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TWU Professor Provides Tips for Kid-

TWU Professor Provides Tips for Kid-Safe Searches Online

Back-To-School Feature

DENTON — These days, a simple click of a mouse can provide children with help on a homework problem or material for a school research paper. However, it also may provide information that parents don't want their children to see.

While some search tools screen Internet sites for age-appropriate material, a Texas Woman's University professor said filters aren't always successful in keeping children from entering inappropriate sites, and they may even deny children access to relevant information.

“The current filtering technology is flawed, because useful information often is suppressed along with questionable material,” said Dr. Lynn Akin, assistant professor of library science on TWU's Denton campus.

Akin said some search engines are edited by humans, while others use software to filter sites. Some companies use a combination of filtering technology and human reviewers. Many sites use keyword blocking, which prevents users from gaining access to sites that include the blocked terms.

Akin guided former student Hope Masterson-Krum in an independent study of kid-safe search engines. The study, which was published in the October 2001 edition of Teacher Librarian magazine, queried representatives from major kid-safe search engine companies regarding the procedures used in blocking inappropriate sites. Most companies (64 percent of respondents) used a combination of filtering technology and human reviewers, while 25 percent used an index created solely by humans.

Krum's study took the search engines on a “test drive,” using a list of terms which children might look up on the Internet, including “barbie doll,” “boys life,” “teen jobs” and “sex education.” The study found that, of the 1,280 results examined, five sites were found to be pornographic while two presented adult themes.

Krum reported that while kid-safe search engines were found to be 99 percent porn-free, access to relevant information was compromised due to keyword blocking or a failure to recognize part or all of the query.

Despite the potential pitfalls involved in online searches, Akin said, the Internet is a useful research tool for children.

“The Internet presents opportunities and challenges,” she said. “Children come into an electronic world, and the use of this technology needs to be reinforced by parents, teachers and librarians.”

Akin said most schools have an “Acceptable Use Policy,” which is a contract between the student and the teacher or school. The policy, which lists what students can and can't do online at school, is signed by the student and his or her parents. If the student violates the contract, Akin said, his or her privileges can be revoked.

Technology also enables school librarians to view the computer screen without the student's knowledge, Akin said. If a student is found to be looking at an inappropriate site, she said, the librarian can cause the screen to go blank.

Akin said parents can ensure their child's online safety at home by:

  • Becoming Internet-savvy themselves. “They need to know the process of what their child is doing,” she said.
  • Exploring child-safe search engines and knowing which one the child's teacher or librarian recommends.
  • Knowing what the child's homework is.
  • Sitting with the child at the computer on a random basis and watching what he or she does.
  • Knowing the legitimate sites and steering the child there.


For Further Information Contact:

Karen Treat
Senior Copywriter
Tel: (940) 898-3456