Editor's Note: Mrs Jacalyn Leavitt, the wife of Michael Leavitt, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, is the founder of ikeepsafe.org, an organization that promotes safe cyber surfing for children. She had an exclusive interview from www.chinadaily.com.cn and www.youth.cn on Friday. She also answered some questions submitted by netizens.
Moderator: Welcome, Mrs. Leavitt
Mrs Leavitt: Thank you.
Moderator: Would you please brief us on the organization I Keep Safe?
Mrs Leavitt: The Internet Keep Safe Coalition. The short name is I Keep Safe, and our website is ikeepsafe.org. It’s a nonprofit organization that combines political leaders, law enforcement agencies that work with Internet safety, the health and education community, child advocate organizations. All of these are also tech leaders. All of these join together to provide information and resources for parents and educators and families to keep children safe online and healthy use of the Internet.
Moderator: We also want to know about the current situation of American young people surfing the Internet today.
Mrs Leavitt: The Internet is used by 96 percent of teens, which means that basically everyone uses the Internet if they are teens. They are using it for webchat, for information, for homework. Very much for communications, and social networking sites are becoming very popular in the United States. Teens are very comfortable with being online.
Moderator: We know that you are the chairperson of the I Keep Safe Coalition. At the beginning of this year, the Chinese government launched a campaign calling for healthy surfing of the Internet, especially targeting young people in China. We have the campaign because young people face the problem of Internet addiction. Does Internet addiction happen among American people as well?
Mrs Leavitt: Of course this is an issue. We share the same issues around the world. Some are more focused in one area of the world than another, but this is clearly one that parents are concerned about. That is why we addressed this book. Faux Paw the Technocat is our Internet mascot. We have a series of books for children. This is for elementary schools, so parents can start to communicate with their child about healthy use of the Internet.
Moderator: Can we read the book online?
Mrs Leavitt: This is not online yet. This is so new. We have other books on our website. This is so new that I was here doing an educational pilot program.
Moderator: May we also expect a Chinese version of this book as early as possible?
Mrs Leavitt: Yes, and the name is "Faux Paw goes to the Games: Balancing real life with screen time." So it really is focused on that issue, of healthy use, and setting time limits on the Internet use. Minister Xu’s daughter, Bing Xu, has translated it. She just completed the book in Chinese, and we are so pleased, because it takes place in Beijing.
Moderator: Have you ever heard of China Youth Net, which is a website targeting young people?
Mrs Leavitt: This week, I have heard about it, and I think that the messages that they would give would empower youth to use the Internet wisely.
Moderator: We have many programs, for example, webTV and web radio, to help young people out of Internet addiction. I wonder whether in this regard we can carry out cooperation in the long term.
Mrs Leavitt: I would hope so, and we can further dialogue about that, after we’ve had this communication. I would think that our goals would be similar because we give a positive message about the Internet. Because there are so many benefits, but we want children and teens to use it wisely.
Moderator: So now let's look at the questions posted by our netizens. In China some parents don’t buy computers for their children so that they can avoid Internet addiction. Do you think this is a good method?
Mrs Leavitt: Parents have to make the choices that they feel are best for their own children. With I Keep Safe, we do make suggestions about computers that are in homes and time limits for Internet cafes.
Mrs Leavitt: We have some suggestions. In this book there is a page written by an expert, Dr. Kimberly Yang, who works with Internet addiction to give parents suggestions if they are concerned about Internet addiction. What they might do; what they can watch for.
Moderator: How do you define Internet addiction in the United States. Is it reflected by physical or mental conditions?
Mrs Leavitt: A medical doctor could give the very precise description. In fact, in the United States they call it "addictive behavior." But the first concern would be if a parent sees that Internet use is affecting a child's real life in a negative way, then it is time to address the issue.
Moderator: Let's come back to the questions raised by our netizens. One of the questions is what are the targets for young American peoples' websites? How do you view the classification of websites?
Mrs Leavitt: I'm not sure if we are talking about social profiling websites, websites to go and get information, and there are different types of websites. As far as classifications, there would be several different types of websites that teens go to, but they do a lot of communicating back and forth online particularly.
Mrs Leavitt: In secondary school in the United States, about two thirds of the classes require some Internet work or work that is helpful if they go on the Internet for their homework, so they do need those skills.
Moderator: One netizen asked the question: "I really love cyber games, but I don't think it has affected my real life, so I don't know if I'm addicted or not."
Mrs Leavitt: Well, if it hasn't affected their real life, they probably have a good balance. In the book – it is for younger, as I mentioned, elementary school – when Faux Paw has the adventure, after Faux Paw gets hooked on games and nearly misses a responsibility, Faux Paw says it's ok to play to online games and to chat and to surf the Net, but you don't want it to take over your real life. You have to do it in a healthy way. Maybe this individual is just using it in a balanced way.
