Parents have the right and the responsibility to exercise some control over how much television children watch and what programs they see. Parental control of television is particularly important when children are young but also applies to adolescents. Resist the temptation to use the television as a baby-sitter during the early years and prescreen as many programs as you can during the later years.
We have to accept the fact that our youngsters will be drawn to the computer screen and will want to explore the wonders of e-mail and the Internet. Unfortunately, with the advent of the Internet a culture has developed— especially among young people—that is disturbing. Advocates of this new cyberspace philosophy maintain, essentially, that the Internet, with its unlimited ability to acquire information and join the world in the discussion of ideas, is much more that a groundbreaking technological advance.
It is the driving force of a revolution of knowledge, much like the Renaissance, that holds all ideas are and should be free and in the public domain, to be shared and used, unfettered, by all.
Although the historical analogy may well be appropriate in its world-changing explosion of knowledge and ideas, it doesn't trump long-established rules of intellectual property on change the propriety and care we must take in our interactions with others—standards that exist long before the world became accessible from a little box in our homes.
It's important to impress on children that the Internet is a wonderful resource that comes with certain rules and responsibilities, not carte blanche to appropriate the ideas of others or use them in an inappropriate or cruel manner. The reason is simple, and at the heart of good manners: people can—directly or indirectly—be hurt.
Mind Your P's and Q's
The debate rages over music-swapping websites and the technology that facilitates and encourages it. Many of the legal and ethical issues are unresolved. How to handle those issues in the meantime?
Recognize that this material may well be the livelihood of someone else who is working to bring his or her music to the world. Then apply a "bricks and mortar" analogy. In other words, what would you do if the Internet did not exist, or if the technology to swap and download music files did not exist?
What if the only way you could enjoy and album or a piece of music on a regular basis were to go to the store and buy it, or climb the stairs to your brother's room, or head to a nearby friend's house to listen to it? Then follow the equivalent ways of going about that online.
Buying pirated copies or swapping them with anonymous strangers around the world at the expense or without the permission of the artist would not be appropriate in the offline world. It's equally bad manners in cyberspace.
With that in mind, make sure your children know the following:
- Good manners apply even in cyberspace.
- E-mail can be retrieved and traced to the sender. Pressing the Delete key doesn't make e-mail disappear forever, so be sure to review what you've written before you click the Send button.
- You cannot be sure that no record remains of what you download just because you move it from the hard drive to a disk. People have gone to jail on the basis of what experts have been able to retrieve from hard drives their owners thought were clear of incriminating material. So be aware that whatever you write or download in cyberspace can be read by others, and make sure that you would not be upset if it was.
- Some dangerous creeps live out there in cyberland. A correspondent who claims to be a 15-year-old cheerleader may be a 50-year-old pervert. People must be very wary of agreeing to meet a computer acquaintance in person, and never, ever meet such a person in a private place, such as a home or a secluded park.
- They will encounter some new and perhaps radical ideas on the Internet about things like drugs, sex, race, God, and Satan. Let them know that the best way to react to an idea they find intriguing or disturbing is to find out more about it and get different slants on it. Talking with parents, clergy, or someone they trust at school is always helpful.
- Make sure children understand never to respond to an e-mail that suggests a face-to-face meeting or asks for personal information such as telephone numbers, address, and credit card numbers. Explain the dangers of identity theft, how easily it can happen, and what the results are.
- When you see sites that encourage children to e-mail to it, a mental red flag should go up, and it's probably worth blocking the site.
- Teach children that anyone's request to engage in sex talk, or to post pornographic material online is dangerous. Do not be afraid to frighten your children with its dangers.
- Downloading copyrighted material from the Internet continues to be a hotly debated topic. Since the legal issues in many cases have yet to be resolved, apply some common sense, old-fashioned manners, ethics, and logic.
If you are incorporating information from the Internet into your work product or homework and claiming it as your won, it's stealing. Plagiarism is the "old fashioned" term. It's wrong. If the information is freely obtained, it's important to cite the source and quote accurately whenever you can.
If you are directly profiting—monetarily or in other ways—from information or material you obtained from the Internet—it's wrong. How would you feel if people took your stuff and claimed it as their own or used it without your permission in a way you wouldn't approve to enhance yourselves?
Sometimes it helps to apply a "bricks and mortar" analogy. For example, if you needed a certain book, you'd either have to go to the library and borrow it or buy it from a bookstore. In some cases, you might have to contact the source—or even pay a fee or agree to certain conditions—to obtain permission to use it. As much as possible, follow the same rules and considerations you would if you had no access to cyberspace. Just because the Internet makes it easy to obtain information or take shortcuts to obtaining information does not make it okay to drop all your ethical standards.