Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Georgia's F3 Program Keeping Children Safe Online

We live in a fast-paced world where it seems as though everyone is multitasking while they are multitasking. Most of this can be credited to the fact that technology and the way and how we communicate - social networking sites, blogging, texting, video phones, etc. - just keeps on changing and growing at a pace that none of us, not even the tech-savvy ones among us, can really keep up with.

This is a big concern when it comes to how to keep children and students safe from the threats that can come along with the technology. This harm is in the form of predators and not-so-child-friendly websites that are lurking out on the internet - just waiting to find them.

"Before the issue was getting schools connected to technology and now it is cybersafety," said Claudia Huff, Principal Research Associate for Foundations for the Future at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Foundations for the Future (F3), a collaboration of Georgia Tech researchers working with government and industry support to ensure universal K-12 technology access and effective use in Georgia, has been around since 1996 helping schools and school districts around Georgia acquire technology and use technology through technical assistance, professional development workshops, proposal writing assistance, technology demonstrations, conference sponsorship and strategic planning.

With all of this information and technology know-how, F3 is now on the forefront of cybersafety research. To date, F3's research has concluded that there has been a significant rise in cyber crimes against children within the last decade. Some of the findings include that the rise in cyber crimes may come from the fact that 39% of youth have given out personal information online; only one in four youth who received a sexual solicitation online reported the incident to an adult; and more than 1/3 of students in grades five through eight say their parents would disapprove if they know what they did online.

F3 has also identified common threats for children online, including online child predators, access to inappropriate materials, cyberbulling and harassment, identity theft, and the list goes on.

These overwhelming statistics and threats brought on an initiative by F3 focused on cybersafety for K-12. This initiative is a holistic approach which focuses on awareness and prevention among teachers, parents and community organizations. According to F3, one of the main issues with cybersafety is that children just aren't taught how to be safe and what precautions to take.

"Adults today really aren't teaching children how to be safe on the net," says Jessica Pater, Cyber Security Researcher for Foundations for the Future. "It's not about taking technology away, it's about grooming children to be responsible," Pater adds.

F3 believes that preventive measures for cybersafety need to be taken beyond just common awareness-building levels. and on to comprehensive knowledge applications that aim towards altering behaviors of children while on the internet and using all types of communications technology. As a result of these proposed preventive measures, F3 is confident that children will be able to better protect themselves while using the internet and other forms of communications technology.

This cybersafety initiative is a collaborative effort between F3 at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the DeKalb County School System, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and GPB Education.

F3 and its partners have created a 5-year plan for reaching its goal of prevention by raising awareness and taking action in the state of Georgia. F3 believes this initiative could be implemented nationwide.

Claudia Huff, Principal Research Associate at F3, may have summed everything up best by saying "Keep up, keep ahead and keep informed."

More information about F3 and the Cybersafety Initiative.

Check out F3's monthly newsletter that lists safe websites for the whole family to enjoy.