Moderator: One point we talk about in educational discussions is setting time limits. That would be very helpful for this person or parents to know that they can set time limits, and if those are respected, then it's within bounds; it would be appropriate. Maybe set a rule: after homework, after practicing the piano. There can be an appropriate time length that can be healthy.
Moderator: Have you ever met a student or young people that are already addicted to the Internet?
Mrs Leavitt: Yes. Usually, though, it's a family member who's at a presentation and will ask about it, because a person who has this difficulty keeps it, usually, to themselves. It's up to a parent, particularly, to be mindful and to bring it to attention and address it. Don't enable the problem by saying, oh, he just wanted to miss school today. It's not a problem. Address the problem; address the concern.
Mrs Leavitt: And we give steps to help parents engage and address the issue so that they can encourage their child to be involved in other activities besides being online.
Moderator: What are the concrete measures or suggestions for parents?
Mrs Leavitt: As I mentioned, address the issue with your child. Prevention can help – setting time limits. But the first step would be: address the issue.
Mrs Leavitt: Start by showing you care. Say, I am talking to you about this because I love you, I'm concerned. So, let them know you care.
Mrs Leavitt: Support. Don't enable. That means, support them doing other kinds of activities if they like soccer, theater, baseball. Support, don't enable and say, it's all right, I won't worry about this.
Mrs Leavitt: I mentioned encourage other activities. That is important; to encourage them that way.
Mrs Leavitt: Make sure your home computer is in a visible place so you know how long your child is spending on the computer.
Mrs Leavitt: And for a parent, become computer savvy. Or learn about computers. Ask your child; take a course. You need to know how to check your computer history and some things about computers.
Mrs Leavitt: And finally, use outside resources if you need to. Talk to a school counselor, get a family counselor, to help you face this issue if it really does continue to escalate.
Moderator: And visit I Keep Safe?
Mrs Leavitt: Oh yes, and come to the website, because we have what is called "Parent Tutorials." They are in English right now, but these tutorials go through step by step helps for parents so they can understand technology.
Moderator: Do you have a kind of one to one tutorship?
Mrs Leavitt: It isn't a one to one tutorship, but it is a tutorial that a parent can click on and go as fast or as slow as they want; they can take it at their own pace.
Mrs Leavitt: We call them "family online activities" for a parent and a child to do together. You can share that experience.
Mrs Leavitt: There might be one issue a parent is concerned about, and they can look up that special issue. There is an area for students, an area for parents, and an area for educators.
Moderator: Some netizens want to know what kind of work the I Keep Safe coalition has done in the past year.
Mrs Leavitt: We have been distributing our books, this is a big project, into elementary schools. It's free curriculum and educational resources for teachers.
Mrs Leavitt: The first book talks about how what you see online is not necessarily real life, it's not necessarily true. The dog says, in this book, "I want to meet you. I'm a little kitty cat just like you."
Mrs Leavitt: And also, don't meet Internet strangers in real life, because you don't know who they are.
Mrs Leavitt: The second book talks about cyber buying, which is something that is happening in American middle schools and something that parents need to be aware of.
Moderator: What is your plan next year? What type of work will you do?
Mrs Leavitt: This year and next year, to tell you a little more for the teens, we have just completed a tutorial about social networking and cyber bullying, and we are doing more focus with the secondary schools in these issues.
Moderator: Here are some figures from the Internet Information Center in China: Among 36 million senior high school students in China, there are over 18 million netizens, and among 60 million junior middle school students, the number of the netizens is over 10 million. Who do you think is the best door keeper in terms of Internet safety: the young people themselves, parents, teachers, or outside sources?
Mrs Leavitt: All of us have a role, absolutely. Clearly, learning at school, not just how to keyboard, but learning safety skills. We call it "cyber ethics," the skills about how to use the Internet wisely and appropriately. Parents, when they're home, they must be alert to this and address issues. The goal is to have the students, the young people, understand and be aware, so that when they go to college or as they get older, they have this internal wisdom and they can be very wise individually about computer use.
Moderator: We are very glad to have Mrs. Leavitt today. So, Mrs. Leavitt, would you please say a few words to the netizens who are with us?
Mrs Leavitt: A very positive message about technology. 21st century skills connect us with the world, communication is so important, and also in our education to learn and to understand the world is so important. And with all of these benefits we do have to remember to be wise, to have safe practices, and to implement safety strategies and be good net citizens. Be the same person online as you are offline. That means treat others with respect.
Moderator: Thank you, Mrs. Leavitt. Thank you for coming to our program. We are very glad to hear about the current situation of American youth surfing the Internet from you today. Also, another good news is this book. It’s very interesting and we expect to see the Chinese version as soon as possible.
Mrs Leavitt: Yes, and with the book comes an animated CD. So the animated cartoon makes it very fun for students to learn.