Internet Safety – A Public Health Issue?

Posted by on Nov 15, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

Last week, the team at ScreenRetriever attended the Family Online Safety Institute Conference in Washington D.C. People from all over the world, from many different areas of Internet Safety joined in the conversation- including policy makers, educators, mental health providers, internet safety and industry experts. It was evident at this year’s F.O.S.I conference that internet safety is beginning to be recognized as a public health issue. Given the risks associated with internet usage by our children such as obesity, sleep deprivation, cyber-bullying and that the goal of public health is to protect the community at large, and promote healthy behaviors, this makes sense. Public health is also proactive and tries to prevent health issues before they occur through education, developing policies and conducting research.

I believe strongly in the education component with regard to internet safety. Legislation has been passed that require schools with internet access to educate children about appropriate online behavior such as, “The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act”, and AWARE, Adolescent Web Awareness Requires Education Act was signed into law in 2009. These have been important steps in educating children.

I also would like to see a national media public health campaign initiative focused on educating parents about what their children are doing online and the associated risks. Many parents remain unaware of what their kids are doing online. Yet Parents remain the first line of defense when it comes to safeguarding their children online and I believe that if they are better educated about the issues they would be more proactively involved with their child’s online experience. “Sadly, too many parents think that using technology to track their children’s keystrokes or restrict access to certain Web sites is sufficient parenting. It is not.” said Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University. The Harvard Berkman Study states, “Even with deployment of the best tools and technologies available to jumpstart the process of enhancing safety for minors online—there is no substitute for a parent, caregiver, or other responsible adult actively guiding and supporting a child in safe Internet usage. Likewise, education is an essential part of the puzzle.”

There have been public safety initiatives directed at parents that have been very effective such as vaccination for cervical cancer in teens, childhood obesity, children’s car seats. Smokey the Bear helped fight forest fires. Now we need a national campaign to bring parents up to speed on the issues their children face when they enter the online world so that they understand the absolute necessity of being involved in their children’s online world, and that it’s o.k. for them know what their children are doing online. As Dr. John Brackett said, “Proper monitoring and vigilance is important and is an act of safety, not intrusion, or lack of trust, or over-parenting.” It’s important for parents to know that they need to parent online just as they do offline. A diary stays in the bedroom, what happens online is in the cyber-world forever.

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