05/10/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
As our workplaces, homes and schools become ever more wired, many parents find it increasingly difficult to know what their children encounter online. Our recent story on teens and Internet pornography went to the heart of the issue: how a fast-changing culture can outpace the maturity of teenagers and how important it is for parents to understand and address what their kids are seeing—and feeling.
"Thank you for the article and for letting me know I'm not the only parent dealing with cyberporn," one Texas mother wrote to the magazine. Added another from South Carolina: "It's nice to know I'm not alone in this battle." Other readers also were grateful, but many were searching for ways to help them cope. Experts agree that the best solution is cooperation and open dialogue among students, parents and educators. One example of a community taking this enlightened approach is Riverdale, N.J., a town mentioned in our story. This suburban town's school computer system is hooked into a countywide network that provides not only Internet access but also content filters that help keep unsuitable Web sites off school computers. Teachers at the pre-K-8 school provide students with training on appropriate Internet use. In January the local PTA also hosted a daylong event with students, teachers and parents that included Parry Aftab, an Internet safety expert, and FBI agent Tim Nestor of the bureau's Innocent Images Task Force, part of an initiative available in many parts of the country that, among other things, helps educate families on a range of cybersafety issues.
Other resources that offer help to families include Aftab's organization Wired Safety (www.wiredsafety.org), where parents can find information on all sorts of cybersecurity issues involving children. Parents can also log on to www.netsafekids.org, a Web site run by the National Academies and based on the National Research Council's 2002 report Youth, Pornography and the Internet.
Talking about teens and Internet safety can be difficult. Talking to teens about Internet safety can be even tougher. But it's in the public discussion of such challenging issues that parents can find hope and help on how to deal with this threat to our children and families.