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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Parents need safe surfing lessons too
An EU funded project is attempting to educate parents and children about online dangers
Parents and kids are getting advice about safe surfing
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Parents keen to ensure their children stay safe online are being advised to become as familiar with web browsing and chatting technology as their offspring.

Greater familiarity would mean that parents have a better idea of what their children are getting up to online, and make more sensible decisions about policing net time.

The knowledge would also mean that if children are subjected to unwelcome attention, parents can gather evidence to help the police.

The advice comes from an EU-backed project that is researching ways for children to stay safe when using the web.

Online advice

In January this year the European Union gave 500,000 to create The Once Project - a group that is researching the dangers facing children online, and drawing up teaching aids for schools and parents.

Project co-ordinator Dr Rachel O'Connell said children cannot be adequately protected by issuing them with a list of safety tips which they have to learn off by heart.

Far better, she said, was for both teachers and parents to work with children to show how what they do online can put them at risk, or bring them face to face with unsavoury websites.

Chatroom advice for kids
Ensure the chat room software lets you save discussions
Question the truth of information revealed by other chat-users
Uncover identifying information about others in the chat room
Interrogate the internet to find out real identities
Don't give out personal information or agree to meet other chat-users offline

Dr O'Connell said parents should not rely on schools to do the job of informing their children about the dangers of spending time online chatting or surfing. She said parents had to become familiar with the technology their children were using so they could get a better idea of the pitfalls and make sensible recommendations about the ways they could protect themselves.

Often, she said, parents are scared to admit that they are unfamiliar with computer technology in front of their children and over-react if they find out that a child has accidentally, or intentionally, looked at a pornographic website.

Web evidence

She said in the same way that someone who cannot drive a car cannot teach someone else the rules of the road, then parents who do not have a clue about how net technology works cannot hope to teach children how to surf safely.

Parents also need to be aware that children need more supervision at home than at school.

"Parents do not realise that there is a great disparity between the limited access children get at school and the full access they have at home," she said.

The Once Project recommends that parents spend time learning their way around net surfing and chatting software with the help of their children. This should help ensure that children are happy to tell their parents about anything unsavoury they see online, or if they are being targetted by paedophiles.

Dr O'Connell said the safe surfing advice issued by the Once Project will help children gather evidence about the identity of anyone that bothers them.

The Once Project is planning to produce advice packs that cover different net technologies that can be used by both parents and teachers.

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