National School Boards Foundation. "Safe and Smart: Research and Guidelines for Children's Use of the Internet." March 28, 2000.

This report poses the following question: "Can adults craft approaches that strike a balance between safe and smart Internet usage by children?"

The National School Boards Foundation worked with Grunwald Associates, a market research and consulting firm, to develop a national survey of parents and children. The Dieringer Research Group conducted the survey and tabulated the data.

They conducted telephone interviews of parents in 1,735 randomly-chosen households with children ages two to 17. They also interviewed 601 children ages nine to 17 in those same households. In households with more than one child, parents were asked to answer questions about the Internet experiences of just one child, selected randomly.

Questions covered the following topics:


As with some of the other reports we have covered, it is important to note the funding sources for this project. In this case, support was provided by the Children's Television Workshop and Microsoft Corporation.

When interpreting the interview results, one should also remain conscious of the limitations of self-reported data. Research participants often highly under estimate or over estimate the amount of time that they actually spend engaging in given activities. They are also likely to err on the side of supplying the questioner with an answer that it seems he or she wants to hear. Parents' reports that Internet access is primarily for education, for example, reinforces a good that is socially recognized. Parents would be less likely to report things such as online game playing or even potentially harmful situations that their children might be encountering, since such reports could reflect badly on them as parents. The parents and children also provided considerably different answers about how the children actually spent their time. The researchers also invited parents to listen in on another telephone line to hear their children's answers, with one in four parents selecting to do so. While it is understandable that the researchers would want to parents to be involved in the process, this also calls into question the veracity of the children's reports.

Finally, there would seem to be a considerable disconnect between the findings and the recommendations. Though the interviews revealed some interesting data, almost none of it supports the normative component of the report. For a report that claims to take a "balanced" approach on this issue, there is also very little substantive data or discussion on the types of risks to their safety that children might currently be facing. Assertions about "unlimited potential" and the need for immediate investment in ICTs so that schools can "benefit in the long run," do not seem to be supported by any data from the report. In light of some of the controversial recommendations, such as exposing young children to the Internet and sharing students' school work over the Web, one would hope to see more empirical support. We are asked to assume, for example, "Exposure to the Internet can help preschoolers and children in the early elementary grades master literacy and other cognitive skills and also can spur integration of these skills early in their development." As described throughout this literature review, such claims have yet to be substantiated, and any recommendations based on them should be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism.

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