Internet use by children and adults has grown considerably over the past few years. Parents are concerned about children viewing adult content on the World Wide Web and being approached by strangers by e-mail. (This article presents general statistical findings of Internet use by children, discusses the recent Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and summarizes online child safety considerations.)
Parents will find the selective bibliography of online and print resources helpful as they implement family online safety guidelines.
Internet Use by Children
Grunwald Associates, a marketing research and consulting firm, announced in June of 2000 that Internet use by children aged 2 to 17 has tripled since 1997. Twenty-five million children regularly accessed the Internet in 2000, compared with eight million in 1997. Projections indicate that by the year 2005 Internet use by children will increase by 70 percent. Grunwald's survey results suggest that Internet use by children has increased exponentially because online activities by mothers have grown from 4.5 million in 1997 to 16.4 million in 2000 (Wong, 2000).
Parent survey comments indicate children's educational needs are the primary consideration when purchasing a family computer (Wong, 2000). With this in mind, librarians have a unique opportunity to suggest appropriate reputable Internet sites and offer online safety considerations to enhance student identification and utilization of authoritative Internet educational resources.
During a February 2001 presentation titled "Parenting the Internet: Net Savvy Mothers," parents living in a suburban community in Ohio were asked how their family used Internet resources. Most regularly used e-mail, visited specific sites, made travel arrangements, performed basic searching and occasionally participated in chat rooms. Interestingly, many parents were unaware that local library catalogs and electronic databases were accessible from home. They were not familiar with online research sources such as databases, almanacs and encyclopedias.
Ohio library users are fortunate to have access to the Online Public Library Information Network (OPLIN) (http://www.oplin.lib.oh.us). In addition to electronic research databases and other thematic web resources, OPLIN users can access their local library catalog off-site by entering their library card number to authenticate use. INFOhio, (http://www.infohio.org), the information network for schools, also provides basic research databases with home and school access. These resources are available free to every school in Ohio and are particularly valuable to provide a basic level of online information resources for all schools regardless of financial resources.
According to a Jupiter Consumer Survey in July of 2000, 61 percent of children aged 5-12 and 95 percent of teenagers aged 13-17 use e-mail. For homework and/or school research, online resources are used by 55 percent of children aged 5-12 and 68 percent of children aged 13-17 (Information Please, 2001). Since more than half of the children in both age groups are using the Internet for research, teacher-librarians have a wonderful opportunity to partner with parents to promote safe and effective information literacy skills and safe exploration of this valuable resource.
Safety on the Internet
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was signed into law on October 21, 1998, and subsequently effective on April 21, 2000. COPPA was designed to protect the online privacy of children under the age of 13. Accordingly, commercial web sites must obtain parental permission to collect, use or disclose personal information from children under age 13. Privacy policies must be posted on web sites whenever personal information is requested, and the policy must include the kind of personal information collected, its intended use and whether it will …