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Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 14:33 GMT
How safe is the net for kids?
You put your questions to Home Office Minister Hilary Benn in a LIVE webchat.
The government is starting a new £1m campaign to warn children of the dangers of paedophiles who use internet chartrooms.
The television, radio and website messages, being broadcast throughout January, aim to make parents and youngsters aware of how to surf the web safely.
One advert features the voice of a young boy talking about his hobbies, but as the camera pans down it reveals a man in his forties speaking with the child's voice.
There is also a new set of guidelines for internet service providers, who offer chat and instant messaging services.
Home Office Minister Hilary Benn said he hoped the campaign would give parents and children "basic safety messages" without demonising the internet.
Will the campaign succeed in making surfing safer for children? How widespread is the problem?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Rik van Riel, Brazil/Netherlands
The trouble with the internet is it's not regulated. Advertisements blatantly breach TV and press rules and are incredibly devious. Even respected well known companies have links to rip-off products and advertising on their sites. It's high time there was regulation so that anything offensive would not be found inadvertently by kids or the unwary.
The internet and anything on it should be introduced to children and its use monitored until the parents are happy the child is responsible to make decisions for themselves. Would you let your 10-year-old out of the house into a big city to socialise with anyone, with no control over who they interact with? No? Well why do parents let kids freely use the net?
I work on the internet for a living. I think I understand the dangers posed by people in chat rooms, and at the risk of sounding alarmist, there is no such thing as being paranoid enough when it comes to kids. It's pretty straight forward. Parents, never let your child sit alone at the computer. Stay with them and they will be fine. If you want to make sure they are not on, do a little research for yourself and look up how to set a "BIOS password". Then your kids will be unable to get on with out you there.
Iain Monks, England
I used to supervise an after school program where kids were allowed to chat on the net. I had just one rule for them - they could only talk to people they knew in real life. And I would ask them to tell me about the person they were talking to - how they knew them - just to make sure I was on top of what they were up to.
I never use chat rooms. Nobody can trust a web chat room or forum that anybody can access and use and is operated by people you don't know about. Surely it is safer to let kids use MSN Messenger or a chat program like that, which is operated by a big company and you can choose whether or not to put someone on your contact list. That way, they can chat to their friends a lot more safely.
I wonder where the parents of these children are, and whether they would be as keen to let them explore a pub or even a high street unaccompanied. It is sheer madness that people expect discussion areas designed for adults to be as predictable and as well supervised as a television station. How sad it is that every medium has to be dumbed down until it is suitable only for children.
Bekah, 12, UK
I am a child and I agree with Bekah very much! They should put filters on the internet so that children can't look at bad language and disgusting sites!
The real danger here is not abduction by paedophiles, which thankfully is extremely rare. The danger is that children who spend their childhood on internet chat rooms when they should be outside getting some exercise are going to be at risk in later life of getting premature heart disease.
Karen Matthews, USA/UK
The internet is a world full of many things like the world outside your door. It is no place for children to wander freely. A parent should be with a child on the internet. Once again the government is trying to destroy the innocence of our children. It is better that children don't know about all the sick minded people out there. What the world needs is better parents.
If I had kids I would make sure my modem was unplugged before I let them anywhere near the internet. I've seen too many crazy things one mouse click away that it's just too much of a risk to let them near it, even supervised.
I support the guidelines in warning kids and parents rather than trying to force changes on the internet itself. You would not let a child wander out on its own talking to strangers, just because its on a computer, it is still the same thing. The internet isn't a virtual nanny either, it was designed by adults, primarily for adults.
Surfing the net has always been, and is still safe. Agreeing to meet people from net chat rooms is the dangerous part. I myself have tried internet dating, and have had one or two scary experiences. However, the latest meeting did end up with her becoming my wife, so its not all bad. Getting back to children and the internet - why not simply lock out chat rooms to kids, and make them adult only? Password them all, requiring payment for passwords, similar to porn sites?
Matt Smith, West Yorks, UK
Some chat rooms and forums that claim to be monitored or moderated are not.
I have seen a multinational company that has several forums, including one aimed at teens, being completely abused. There are sexually explicit comments aimed at youths as young as 10 or 12. There are offers of "modelling work" aimed at 12 to 16
girls. There are teens posting their home phone numbers on the forum.
But the disclaimer at the top says that site is safe and it is a well
known brand, so parents (after the new awareness campaign) will
feel comfortable about allowing their children to post their details.
Companies need to be held responsible for their actions - they
spend millions on marketing to attract their users, then they do
nothing to support or protect vulnerable groups (a broad
generalisation, yes, but you get my point).
All the government can say is "guidelines". I am part of an American site with all the administrators of the site either American or Canadian. I have mentioned that some things they do are breaking UK law but they don't care and say that they are an American site. With this kind of attitude you will not get any campaign to work if other countries do not agree with the policy.
Rather than having the government tell us what to do -
why don't parents take responsibility !!!
Parents, read the logs from the chatrooms, it doesn't take long, you can always find out what your children are doing.
It's a nice idea thinking that if we take the necessary precautions our children will be fine, but in my opinion, you should tell them not to divulge any information, and then there's not much else you can do. Bombarding them with useless Dos and Don'ts will yield very little. Few children would pass over the opportunity of a good laugh just because they fear they'll see a naughty word on the site their mothers warned you about. You have to either trust them, or not let them on the internet, the rest is up to them once they know the risks.
Steve T, England
I think the guidelines suggested for children using the internet apply to surfers of all ages. I think parents need to get more involved in what their children are doing 'on-line' without going too over-board. Children need to be made aware of the dangers, but in a way that doesn't frighten them or make them worry about everything they do on-line, but wrapping them up in cotton wool isn't the answer, either.
I have two children one is at the moment too young to use the internet, the other is just starting to get involved under my supervision. On my pc I have Norton firewall software which has parental control but also has other areas which stops any e-mail address, house address or any other info that is set up on the software being sent over the internet, these tools are not that expensive and I think that this could help to prevent some of these problems.
None of the above advice should be aimed just at children - it should be common sense for ANYONE who uses the Internet.
You say to tell an adult if something is amiss, but in reality this would result in the parents stopping the child using the internet as many parents are technophobes and would not know what to do except restrict the use of the internet. Which may encourage the child to use the internet secretly which is surely more dangerous?
For more information there are two websites: The web site: www.wiseuptothenet.co.uk. is really aimed at parents. There is another website which is more directed at children: www.thinkuknow.co.uk.
06 Jan 03 | UK
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