People are now, more than ever, able to share their expertise on specialized subjects, and help out those in need through the ease of online communication. But, this ready access is a double-edged sword that cuts in both positive and negative ways. Many times, children are severely damaged in the process.
• Some sites offer knowledge and information for free or a minimal fee. The online free encyclopedia Wikipedia, for instance, has allowed users to post their knowledge on certain topics, and has given users the chance to access this knowledge as they would a real encyclopedia. There are also many other sites that offer information for free, such as science sites offering modules that science teachers can use when performing experiments, or clothing sites offering online courses in fashion design.
• Not all brick-and-mortar public libraries carry the books that we need, so online merchants such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble sell hardcover books, allowing more people all over the world to buy them. However, with the introduction of the electronic book, or e-book, people can now read books on their computers without ever leaving the comfort of home.
• Knowledge is offered in different media, depending on the learning abilities of those who need information. If a person is more visual, he or she can choose to watch a video or read an online book or pamphlet on the information he or she needs. If a person learns better through listening, however, he or she can choose to listen to audio files. This flexibility and versatility of the Internet has allowed more people to learn in the format that they want and are most comfortable with.
The beneficiaries of this technology are undoubtedly our children. They will have an easier time doing their research for school, since information is easy to retrieve online. They can buy the books they need if their local libraries don't have them. They can learn through all means possible.
These benefits, however, come with their own risks, and parents are caught in the middle of a war between free speech and censorship. While there are thousands of students who benefit from the knowledge offered by the Internet, there are also thousands more who become victims of predators, such as credit card thieves or worse, pedophiles.
While there are thousands of students in developing countries who are learning about new mindsets and cultures, there are thousands more who find themselves duped by online scam artists. Con artists have moved quickly from the face-to-face con into the on line con, with ease. They are finding eager and gullible targets.
If you have a child who uses the Internet extensively, then the following tips are for you.
• While information is easier to retrieve online, it can also encourage your child to simply cut and paste information, with little or no effort devoted to analysis. This can make your child lazy, and may even lead to your child being accused of plagiarism by perceptive teachers.
• Not all information online is true, and not all information online is edited. This has led to many schools banning the use of online sources and Wikipedia as references in important reports and assignments.
• Many online help forums are actually a venue for child predators to stalk new victims. Because children and teenagers often seek affirmation and help from people outside their family circle, they are more susceptible to such attacks.
• Adults-only material is rife online, and some multimedia sites may actually contain offensive or disturbing images or footage. While your child learns from useful multimedia files, he or she may also be traumatized or wrongly indoctrinated if he or she accesses the wrong ones.
The Internet has its advantages and disadvantages, and parents should be alarmed and vigilant. The wealth of information online has also allowed wrongdoing to proliferate, and you can often find yourself caught in the middle between your child's personal freedom and their safety.
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Jim DeSantis is a retired TV News Anchor and News Director. For more about Internet Safety For Your Kids, including a new ebook on the subject, visit on-line-tribune-family-life.blogspot.com/2008/09/new-ebook-internet-safety-for-your-kids.html
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