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Internet Safety


Kids and the Internet: How to Improve Your New Media Parenting Skills

(ARA) - Do you have a member of the "Clickerati" at your house? They are otherwise known as today's tech-savvy generation of children who are light years ahead of their parents when it comes to new media. They were using computers almost before they could talk, and can find virtually anything -- from music to movies to games -- on the Internet.

But they're still kids. And just as adults watch out for their children when it comes to what they eat, or the books and toys they play with, parents should also be aware of what their kids are doing online. Twenty-first century parents need to "catch up"; they should take the time to find out what is available on the Web and guide their children accordingly.

An excellent resource designed for kids and intended to help families explore the Internet together is MaMaMedia.com. One of the only independent sites available for young people, this kids-oriented guide to the Net offers a variety of engaging activities to help users gain technological fluency and expand their minds through playful learning. Children can design and animate characters, make their own digital cards, invent games and share ideas -- all within a colorful, entertaining format.

Aimed at kids 12 and under, the site includes a number of innovative, interactive educational opportunities. A "Romp" channel allows kids to explore the Web safely by providing a visual directory organized into seven categories, each with hundreds of sites carefully selected by the MaMaMedia editorial team. Users can also visit "Zap" where they can make digital creatures and screens, or "Surprise" where they can create stories and cartoons. The site also has companion areas that provide information and guidance for parents and educators.

"MaMaMedia prides itself on creating innovative, meaningful ways to marry the power of the computer with the potential of the child," says Idit Harel, Ph.D., the founder and CEO of MaMaMedia. "The educational value of a Web site comes from stimulating the imagination, not just manipulating information," she explains.

According to Harel, there is a fundamental set of new-media-literacy skills that all children should be expanding. "Activities on the site are meant to help kids develop the three X's: eXploration, eXpression, and eXchange of ideas and creations with digital media and technology tools," says Harel. She considers these skills to be as important as the three R's to the development of a successful citizen in the 21st century.

"Good internet learning tools are just like a paintbrush or building blocks," says Harel. "Web experiences for kids should be about learning by doing within a multidimensional creative process, rather than being confined by linear stories or questions and answers."

The site also provides a way for kids to respond to world events. Within 48 hours of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the MaMaMedia Peace Project was launched. The "HQ for Peace" channel features peace-themed activities such as puzzles, "Mail Bytes" where kids can respond to questions, resources for learning more about the world, and options for sending digital peace greetings to friends and family. Millions of children have used the channel since its inception.

"The peace site provides a safe and expressive space for children to think about and share their feelings, display their digital creations, and exchange ideas about peace, fear and hope," says Harel.

Harel established MaMaMedia in 1995 after years of study at the MIT media lab. The quality content, based on new learning skills, attracts more than 20,000 children a day, almost 5 million member/users in total since it was launched. The site has won a number of awards, including the Computerworld Smithsonian Award and the Global Information Infrastructure Award.


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