WASHINGTON, D.C.—Thank you, Senator Pryor. As Chairman of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, you’ve been such a strong advocate for protecting kids and teens in our digital world. I know this is a concern weighing heavily on the minds of so many parents across America, and we are both deeply committed to doing all we can to safeguard our nation’s youth. I appreciate your leadership on this issue.
When most of us think of a “bully”, we think of a big kid picking on a smaller kid on the playground, or stealing his lunch at the cafeteria. In those scenarios, the bullying is confined to a school. There are teachers and principals and parents to turn to. But the Internet - and our new digital world - has changed things. It’s made the ability to bully and harass more pervasive, more anonymous, and, in many ways, more insidious.
Even in the confines of his or her own home, a child can become the victim of vicious emails, text messages, viral videos, or the subject of cruel rumors that spread like wildfire. Very tragically, such cruel behavior has in some cases driven some desperate and devastated teens to take their own lives.
Cyberbullying is just one example of the threats our children face in our online world. Unfortunately, there are many more. The Internet, for all its good – and there really is so much good: rich resources, educational material, networking advances– can also be fraught with violent and sexually explicit sites. Unfortunately, many parents do not know what their children do online – or cannot comprehend the magnitude of the risks they face.
So the questions we must answer today are:
- What are we going to do about it?
- How do we better protect youths in our online world?
- And what tools can we give parents, teachers and kids to empower and protect themselves and their loved ones?
I don’t pretend there’s an easy answer, but I do firmly believe we can do better – and can do more – to protect our youth online. Our efforts will require all of us – parents, the private sector, government and educators – to work together. When the challenges we face involve the safety of our kids, we all must get involved.
I believe the private sector must be more proactive in taking steps to safeguard kids’ online safety and security. State and local governments must raise awareness about the problem – and educate and empower kids about proper and safe online behavior. Congress also has a critical role to play. If companies do not act to better address children’s online needs, then Congress should.
As long as I am Chairman of this Committee, I will continue to work toward a safer online environment for our kids. Inaction in the face of this growing problem is simply not an option.
Thank you again, Senator Pryor, for holding this very important hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.