Raising Good Citizens for a Virtual World: How Do We Help Our Children be Safe and Ethical When Using the Internet? A Families Connect Course for AASL, 2000
What children and young adults need to understand.
As should be pretty obvious by now, our children are growing up in a world that has been made far more complex because it is virtual as well as physical. While in many case the ethical decisions that need to be made seem relatively black and white, there are many cases to which careful thought must be given and there are no absolutes.
It is also obvious that our children need to understand and apply home and school rules as well as local and national laws that apply to information technology use, especially those related to privacy, property and appropriateness as described in the last three lessons. Young people need to know the consequences, both immediate and long term for themselves and for society if they choose to act against those rules and laws.
As students, as employees and as citizens, all ages need to know that the ability of officials to catch individuals breaking these rules and codes of conduct is growing. Network security systems are becoming more sophisticated in tracking who uses what resource at what time. Young people need to realize that most web browsers keep a viewable log of recently visited sites, that most email includes a return address, and that some schools are using programs that record all the keystrokes a student makes during a computer session. Our children need to understand that organizations have the right to search file server space and read the email of students (and staff), especially if there is probable cause for a search. Electronic fingerprints, virtual footprints, and broken digital locks are growing more visible each day.
Children need to understand both their rights and responsibilities related to information technology use. In your home and your child’s school is Internet access a right or a privilege? As the Internet becomes a more indispensable source of information and learning activities, it may become viewed as an integral part of one’s right to an education. We have an obligation to teach our young people that they have a right to due process if charged a violation of rules or laws. Our children’s school’s Acceptable Use Policies need to articulate what that due process entails. And pragmatically, our children need to know how to protect themselves and their data from strangers, hackers, computer viruses, and unauthorized use.
What activities teach ethical behaviors?
Business Ethics magazine suggests that businesses take a proactive approach to ethical issues. That advice is also good for homes, libraries, and classrooms: As adults, we must:
- Articulate our personal values. Talk to your children about what you believe to be ethical conduct online. Set clear limits about what is allowed and what is not allowed. Be knowledgeable about your child’s school’s Acceptable Use Policy. See if the labs, libraries and classrooms your children use display lists and create handouts of conduct codes.
- Reinforce ethical behaviors and react to non-ethical behaviors. Technology use behaviors should be treated no differently than other behaviors - good or bad - and the consequences of such behaviors should be the same. It is important not to over react incidences of technological misuse either. If you caught your child reading Playboy would you take away all his or her reading privileges?
- Model ethical behaviors. All of us learn more from what others do than what they say. The ethical conduct we expect from our children, we ourselves must display. Verbalization of how we personally make decisions is a very powerful teaching tool. It’s useless to lecture about intellectual property when we as adults use pirated software!
- Create environments that help children avoid temptations. Computer screens that are easily monitored (no pun intended), passwords not written down or left easily found, and getting into the habit of logging out of secure network systems all help remove the opportunities for technology misuse. I strongly recommend that home computers that can connect to the Internet only be place in living rooms, family rooms, kitchens or dens ö NOT in a child’s bedroom. The presence of an adult is a far more effective means of assuring good behavior than any filtering software.
- Encourage discussion of ethical issues. “Cases,” whether from news sources or from actual events from your child’s experience, can provide superb discussion starters and should be used when young people are actually learning computer skills. Children need practice in creating meaningful analogies between the virtual world and the physical world. How is reading another person’s email without their permission like and unlike reading their physical mail?
- Stress the consideration of principles rather than relying on a detailed set of rules. Although sometimes more difficult to enforce in a consistent manner, a set of a few guidelines rather than lengthy set of specific rules is more beneficial to children in the long run. By applying guidelines rather than following rules, young learners engage in higher level thinking processes and internalize behaviors that will continue into their adult lives. Think how wonderfully the Golden Rule applies to so many situations: Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. Children who have internalized that concept can make good ethical choices whether in the classroom, on the playground, or at the supper table.
- Help children understand that ethical behaviors are in their own long-term best interest. Rules of society exist because they tend to make the world a safer, more secure and more opportunity-filled place.
Additionally, children’s understandings of ethic concepts need to be assessed. Technology use privileges should not be given until an individual has demonstrated that he or she knows and can apply ethical standards and school policies. While this is done informally at home, schools need to test appropriate use prior to students gaining online privileges such as email accounts or Internet access. Your child’s teacher or librarian should keep evidence of testing on file in case there is a question of whether there has been instruction on appropriate use.
Your children’s schools also have an obligation to educate their parents about ethical technology use. Through school newsletters, talks at parent organization meetings, and through school orientation programs, the school staff needs to inform and enlist the aid of parents in teaching and enforcing good technology practices.
Finally, ethical instruction needs to be on going. A single lesson, a single incident, or a single curriculum strand will not suffice. All of us - parents, teachers, librarians, and community members - must integrate ethical instruction into every activity that uses technology. Good parenting is an ongoing process even in the virtual world!
- To what extent should schools and businesses be able to monitor and track student or employee computer use?
- Are there arguments to be made for a young person keeping a computer connected to the Internet in his or her room?
- Safety is an important and often required part of learning to use dangerous, technology-intense activities such as diving with scuba equipment, driving a car, or shooting a firearm. Can the use of the computer ever place one in enough physical danger to warrant mandatory safety training?
Acceptable Use Policy: a set of guidelines or rules adopted by a school or other organization that governs Internet, network and information technology use.
Computer crime: a crime committed using a computer, usually to gain access to restricted files, systems or information. These crimes can resemble trespassing, vandalism, or theft.
Computer virus: a small, intentionally created computer program that caused damage to computer workstations, personal computers or computer networks. This is a generic term that also includes worms, Trojan horses, and bombs. There have been over 2000 identified and are often spread by being attached to files that are sent through networks.
Data privacy: - the concept that an individual has a right to say who has personal information about him or her and how that information is used. With the spread of digital information gathering and record keeping, data privacy is becoming more difficult to maintain.
Flame: a emotionally, often profane, response to an action or statement in a chat room, electronic discussion group, or newsgroup.
Hacker/Cracker: an individual who gains unauthorized access to computerized information or computer systems. The term “cracker” implies there is malicious intent to the access.
Intellectual property rights: the concept that a person’s ideas, writings, and constructions (like computer software) that may not exist in a physical sense should be treated as property and the creators or owners of this property have rights to its sale, use, and control.
Netiquette: a term taken from a combination of “network” and “etiquette” that means a code of polite, thoughtful or respectful behaviors to be followed while using networks, including the Internet.
Newbie: a new user of networked resources who may not yet know the rules of “netiquette” and runs a risk of being “flamed” for rude behavior.
Plagiarism: the use of another’s ideas or words as one’s own.
Pornography: material, usually of a sexually explicit nature, that is inappropriate for use under certain conditions - in a school, with children, where unlawful or where its presence can be considered a form of harassment.
Virtual space: the environment created by computer networks in which data is stored and communication transpires. Also termed “cyberspace.” Virtual spaces often have analogous physical counterparts:
the virtual library the library building
email physical letters
chat rooms coffee shops or salons
online bookstores physical bookstores