Net-savvy parents shield children from harmful sites

by Yugo Hirano

Kyodo

A movement is spreading across Japan to train parents to be more Internet-savvy when it comes to protecting their children from harmful sites, after the enactment of a new law this summer.

The Diet passed a bill in June aimed at controlling Web sites considered harmful to children. The law obliges Internet service providers and cell phone operators to offer filtering services to prevent people under the age of 18 from browsing such material.

But the law has been criticized for failing to cover all sites deemed harmful to minors.

The Association of Media Studies, a nonprofit organization in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, is actively promoting the training of mothers and fathers in what it describes as “cell phone literacy” — the ability to use such phones and recognize problems associated with their use in accessing the Internet.

The Ibaraki and Tottori prefectural governments are holding training courses in cooperation with the association and the PTA, while in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, an executive committee involving municipal assembly members was inaugurated in February to consider such Internet problems.

In conjunction with the association, the Gunma Prefectural Government has been offering a course to train “child-safe Internet instructors” since fiscal 2005, with the aim of having them visit elementary and junior high schools to raise awareness and educate children about cell phone Web access.

So far, 27 people have become instructors and have organized the Action Committee for a Gunma Children Safe Network, giving three or four lectures a month and holding a monthly meeting to exchange information.

One male instructor visited a primary school in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, in late July to brief children’s parents and guardians on the Internet and harmful sites.

“One young girl, who registered her name with a prize contest site, was then linked to an online dating site and charged ¥500,000,” he said. He also said there were “quite a few cases of children giving out other people’s private information, such as telephone numbers, without any ill intent.”

Hidenori Iizuka, the 41-year-old chairman of the action committee, said: “I used to pay attention only to my child’s telephone bills, but I learned that money was not the problem. It’s important to have ‘human filtering’ services by which parents or guardians can manage their children’s use of mobile phones.”