The Future of Internet Safety Education: Critical Lessons from Four Decades of Youth Drug Abuse Prevention
I will be sharing a collection of recent internet safety research pieces. The first one shared was McAfee’s Survey Results: The Secret lives of Teens, this is the second installment.
Publicity about online “predators” has raised considerable alarm about the extent to which Internet activities put children and adolescents at risk for sexual abuse and exploitation. More recently, concerning media stories of cyberbullying victimization and “sexting” have added to parental and community worries about the potential risks of youth technology use.
However, it is not clear what kinds of information are currently being delivered to youth and in what formats. Formal and informal programs are requested regularly by school and community leaders. A variety of presentation and classroom materials have been made available for use, with many communities developing their own materials. And the information offered to youth cover a range of topics: “Internet predators”; cyber-bullying and harassment; avoidance of pornography, violence, and hate sites; and sexual image production and distribution by youth or “sexting.” Internet safety programs can include broader educational objectives as well, such as promoting youth “digital citizenship”.
Unfortunately, there is no research evidence that compares the success of available programs, examines what materials or educational approaches are effective, or studies how programs are actually being implemented in communities. Outcome evaluations have been limited in sophistication and so far show no evidence that Internet safety programs reduce risky online behaviors by youth or prevent negative experiences.
Internet safety education proponents would do well to study the history of youth drug and alcohol abuse prevention, in particular. There are striking similarities in the political contexts of the two initiatives and the intensity of public concern. And there are parallels in our eagerness to prevent Internet victimization and early rushed efforts to prevent youth drug abuse in the 1970s and 80s. Internet safety proponents have a real opportunity to avoid reinventing the wheel. The remainder of the essay reviews the history of drug abuse prevention, from the large scale roll-out of Project DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in the 1980s, to the intensive efforts over the last two decades to improve youth drug abuse prevention. Critical lessons for youth Internet safety education are emphasized, with ideas about what program developers and funding agencies can do now to optimize Internet safety.