Education and Empowerment: Making the Internet Safer For Children

Posted by Caroline Curtin 
Policy Counsel, U.S. Government Affairs

Caroline Curtin

Caroline Curtin

A broad-based group representing the technology industry, public interest groups, and the federal government has released a report—“Youth Safety on a Living Internet”—that exploresindustry efforts to make the Internet a safer place for children.

The Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG) was established by the Broadband Data Improvement Act. Passed by Congress in 2008, the legislation directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create the OSTWG in order to examine industry efforts to promote online safety and evaluate the development of parental control technologies.

I participated on Microsoft’s behalf—along with more than 30 child safety experts from the public and private sectors—in the OSTWG meetings over the last year.

I learned many things during my year with the OSTWG, but one meeting particularly stands out. We invited middle and high school students from Washington, D.C. schools to talk about their experiences on the Internet. Students expressed genuine concern for their “digital reputations” and how unintended consequences of the pictures they post and messages they leave on social networks could potentially affect their ability to get into college or attain a job.

The report stresses the importance of improving the literacy of young people in the use of digital media and a greater awareness of their responsibilities as digital citizens.

At Microsoft, we believe that comprehensive Internet curricula can help children distinguish appropriate social boundaries, protect their reputation and learn how their actions can have unintended—and sometimes lasting—consequences. We encourage our partners in the federal government to provide support for digital ethics and safety curriculum programs. One way to accomplish this would be for Congress to pass legislation such as the Adolescent Web Awareness Requires Education Act. Introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the legislation would provide grants to fund programs by state and local agencies and non-governmental organizations to educate children about how to use the Internet safely and ethically.

While education alone is not for a solution to the risks kids face online, we believe that empowerment through a diverse array of easy-to-use tools for parents coupled with comprehensive Internet safety curricula for kids can make a meaningful difference. Although some parents are aware of—and use—parental controls, others do not. One way Microsoft tries to raise awareness and empower families is through the Get Game Smart site, launched in January 2009. The tools and information on this site are powerful, but their effectiveness is limited unless parents talk with their children about digital media use.

As members of the OSTWG, we were privileged to contribute to today’s report and help think through solutions to these important issues. I look forward to continuing to find more ways we can all work together to keep the exciting digital world we live in as safe and healthy as possible.


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