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Parental fears about the Internet mean that children are not being given the information they need to behave safely and sensibly online.

Unfounded fears that children are meeting murderers online and that chatrooms lead to sexual abuse mean that real and more frequent dangers of Web use are ignored. Blanket restrictions on internet use leave children unprepared and unable to protect themselves.

Research from London University's Institute of Education shows that children who haven't had Internet training worry about "urban myths" such as bomb-making information and hackers taking control of their computers. After lessons based on the Educaunet programme children had a more realistic view of the risks they are likely to face. Questioned after the lessons they were more aware of "rational risks" like piracy, plagiarism and false advertising.

Educaunet is a European Union-funded programme to teach children how to assess and reduce the risks of Internet use. It aims to help children understand the benefits of the Internet and browse safely. It teaches kids to take a critical view of what they see online as they are taught to do when reading books or watching films.

Adopted in schools in Belgium and France, Educanet uses games, role playing and online activities to teach kids the rudiments of responsible Web use. It teaches a critical approach to information on the Web, to supposed shopping offers, safety rules for chatrooms and ways to uncover hoaxes and false information. For more on Educaunet see here. ®

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