, and challenges. In the same way parents teach children how to cross the street safely; we must educate children about the real dangers in the digital world and how to protect themselves.
If I were to simplify the issue, I'd say that there are two things we need to educate our children about with respect to their use of the web and its endless resources and communication tools: availability and permanence.
Whether a child chooses to make use of MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, or Flickr to communicate with friends, share pictures and videos, or chat online, he or she must be made to understand that these programs by default have functionality ? not security ? in mind. So, while many programs have the ability to limit who has access, if not appropriately configured, a child may unknowingly ? or knowingly ? allow anyone and everyone the opportunity to view information and communicate with him or her. This includes, friends, family, teachers, potential employers, sexual predators, etc. Availability may seem harmless, but unrestricted access combined with a childlike naivety regarding the real threat of interacting with strangers can make for a dangerous combination.
In last month's Security Notes, Dominic considered the permanence of the information on the web. While it is imperative that we as individuals and organizations evaluate and restrict risky types of communications, it is equally important that we take steps to ensure children are aware of the permanence of the information they make available. The challenge of teaching children important lessons about accepting the consequences of their actions and taking responsibility for them must be applied to the digital realm.
So, how do we protect our children? Believe it or not, the answer is not to deny computer access entirely. Parents should openly communicate with their children about appropriate and safe use with respect to the availability and permanence of their information AND (this is important) regularly monitor usage. As a parent or adult mentor, we must remember that just as we keep an eye on a toddler as they play outside, we also must keep an eye on our children with respect to their internet activity.