Internet Ethics: There's One More Talk You Need To Have
Not long ago my son received his driver's license. In Virginia, this is a big deal—the ceremony takes place at the county court where a black-robed judge, a police officer and a defense attorney all address the drivers about their newly acquired freedom. It is an impressive rite of passage that marks a teenager's assumption of important new powers and responsibilities.
As I watched the ceremony, I was struck by the difference between our approach to teaching kids to drive and teaching them to use computers. Cars and computers are both powerful tools that can do wonderful or terrible things—depending on whose hands are on the wheel or whose fingers are on the keyboard. Most parents know that inducting a teenager into the world of driving requires more than teaching him the mechanics. (Imagine it: "There's the gas pedal, steering wheel, brake and keys—have fun, dear!") They tell their kids that irresponsible behaviors like driving drunk and speeding endanger others on the road. But because most parents did not grow up using computer technology (and may even fear it), they don't understand how much damage kids can cause with computers. Our children, however, know this well.
Years ago, when my son was in elementary school, I spoke at a career day where I posed the following question to his fellow fourth graders: "How would you feel if you wrote an email message to a friend and someone hacked your Internet service provider and read it?" They were horrified! I went on. "How about if someone hacked the school computer and read your grades?" The group was unanimous and passionate: anyone who would do such a hurtful thing was the scum of the earth.
Afterward the teacher approached me privately and asked, "Can children actually do those things?" Yes, they can, and it's not that difficult. Any moderately bright teenager can do all that and more, aided by free point-and-click hacker programs openly available on the Net.
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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