ABA aims to make Net chat safe for kids

ABA aims to make Net chat safe for kids

In the week that Microsoft's MSN operation announced that it was to close its chatrooms in Australia and around the world as a result of their increasing use for criminal activity, particularly from paedophiles, the Australian Broadcasting Authority's (ABA) announcement of an initiative to teach children how to chat safely on the Internet is very timely indeed.

Such is the popularity of chatrooms with young people that they have become a magnet for paedophiles, who use the anonymity that the Internet brings to pass themselves off as children or young teenagers in order to build up relationships with other youngsters – a term known as "grooming" – with the intention of developing a bond and building up the trust of a child to such an extent that the child will be persuaded to meet up with them.

To prevent youngsters being lured into such dangerous situations, the ABA today launched a Net safety game in Australian schools called "Net Detectives."

Originally developed by the UK-based Internet safety body Childnet International in partnership with a number of other community bodies, Net Detectives uses the Internet itself to teach young people key Internet safety messages – especially those related to use of Internet chat rooms. The ABA, by agreement with Childnet, has adapted the activity for use in Australian schools, as part of its program of activities to educate the community about Internet safety.

"With more and more families going online all the time, and chat rooms being particularly popular amongst young people, it's important to understand how to manage the potential risks associated with this activity. In particular, the ABA is concerned children may experience contact from people who are not who they say they are," said ABA Chairman Professor David Flint.

Nigel Williams, Chief Executive of Childnet, who attended today's launch, said, "Net Detectives has proved very successful in Europe and won two prestigious awards. We are delighted to work with the ABA to provide an additional fun way of communicating internet safety to Australian children."

The Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, was also on hand to formally launch the initiative at International Grammar School (IGS), Ultimo. Students from IGS, and the other schools participating in the launch, will play the role of Mr Saunders, a teacher who learns that one of his pupils, Sarah Walker, appears to be being bullied. Guided by a series of clues, children work in teams to solve the mystery of what is concerning Sarah, and why. Along the way they learn some important tips for chatting safely online.

The activity will be managed by a group of Internet safety experts, including representatives of the Internet industry and education, law enforcement and child welfare bodies, who will deliver clues and respond to questions from the virtual 'control room'.

The key messages that the initiative is looking to get across is that parents should monitor their children's use of the Internet, particularly chat rooms; children should never give out personal information while chatting online; and if children want to meet someone face to face who they have met online, they should always take a parent with them.

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