The Edmonton Journal
Thursday, March 25, 1999

Parents network to regain control of what their kids see on the Internet

by Laura Severs

It can happen so innocently. Your child goes on the Internet to do some research for school and ends up on an adults-only Web site. Even with a posted warning, the temptation of the flashy site with its provocatively posed women, or men, becomes just too great.

Is this just an outrageous example? Is the idea of censorship creeping into the Internet vocabulary once again? The answer is no to both questions if you're talking to Vernon Samaroo, one of the founders behind the recently launched WebParents group.

Created four months ago, WebParents' objective is to train parents to protect their children on the Internet.

"We're not advocating censorship", Samaroo stresses as he talks about WebParents. "This is about telling parents the Internet and the World Wide Web are very, very useful educational tools but they must be used properly and they must be supervised like everything else."

If not, the Internet can be a dangerous place for children, he said. Citing how a search for the word 'Lord,' as in the biblical sense, found accessible references to porn stars with that same last name, Samaroo said it is very easy for children to be led astray. Add in the sophistication used to create these sites and the tight links that "just bounce you from one site to another" and this becomes just one of the reasons to make parents aware of the dangers inherent for children on the Internet.

"In the same way that you wouldn't let your kids go wandering around the neighbourhood at night unsupervised or unescorted, then parents shouldn't let their kids use the Internet without some degree of supervision -- because the Internet is very much like the outside world", Samaroo said.

To deal with these concerns and others that parents may have, WebParents has put together a two-hour training course. At a cost of $30, it covers the Internet basics: the risks, benefits and dangers of Internet services, safety tips and Internet filters which can limit access to specified types of Web sites. The course also delves into kids' sites it approves. A second course with more of a technical bent is in the planning stage.

"Because of the generation gap a lot of parents are shy of the technology and because of that the control of the computers at home has actually been given over to the kids", Samaroo said. "We try to explain to parents that it's not rocket science, they can actually learn. (Even) if they have no interest in the computer, they can learn these steps to take control of the computer, and to make sure that their kids aren't misusing the computer or stumbling onto inappropriate stuff."

The WebParents philosophy is that kids are just curious, Samaroo said. Sometimes parents just need a wake-up call, he said.

Copyright © 1999 by The Edmonton Journal. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.