Google's child safety initiatives

Came across this interesting post on what Google is doing to help us in our efforts to make the internet a better place for our kids. This post by Elliot Schrage, VP, Global Communications and Public Affairs includes the following important point: "Keeping kids safe on the Internet is a huge task - bigger than any single government, company or family." And he's spot on with that sentiment. I and many others have been calling on companies like Google to take a more active and responsible role in helping us parents deal with the issue for a long time. It's nice to see them responding in such a thoughful and coordinated manner. Read the whole post at: Online child safety initiatives


A polite no, please...

Amy, over at the DotMoms blog posted a great article about having a chat with her son about one of those topics every parent dreads having - what to do or say when somebody touches you the wrong way. Amy says...

"My recent question to my son was spurred by a letter sent home from his school saying that all kindergartners would be involved in a good touch/bad touch program this month facilitated by their school counselor. And I'm all for it. While I think the conversations should be taking place at home as well, it's a message that bears repeating and, unfortunately, not all kids may be getting that message at home."

And I couldn't agree more. It's great to see that at least some of our kids are getting that kind of support from their schools. But I worry that even these enlightened folks are only seeing half the picture. These days, the problem is not isolated to the people our kids meet at the park or down the street. We must recognize that there are just as many dangers of the "virtual" sort that we need to educate our kids about. Our kids are participating in online activity every day at a younger and younger age. At the same time, the incidence of inappropriate activity by online predators is growing. So, let's include lessons that teach kids how to say no online as well as in person.


Justice carries a sword. But she's also blind!

Okay, I know this is a little off topic, but I couldn't help wondering about this story on CNN. In Wisconsin, a man did what few of us would - he tried to help when he heard (mistakenly) a women in distress. Instead of being considered a hero, he now faces criminal charges - for, among other things, carrying a sword. Sure he made a mistake, and without question, he should compensate for his actions. But to face a criminal charge for trying to do the right thing sends the wrong message on every level imaginable. In some States there are laws that make it illegal to ignore somebody in distress. Shouldn't we also consider laws that protect those who do step up, who may possibly put themselves at risk, to help?

Much of what I blog about here is aimed at protecting our kids and ourselves from potential harm online. As individuals, we must take personal responsibility to look after ourselves. But at the same time, we're taking action to protect our children. I don't imagine any one of us would hesitate to jump to their defence when we sensed danger. And wouldn't we all be willing to help anyone else's child when they face those same risks? And if we're willing to help a child, why wouldn't we also be willing to help another adult when they are in peril? I hope we can all be as willing to help as the gentleman in Wisconsin. And I hope that real justice is done so that we can all feel a little safer knowing our neighbors are looking out for us - whether it's at home or online.
Freedom is happy, but is it Safe?

During my usual surfing and blog trolling, I came across an article posted at the Mahatma Gandhi Blog referring to a recent Unicef study that shows children who live in countries that are more permissive are more happy and well adjusted. Apparently kids in the Netherlands are the most happy while the US is ranked 20 and the UK 21. Canada comes in at number 12. It was suggested that such freedoms as legalized drug use and prostitution lead to less rebelliousness and societal calm.

It's great to give children a balanced and open respect for the world around them. But I wonder how balanced a study like this really is. The internet and other electronic communications provide our kids with free access to all sorts of things that may or may not be good for them. The scary thing is that there are those out there that will exploit this freedom. Consider the recent actions in Austria where an international child pornography ring was busted. Is this the kind of freedom we want our kids exposed to? We need to provide them with a careful balance of both freedom and security. And that's something this study didn't really consider.

I, for one, don't think there's anything wrong with including security in the way we measure our happiness.


Happy Valentines

In this modern electronic age, nothing should come as a surprise anymore. I'd thought I'd heard it all until yesterday. I was picking up my son from school - okay... it's really just a glorified day care with a fancy name that sounds more like an ivy league college than a place to get the kids out of your hair for a few hours while you run off to get groceries or do some dusting. Anyway, if you have young kids you know how different and complicated the world has become for kids since we went to school. In my time, we all exchanged valentines cards, handed out treats that mom packed for us and had a little celebration in class to mark the occasion. We'd spend days writing out the little cards with all the kids names and fretting over who would like what card and if our favorite friend would return the favour. Well, no more. In today's paranoid and over-regulated world the treats are taboo because of the countless allergy rules. And I couldn't tell you the names of half the kids in class because the school won't share a list for security and privacy reasons. We resort to blank cards instead and send enough for the teachers to put into the kids mail boxes to be picked up by the parents. My son didn't even know he had received cards until he came home...

