Children Have Two New Allies

For more information, please contact:
Annemarie Thomas or Jay Weiss

9481 SW 78 Avenue
Miami, Florida 33156

MIAMI - November 13, 2000.  Children in Miami-Dade County can rest easier knowing that Jay Weiss and Annemarie Thomas are educating their parents and educators on the hidden dangers of the Internet, and some very effective methods to mitigate those dangers.

Although they may not realize or appreciate it now, the Internet poses potential dangers in the form of pornography, hate perpetuation, the ability to buy prescription drugs without a prescription, how to build bombs, how to gamble, and enabling possible attacks by sexual predators. There are additional risks that can result in financial obligation for parents, identity impersonation, disclosure of their home address and the daily habits of themselves and their parents.

Teenagers are at risk for innocent chat room meetings becoming face-to-face meetings, as teenagers tend to be more defiant, exert their autonomy, and do not necessarily grasp the risk of meeting people that they do not know.

And "just because there is no Internet access from the home," comments Jay Weiss, one of the seminar's authors, "it doesn't follow that parents are off the hook." Adds Weiss "If not at home, children can use the Internet at school, the library, computer stores, and their friend's houses, and may of those friend's parents will not have a Internet usage policy regarding their kids' access to the net"

Mitigating the risks is complicated. There are many different options, from the non-technical to technical, each with pros and cons.

"Technology cannot stop predators from preying on children, and it cannot stop sexually explicit material from appearing on the screen," comments Annemarie Thomas, the seminar's co-author and the mother of a teenager. "Technology cannot identify intent. A child searching the Internet for the Red Footed Booby Bird might be stopped because the word 'booby' has another meaning," Thomas further states. "A web site that becomes banned by technology today can change their name and be back in business tomorrow."

Laws have not caught up with the technology, and enforcement agencies are only staffed to go after the biggest offenders. Foreign offenders are particularly difficult to regulate and will be for many years. Website operators generally rely on the honor system for determining the age of the visitor, and before entry is granted to a minor, the minor in many cases is exposed to questionable material.

The Children's' Online Protection Act, known as COPPA, attempts to protect children by prohibiting commercial Web site operators from making sexually explicit material deemed 'harmful to minors' available to those under 17. However, in August of this year, a Federal Judge barred Virginia from enforcing this law, citing that the law violates the First Amendment.

The real protection, according to Weiss and Thomas, comes from the home and the involvement of parents. Non-technical approaches such as developing and executing a family contract between the members of a family can be very effective. Other ideas such as keeping the computer in the family room can be employed.

The FBI has developed some very good signs for determining if a problem is developing with a child. These signs include if the parent notices that the child is spending large amounts of time on-line, especially at night, or finding pornography on the computer, or if the child is found to be signing onto the Internet using someone else's account.

"What's happening is that the Internet is forcing parents to deal with issues earlier than in the past," says Weiss. "Even with the best technology, an 11 year old will eventually be exposed to some level of pornography. So what do you do? You could forbid the child from using the Internet, which is not realistic, as more and more schools are utilizing the Internet as part of the learning process, or you can educate your child on how to deal with the situation when it arises. Parents must find a way to explain what the child might encounter on the Internet and how to deal with it at a level that they can understand. Shying away from the problem is not an option."

Weiss compares the Internet with a bus terminal and a situation where a child needs to travel alone. "You tell the child that there is the possibility that people will be sitting outside on the curb or inside on the floor asking the child for money. You explain that if this happens, the child's job is to look straight ahead and go directly to the bus, or to find a policeman, or a terminal agent. In the case of the Internet, parents must teach that the child's job is to immediately leave a site where the material has been found, and if they feel disturbed by any experience, to stop and tell their parents immediately."

The seminar.

Weiss and Thomas have developed a multimedia-based seminar that has been successfully delivered to several schools in South Florida. One of the schools having had the seminar is part of the Miami-Dade Public School system. The seminar is compact, engaging of the audience, and covers the following topics:

1. How kids really use the Internet
2. The Ugly Side of the Internet
3. Overview of Children's Issues
4. The Law
5. Strategy
6. Guidelines for Safe Surfing
7. Topics for Educators
8. Creation of Family Pledge
9. Authorities and Organizations
10. Technology
11. Online Resources

The seminar is appropriate for parents, corporations, and operators of institutions.

Jay Weiss is a graduate of Emory University with a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science, and St. Thomas University with a Master of Business Administration. Annemarie Thomas is a graduate of Cornell University with Bachelor and Masters degrees in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering.

For more information, please contact Annemarie Thomas or Jay Weiss at 305-632-8469. Email:

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