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Teaching Youth Cyberethics

June 2006 article

Just as protecting youth from dangers on the Internet is important, so is protecting the Internet from young people who might abuse it. As parents, caregivers, teachers, and adults, you work to teach youth Internet safety by telling them to keep their personal information safe and avoid predators, but it’s just as important to teach youth cyberethics.

Teaching teens about the ethical treatment of others on the web and of websites and intellectual property (such as music, videos, and written materials) in cyberspace can help prevent cybercrime. While youth who commit cybercrimes may realize that their actions are wrong, they may not know that their Internet behaviors are illegal. A U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office Task Force categorizes cybercrime in three ways:

  • The computer as a target (using a computer to attack other computers)
  • The computer as a weapon (using a computer to commit a crime)
  • The computer as an accessory (using a computer to store illegal files or information)

These categories include crimes such as launching viruses, storing illegal files (such as child pornography), committing fraud, infringing copyrights, and pirating software, among others.

Many youth commit cybercrime by

  • Downloading and sharing copyrighted video and music files
  • Harassing others via chat bots (computer programs designed to imitate human conversation)
  • Hacking into school computer networks to deface websites, enter sites that the school forbids, or change grades

The best way to prevent youth from committing cybercrimes is to educate them about ethical and legal rules of the Internet, and the emotional and financial costs of cybercrimes to victims. Moreover, cybercrimes carry real consequences. Teach youth that their actions in cyberspace are not anonymous, and that real people are affected by their crimes. Share the Federal Computer Crime Cases Involving Teens to help youth realize the seriousness of cybercrimes.

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