Tonawanda News

June 24, 2009

GUEST VIEW: Teen Internet safety must be a priority

By U.S. Rep. Chris Lee

Through the Internet, with a few keystrokes and the click of a button, a young person can call up information for a research project, make new friends or discover new hobbies.

At the same time, responding to what may seem like a friendly e-mail or an appealing marketing offer can have serious consequences. Private information and images can so easily be transmitted to friends and strangers alike.

Indeed, for as much promise as the Internet offers young people in the form of educational resources and social connections, there is great concern about the dangers and unknowns associated with a medium that is growing by several billion web pages per day.

A 2007 study conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children documented a number of alarming trends with regards to teen Internet usage. For instance, the study found that nearly seven in 10 teens regularly receive personal messages online from people they don’t know. Sixty-four percent post photos or videos of themselves, while 58 percent post info about where they live. Nearly two in 10 teens say they have been harassed or bullied online.

It is not difficult for parents to feel helpless when their children know more about how to navigate the Internet than they do. This is a challenge communities should confront together.

That’s why I recently helped pass the Student Internet Safety Act (H.R. 780), critical legislation that gives schools the tools they need to educate students on the dangers of the Internet.

Specifically, schools will have the ability to educate students about appropriate online behavior, protect them from online predators and promote the involvement of parents in Internet usage. Preparing families for what they might encounter on the Internet will make it that much easier to stop online predators in their tracks.

This bill achieves these goals at no additional cost to taxpayers by allowing states to make use of existing federal grant programs to develop and implement Internet safety initiatives. What’s more, local schools will have the ability to tailor these programs to their students without intervention from Washington.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has endorsed the Student Internet Safety Act.

Protecting our students is one of my highest priorities. Earlier this year, I introduced the Student Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 781.) Also endorsed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, this legislation would establish uniform rules for dealing with accusations of sexual abuse by school employees and a nationwide database of those convicted of such crimes. Schools should be a place of safety and learning, not danger and abuse, for our young people.

The Student Internet Safety Act represents an important step in our efforts to crack down on online predators, and I will continue to be a very vocal advocate for this measure while it is pending in the United States Senate.

Chris Lee is a Republican who represents New York’s 26th congressional district, which includes North Tonawanda.