Anyway, that isn't the real point. I tell you all this just to set the stage for what happened yesterday afternoon that made my jaw drop. Did I mention I was picking up my son? Who's three and a half? Well another mom came over to me and asked if I would be willing to share my boy's e-mail address as her precious little Johnny wanted to send a valentine's message to all his friends. How sweet, I replied, but my little guy doesn't have an e-mail address, you can send it to me and I'll let him see it, I replied. It was the incredulous and shocked look on the other mom's face that was the big surprise as I handed over my business card. And I won't even mention the silly tone of voice that went along with her suggestion that "I guess it will just have to do".

Are you following me here? A three year old... with his own e-mail account! Now, as you know from the my postings here and the information I provide on my web site, I'm all about safety and security online - especially when it comes to kids. So what in the world is a three year old doing with an e-mail account? Yes it's a modern tool for communication and it's important our kids are fully versed in their use. But so is a telephone - do you let your youngster answer the phone without supervision? Would you let your child even have a phone until they were at least a reasonably responsible teenager? If e-mail is just another tool for communication, shouldn't it be reserved for those who have both the proper skill and the maturity to use it properly. I for one think so. Until then, I'll just have to suffer the annoyance of sharing cute e-mail messages with my son at my side. It won't be long before he's off to a real college with a pretentious name and we won't have that time together, so I'll enjoy it while I can.


CETS wins Award

Congratulations to the creators of CETS (Child Exploitation Tracking System) for winning yet another award - this one from Imagine Canada. You can find a great video about the system at the KINSA web site. Keep up the great work everyone!


It's everywhere

There's a breaking news story today on a child porn ring that was raided in Austria. You can find out more from CNN here. It's not all that surprising these days to hear about the authorities cracking down on people who are abusing kids, so what's the big deal with nabbing a few sickos in Europe? Well, the big deal is that the police have not only arrested a number of bad guys for creating and distributing the filth, but they have also picked up a whole bunch of consumers, too. There's a couple of things interesting about all this. First, by targeting both the producers and the users, the authorities have tried to eliminate both supply and demand in one fell swoop. As long as there is a demand there will be somebody willing to supply it. So it's about time we did something about both ends of the chain. The other thing to note is that authorities have identified users all over the world - 77 countries - including the US and Canada. They have provided authorities here with the internet addresses of users and we can only hope they follow up with some action here too. What all this shows, in glaring flashing warning lights, is that the internet allows this sort of crime to be quickly and easily spread all over the world. While it's wonderful to see that police are being more cooperative, the reality is that the internet allows people to hide quite effectively. We can't rely on the authorities to be everywhere, so we must all be diligent in protecting ourselves to the best of our ability. Remember, protecting your kids from finding this sort of thing online is a vital link in the chain. Let's hope we see more stories like this one in the very near future.


Surfs Up, Dude!

I've be a little slow lately on the blogging front as I've been surfing up a storm. I've been tracking down more sites and resources about online safety from all over the world. Some are great, some are good, and some are just a waste of bandwidth. The point is that there is a lot of information out there about protecting kids. That tells me I'm not the only one who sees this concern as something that really needs attention. Parents all over the world have the same concerns you and I do about the online world and how best to both protect our kids and give them the freedom to explore the wonders available. The problem with finding help and advice is the same as the internet in general - it's hard to sort out the good from the bad. Well, that's what this blog and my web site are all about. I hope to help steer you to the places I think have some real merit and value. That way, you won't have to waste a lot of time surfing the seven seas like I've been doing over the past few days.

So, here's my first recommendation. Check out this great site created by the Guardian Angels. You remember them - they're the folks made famous for wearing red berets around New York to discourage bad behaviour and reduce crime in the really tough parts of town where police seldom bothered to go. Their site is a great resource for parents, educators and even law enforcement. It has tips and help, and even a way to report abuse if you're a victim. It's the kind of help that makes some parts of the internet worth surfing.

Oh, yeah, check out the recent updates on my website at http://www.kidfriendlyinternet.com/ where I've been busy updating my links to include lots of great places like the one I mentioned above.