Magazine article Momentum

What's Going on Online?

Magazine article Momentum

What's Going on Online?

Article excerpt

The greatest online threat to teens and preteens may come from their interactions with each other

Whether or not your school uses the Internet in the classroom, chances are students are surfing the net at home, with varying levels of supervision.

Never before have children led the way in mastering a new technology, especially one so powerful as the Internet. At the advent of television and radio parents were right there with their students, watching, listening, learning and monitoring. Not so with the Internet, which has become an unregulated jungle.

The much-publicized issues of Internet pornography and pedophile stalkers are only part of the problem. Many would argue that the greatest online threat to teens and preteens comes from their interactions with each other.

Even with parental supervision, teens and preteens are more likely to face porn posted by a classmate than by a professional Web site. Students are more likely to be harassed online by a classmate than by a stranger. Other hidden problems of the Internet include cyberbullying, posting of nude or inappropriate photos and language on Web sites and academic plagiarism.

In this never-ending battle, even if administrators successfully regulate Internet usage while students are in the school building, that doesn't eliminate discipline issues related to home Internet use. Students bring this baggage to school with them.

Safeguards for School and Home

In order to deal effectively with the repercussions of students' online activity, rules must be in place before they are needed. According to Parry Aftab, a leading Internet and privacy lawyer, "Administrators need legal advice on what they can and cannot do. The best way to do this is to meet with an Internet lawyer to set policy ahead of time, to be proactive rather than reactive, so the school can take action without getting in legal trouble."

Nancy Matteo, principal of St. Andrew School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, has a multi-pronged approach designed to eliminate most problems before they occur. As a precaution for classroom use, the school uses a blocking system to block objectionable Web pages. No student is permitted to use a computer unless a teacher is present and can see the computer screen.

The school has a comprehensive acceptable-use policy provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that, combined with the school handbook, allows the school to step in if bullying or harassment occurs outside of school.

"Parents and students must sign these documents or else the student is not permitted to use the school's computers," Ms. Matteo said. "If a child's form is not returned to school, then that child sits out while the rest of the class takes part. I usually have the form the next day."

The acceptable-use policy/school handbook should include policies, expectations and consequences. The list of forbidden activities should include plagiarizing, tampering with the school's computers in any way or trying to circumvent the school's blocking system. These should apply in or out of school.

"If you set the bar high, students will meet your expectations," Ms. Matteo says.

Block access to circumventors. A popular teacher-rating Web site (www.ratemyteachers.com) is so incensed that schools would block access to its site that it provides a link to another site (www.peacefire.org) where students can learn how to bypass blocking software. The site teaches students how to set up a proxy server, which means that an off-site computer acts as a "middle man," fooling the school's computer into thinking it's visiting a valid Web site. Once connected to the off-site computer, students then can visit whatever Web sites they want.

"Fortunately, circumventors are not that easy to set up," according to Charlie Newton, a spokesman from Cybersitter, a blocking software company. "Students would need to have the computer access and the equipment to run a server in order to set these up. …

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