∗ ∗ ∗
The Internet, and in particular the “World Wide Web,” began life as a novel - and by today's standards - static venue for researchers. It has since morphed into a massively interactive and dynamic “cyber domain” for all comers that has added a new dimension to our social structure. The world is now connected as never before, featuring the ability to learn, create, engage and participate 24/7 on a global scale and in a way that has transformed communications, personal relationships, and business transactions.
Yet with the Internet, a marvel of our age, come many age-old problems. The same social issues -bullying and other inappropriate behaviors - that exist on the playground or in the mall also take place, and in some instances can be magnified, on the Web. Most adults, who have grown into the use of Internet-based communication tools, products and services as they were created, understand these issues, and the potential pitfalls and even dangers that can exist with them. But today's children encounter these issues in digital space without the adult mediation and instruction that occurs more frequently in offline situations. And some children who are more at risk offline, are also at greater risk online. Therefore, it is essential that there be multiple mechanisms to help them gain an awareness of the pitfalls and their consequences, as well as the behavior and social skills to avoid them.
Our task as adults is to understand our responsibility for helping children reap the full benefits of the Internet, while at the same time ensuring their safety. This task is challenging in the cyber world, where changes occur by the hour, borders and boundaries are sometimes warped, and parents and kids can operate in different universes, with different expectations and assumptions about technology. Reaching common understandings therefore can be difficult. But just as adults share responsibility in the physical world for helping children make the best of opportunities while ensuring their safety, they need to understand the shared responsibility in the digital world. As Dr. Tanya Byron has written:
I believe that alongside new technology we need a new culture of responsibility, where all in society focus not on defending our entrenched positions, but on working together to help children keep themselves safe, to help parents to keep their children safe and to help each other support children and parents in this task.1In short, there exists an “ecosystem” of shared responsibility where each aspect of the network and its users are represented, and the perspective of each stakeholder involved with ensuring that children use the Internet in rewarding and safe ways is taken into account.
Today's children are digital citizens from day one. In the digital world, we document their birth on video, and share photos by mobile phone, email, Web sites, and social networks. Our digital kids watch DVDs, listen to CDs and play digital learning games as toddlers. We keep grandparents and other family members in touch digitally with emails, videos, and photos. In elementary school they become participating cyber citizens, part of the 250 million North Americans regularly online.2 Parents check on them via mobile devices, they research school projects online, and submit homework to teachers' Web sites. They connect with each other using text messaging - which has to a large extent replaced voice and email contact among youth - and within their new community, by social networking sites, which are used weekly by 71% of youth ages 9 - 17.3 Their entertainment includes creating and uploading content and downloading and remixing that of others, or entering imaginary worlds to play games of logic or skill, all the while listening to an iPod or other MP3 device, watching TV and carrying on multiple online conversations. All told, kids and teens spend more than 6.5 hours per day in front of media screens.4
What specifically are children doing online? Youth participation differs depending on age, ability, and the availability of technology. The research staff of the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH), Children's Hospital, Harvard compiled the following examples.
At the same time that adults help youth develop the technical skills to participate in this society, children must also be taught how to build the necessary habits and ethics to interact with respect towards others. Appropriate digital citizenship includes topics such as etiquette, communication and literacy, security, health and wellness, and rights and responsibilities.It is also critically important to understand that a child's online actions produce a trail of digital footprints -- public information that can enhance or degrade their reputation and influence the course of their lives. For example, college admission administrators and potential employers scan the Internet to review applicants based, in part, on the sum of their postings online. For an instructive diagram of the responsibilities that face youth in the digital world, see Appendix D.
As discussed in the preface, in June 2008 the PointSmart.ClickSafe. Summit was convened in Washington, DC by iKeepSafe, Common Sense Media, Cable in the Classroom (the cable industry's education foundation) and NCTA. Focusing exclusively on child online safety, a variety of participants drawn from stakeholder groups - including leading child safety advocates, parents groups, Internet service providers, online content providers, software companies, educators, law enforcement officials, and federal policymakers - shared their perspectives and discussed “best practices” for online safety, marking the first time such a broad cross section of online safety stakeholders came together for such a discussion. The PointSmart.ClickSafe. Summit was organized around four “panels” of stakeholders: 1) parents and parenting groups; 2) members of the education community; 3) representatives from the public health and safety community; and 4) representatives from companies providing online content and/or Internet access. The following outlines the perspectives offered during these panels. For a full summary of the panels, their key findings and recommendations, see Appendix A.
In addition, a 2008 iKeepSafe survey, The Parent Project,5 in collaboration with CMCH at Harvard Medical School, was one of the first studies about parents and the Internet and offers key insights. It revealed that parents have strong feelings and real fears about what their children encounter online, and what education they would like leaders to provide for safety and security:
Involvement and Access:
A number of challenges for developing tools and information for parents and other consumers were noted. These include the proliferation and rapidly changing nature of platforms; the fact that the Internet “knows no borders;” and that no one “silver bullet” solution seems to exist. There was also the acknowledgement of the tension between wanting to provide truly empowering tools to parents while at the same time avoiding censorship or undue restrictions.