Teaching Children about Ethics and the Internet

Anthony E. Fusco


I have been gathering information related to teaching children about the internet and would like to present my ideas at ETHICOMP 99. The goal is to express my views on this topic to the ETHICOMP audience in hopes of gaining valuable ideas to enrich my research and continue to move forward. The conference would be an ideal place to present this topic to educators from all over the world. I hope to gain valuable information based on their teaching practices, experiences, and ideas.

In a school near my hometown, I volunteered in a program to teach first-graders about families and human values. I also tried to explain to them how theses values play a role in the use of a computer. This experience taught me that first-graders may be too young to understand what computers are all about, but if they can develop a clear set of values early in their lives, they will be able to apply them to all aspects of life, including computers.

We need to provide to children an understanding of what people can do with a computer as well as what they shouldn’t do. They need to understand early that it is not right to steal others’ programs, or to cause harm to others by the use of a computer. They have to be made aware of the consequences of using computers for harm. Children’s minds are like sponges that absorb huge amounts of information from home, from friends, in school, on television. They need some form of education regarding the role of computers and the effects they have on society. What methods are available to do this? How does one begin to develop a strategy to discuss this topic in a way that is taken seriously?

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 was developed in the USA to protect information from and about children. In addition, there are various groups on the internet that help provide information to parents and children on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the internet. Software programs have been created to block out unwanted sites as well as filter emails, but these programs don’t work unless they are used. Web sites pertaining to the protection of children are great, but they too are useless unless they are visited. Awareness is the key–and maybe the first step to getting the word out to teachers, parents and children about the ethical issues related to computers and the affects they have on society.

My goal at ETHICOMP99 will be to present my ideas and plans and then gather a wealth of suggestions from the many experts in computer ethics who will attend. I hope to find out first hand what is happening in other countries, and how similar issues are addressed there. Once I have gathered enough information, I then want to prepare a children’s workshop and a packet of information that could be handed out to students — a packet that addresses privacy, security, and other issues related to computers. This packet would also include class exercises that teachers could use in the classroom to help students recognize and differentiate the good from the bad.

I believe that the topic of my paper would be a valuable contribution to ETHICOMP99. It deals with a part of society that is growing and evolving very rapidly. The use of computers by children in the present will lead to the use of computers by adults in the future. Teaching children the proper computer use early can build a solid foundation for their future and for the future of computer ethics.