Speak Easy

Feb. 9-15, 2006
Speak Easy
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
The Internet is Useful but be Wary of Pitfalls and Predators DangerKatz2122: imho Steve is dreamy:)
Priss210: fyi poms…but agreed
DangerKatz2122: gmta 😉
Someday the acronyms and cleverly arranged punctuation marks that comprise the netspeak so popular in contemporary youth culture will be taught in continuing education classes alongside Spanish, German and French. But until then, parents need not be in the dark regarding their children’s online dealings. Along with speaking a kind of language native to the net, children are often much farther ahead of the technology curve than their elders and it has become increasingly important for parents to be aware of what lurks in the digital corners of cyberspace.

The lack of regulation of the Internet has enabled it to become a splendid source for the free flow of information, but many parents may not want their children exposed to some of the less tasteful aspects of the World Wide Web. Moreover, the chat rooms and the www.myspace.com pages enable sexual predators a digital disguise through which to stalk the unwary.

According to “Highlights of the Youth Internet Safety Survey” conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice “one in five children (10 to 17 years old) receive unwanted sexual solicitations online.” Over 30 million children use the Internet regularly.

Recent Le Moyne graduate Sara Vollmer uses AOL Instant Messenger on a daily basis as well as a page on the extremely popular myspace.com. Vollmer said she primarily uses both web communication tools to keep in touch with old friends from high school and college. When she first began using myspace.com, Vollmer said she frequently received messages from strangers. Since then, however, she has altered the privacy settings to ward off unwanted messages. She believes that simply being smart on the web can be enough to protect oneself, but that children aren’t necessarily as equipped to protect themselves as more mature people.

“Kids don’t realize how much information they’re giving out,” said Jean Polly Armour. A Jamesville resident, Armour has been involved with the Internet since 1991 when she was dubbed the “Internet mom.” Armour is largely credited with coining the phrase “surfing the Internet.” At the time Armour had been employed by the Liverpool Public Library but she left to write the book, Net-mom’s Internet Kids & Family Yellow Pages. She also worked for an Internet service provider teaching people how to use the Internet.

“I was a pied piper of sorts,” she said, adding that in 1981 the Liverpool Public Library offered one of the first computers for public use. She returned to work for the Liverpool Public Library, however, and now edits the www.netmom.com website and writes for several other sites. She describes herself as an advocate for the net rather than a critic or watchdog. “The Internet was being characterized as such an awful place,” she said. “I set out to show the good side of the Internet.”

She noted that many people expect netmom.com to be a source for filter reviews when, in fact, it serves more to inform people about different sites they might find useful. She believes the most important thing is for parents to be involved in developing their child’s “survival skills on the web.” Many of the techniques employed in responsible parenting translate to teaching kids about staying safe on the web.

“You have parenting skills already,” she said. In other words, just as one might instruct a child not to accept candy from strangers, the child should also be instructed to not accept an instant message from a stranger. She also stressed the importance of staying involved in a child’s life, relaying that one of the most embarrassing moments in her teenage son’s life was the moment he received a myspace.com message from his mother asking if she could be his online friend.

“You have to keep your lines of communication open — that’s the most important thing,” Armour said. Keeping stride with the technology level of one’s child can be a challenge, but the tools for parents are available even on the web. “Kids get it but parents and relatives need to be computer skilled,” Armour said. Armour referred to a number of websites that are designed to help parents learn about the web such as www.staysafe.org, which includes a tool kit for parents in its vertical navigation bar. She added that it isn’t just the Internet that parents need to keep an eye on. The popularity of mobile phones is also an issue.

In Japan, buying and maintaining mobile phones (along with designer clothes and accoutrements) has led to a blight of online teenage prostitution, according to Armour. She detailed the phenomenon in the article “Compensated Dating and Cell Phones: Japanese Schoolgirls and Men Behaving Badly” on www.netfamilynews.com. Armour noted, however, that American mindsets about the Internet tend to be a little different from those of other cultures. According to the Internet mom, American parents tend to react to the Internet with hostility before they know all the facts.

“I think it [the Internet] needs to be put in perspective. American parents tend to be reactive. They want to pull the plug and everything, and I think the horse is already out of the barn by then,” she said.

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