wpe11.jpg (6065 bytes)
June 1998

netwat.jpg (4487 bytes)

AG00041_.gif (503 bytes) Back to the
Front Page


Monitor On-line Activities to Ensure Safe Surfing

With millions of web sites on the ’net, not all are going to be educational. Some on-line activities could be downright dangerous. Pointing students to the good sites and taking a few steps to keep them away from the bad is worth the effort.

By Brad Ross

As more and more people turn to the Internet as a major source for information, the ’net is quickly shifting from the status of a "new" medium, to simply a medium.

But as kids use the ’net with increasing frequency, teachers are presented with a number of challenges – the worst of which is the ready access children have to the evils of the world. Pornography, adult predators and other unsavoury elements that we all agree have no place in the lives of children are extremely difficult to control.

While parents can exert relative control over ’net usage at home, many teachers are finding it to be a daunting task. You can tell a classroom full of curious children that certain web sites or on-line activities, such as chat, are banned, but of course that will simply pique curiosity and, suddenly there’s that web page you flagged as inappropriate.

No, trying to censor the World Wide Web is futile. What works better is finding sites that are interactive and safe. Satiate curiosity with fun, safe web sites that will distract inquiring minds from the desire to surf sites that are truly garbage. The web is no place for sex ed.

Teacher Anna Beniuk Cooper raised this serious issue with me via e-mail. She told me that her students desperately want to chat on-line and asked if I had any advice. That evening, CNN ran a story about the Internet and some of the work the FBI has been doing with respect to children and the ’net.

FBI Director Louis Freeh told a U.S. Senate subcommittee, "Any contact with a voice on the Internet is unknown contact. You don’t know who you’re speaking to because anybody can be anybody on the Internet."

Of course, that doesn’t mean kids can’t engage in useful and fun activities with other children on-line. It just means that parents and teachers need to be extremely vigilant when children log on.

"The best way to prevent unsuspecting children from becoming victims of computer-savvy sexual predators is to teach them and their parents (and teachers) safe Internet and on-line practices," Freeh said. Precisely.

Here, then, are four web sites that are safe, engaging and resourceful for children, parents and teachers. There are thousands more, but these provide good, safe starting points.

Chat Box

Children certainly like to talk. And what could be more fun, than "talking" to someone halfway around the world? It can be educational, interesting and enlightening. Yet, it can also be dangerous. Anyone can go on-line and pose as a 13-year-old, for example. It’s a sad state of affairs, but there are adults who use the ’net to prey on children. Just as children are street-proofed about the dangers of talking to strangers, the same rules must apply to the ’net. Chat Box pulls out all the stops to ensure kids-only chat, but if you can, sit with a child while they chat. Or at least relocate the computer to an area for easy monitoring.

Owl Magazine

Synonymous with healthy reading, Owl Magazine has recreated that approach on-line with a rich web site – both in content and its use of graphics. It has links for children under eight, children over eight, as well as one for adults, called Cyber Family. An overview of Owl’s CyberSurfer, a book for and about children’s safety on the ’net, offers many useful tips and techniques for ensuring an enjoyable time on-line. For the kids, a series of knock-knock jokes will mean giggles, not squirms as they surf.

Child CyberSEARCH Canada

Are your bookmarks or favourites becoming unmanageable? Mine, too. It’s always nice to come across a site that offers good information and a plethora of links to related sites. This is one of them. Family-friendly sites, child safety on-line, links to missing children organizations, education, hobbies, films and music. In short, some excellent resources on ’net safety and many cool links for the kids.

Cyber Patrol

Similar to Net Nanny and other web-filtering software products, Cyber Patrol prohibits access to sites determined by you. It can also limit the amount of time spent on-line and also features something called "ChatGard," which prevents children from divulging real names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses while chatting. Various versions are available, both for in-home and networked PCs. A monthly update also wings its way to subscribers, noting new sites that it deems inappropriate for children and, conversely, sites that have been verified as kid-friendly.

Brad Ross is associate editor of Professionally Speaking and the College’s web editor. He can be reached by e-mail at bross@oct.ca .